This week I caught up with Japanese Creative Entrepreneur in London, June Mineyama-Smithson who is the Founder and Creative Director of Mamimu.
Mamimu are an accessory brand specialising in luxury city tote bags.
You can catch a full review of the Mamimu City Tote bag on an article I’ve penned for Menswear Style.
But I’ll give you the broad strokes here.
The most distinguishing feature for me is that this is a Tote Bag that can house a laptop.
With the rise of motorbike crime in London, it’s just another thing you need to be conscious off carrying a laptop bag around with you.
I was lucky enough to get gifted a bag for a review and I gave it straight to the girlfriend (left) as I wanted her to have the additional security of carrying a discreet practical bag around with her.
Anyone that knows my girlfriend will be aware that not every bag or garment makes in into her wardrobe so that gives you an indication of the quality.
The bags are unisex so I’ve been able to get some use out of it too.
Click on any of the images to shop the Mamimu City Tote bag.
June congratulations on a terrific product. My girlfriend has a Mamimu Tote bag and she adores it. How hard is it to get a product like this off the ground?
Thank you! It was long time coming. I was incubating the idea of making the ultimate laptop tote bag for quite a while but it became serious when I moved to Hong Kong five years ago looking for a new adventure.
Hong Kong had lots to offer for a startup like mine: Lively business scene, proximity to factories and tight-knitted community where everyone was willing to support one another. I am so grateful that people have been so kind and helpful along my journey.
Through a friend, I was introduced to a Japanese factory agent in Hong Kong, who specialises in exporting to premium Japanese market. So I knew immediately their quality control would be top of the class.
After that a friend introduced me to Arnault Castel, a wonderful French entrepreneur responsible for the most stylish lifestyle stores in Hong Kong and Asia, Kapok. And they became the very first stockist.
I love the fact that this bag is discreet, you wouldn’t expect it to have a laptop in there. They also fit in travel trays at airports.
Is there anything that can be improved on in this bag from a design standpoint? Did you consider incorporating any technology such as a phone or USB charger?
Having lived and worked internationally, I wanted to make the product travel-friendly. And having spent 10 years living in London, security was also top of my list.
With MAMIMU tote, no one knows you are carrying a laptop in a padded compartment with a flap that can be closed securely.
It was a conscious decision not to add technology as it dates so quickly. For instance, the most recent MacBook does not have a single USB port. I think focussing on technology could kill the product’s longevity.
Instead we focus on philosophy, usability and durability. We developed MAMIMU City Totes with the spirit of Omotenashi – the Japanese word for “wholehearted hospitality”.
The tote bags have been designed to anticipate the needs of urban creatives and global wanderlusters: It’s lightweight, rainproof and with multiple pockets to hold all our daily/travel essentials like mobile, passport and keys.
Our premium full-grain leather handles are designed for you to enjoy the aging with your own unique patina. And all stress points are reinforced by leather patches including the bottom rose gold studs.
If you had to start this journey all over again what would you do differently? What mistakes have you learnt from?
I would cherish the relationship with good suppliers *with rigor* – the best way to do this is often a punctual payment with compliments. My biggest mistake was – although not at all intentionally – a big chunk of payment for a fantastic supplier was delayed for months while I focussed on getting into the market.
This is no way to gain someone’s trust! Fortunately they were really good about it and said no harm done but I was mortified when I realised how much I neglected this relationship and could have lost the best supplier I could ever wish for.
Now I know that even in business it’s all about personal relationships and trust.
Regarding the designs, how easy was it to transpose what you had in your mind, onto paper, then finally produce into a real thing?
I think my experience as a graphic designer certainly helped in terms of specifying what I wanted as detailed as possible with photographs, measurements and material finishes.
But still, in order to produce the tote I was truly happy with, we went through twelve versions of spec documents, several screen print tests, many many prototypes and third party consultations: product designers and a quality inspectors in Japan.
How long before we start seeing a Mamimu Tote bag in places like Harvey Nichols, Harrods or Selfridges?
Right now we are focussing on boutique lifestyle retailers and our own online shop (mamimutokyo.com) because that’s where we are finding our target market – design-conscious stylish indie people – like to shop.
The big department stores are the next stage after we establish as a design-led brand in our key markets: Tokyo, London, New York and Hong Kong.
How hard was it to make the designs unisex? And are women the biggest buyer of your product?
Not that hard. Like the 18th century Kimono artisan designed patterns for both men and women, I create patterns for modern gentlemen and fashionistas.
Our buyers are 60:40 for women and men. The hormone balance is pretty much as I expected.
I think the bright-coloured linings in MAMIMU totes resonate with discerning gentlemen. The bright coloured interior fabric makes it easier to find your bits and bobs in the bag as well as adding a bit of fun.
Just like the inner colour linings in a bespoke jacket. There is something joyful and mischievous about that.
Outside of the UK and Japan, which other country are snapping up the Mamimu Tokyo bags?
Hong Kong. As mentioned I was living there when I started MAMIMU. People in Hong Kong love Japanese products because of the high quality. I believe our totes live up to that.
Now that I’m back in London, I would like to focus more in the UK and gradually expand to other European countries, probably before Brexit!
What does the future hold for you June? Are you currently working on any other releases?
Yes I’m planning to make some smaller items like wash bag, gadget bag or notebooks that solve pain points of urban creatives and global wanderlusters just like our totes.
I am also working on doing more talks, collaborations and artistic activities.
I consider MAMIMU as a vehicle to advocate the idea that inspiration is everywhere. I was on TalkRADIO a few months ago to chat about how I distilled old Japanese Kimono philosophy into joyful contemporary patterns.
I’ve given talks at London College of Communication and ustwo, a top creative agency in Shoreditch. And was invited to design a pattern for Cow Parade Niseko, Japan. It’s been great fun.
Every time I force myself out of my comfort zone, I gain more confidence and get inspired. This is another virtue I try to spread through MAMIMU.