Meet the Creative: Victoria Close
The next in this series of interviews bringing you inside the worlds of some of my favourite creatives.
This time I'm beyond excited to introduce you to a fabulous jewellery designer and maker, entrepreneur and campaigner for creative small businesses. Talking to us all the way from Japan, please meet Victoria Close!
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your business and how it came to be.
Hello. I’m Victoria Close, the founder of Bikudesigns, a vintage kimono jewellery and accessories brand based in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo. I’m originally from the UK and have been living in Japan for 24 years.
I’m from a long line of female entrepreneurs, so it’s no surprise that I went into business for myself after leaving a 17 year career as a primary school teacher. Both my grandmothers and my mum were shop owners, so I grew up around retail.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in jewellery design and who or what have been the most important influences on your creative life and career?
As well as being shop owners, my grandmothers were trained in creative industries. One was a milliner and one was a seamstress. I grew up to the sound of the sewing machine and with the idea that if you don’t have something you need, just make it, alter it or fix it.
How would you describe your style and your products?
My brand is based on the Japanese concept of ‘mottainai’ which loosely translates as ‘the regret of waste’. Even before I moved to Japan, as far back as childhood even, I was a saver, a rescuer and keeper of unwanted things. I was the kid carefully peeling tape off wrapping paper so I could reuse it, saving every single box to store my treasures.
I now reuse forgotten Japanese textiles in my designs, particularly ones that are damaged, as forgotten things make me sad. I want to breathe new life into these textiles, especially ones from the 1960s, 70’s and 80’s.
What was your first Biku Designs project and how have you progressed to the pieces you make and sell now?
I was actually a precious metal jeweller before I launched this iteration of Bikudesigns. When my children were born, the metals were put on the back-burner as the noxious fumes and dust are not good around babies.
I started experimenting with textiles in 2015 and at that time combined hand-fabricated silver parts with textiles coated in resin.
How do you start the design process and where do you get your design inspiration?
I start by sourcing the textiles or found objects by visiting vintage kimono shops, antique markets and antique shops. That’s where my inspiration for a collection comes from.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love that my days are so varied. One day I might be designing a new collection, another creating content for my YouTube channel, the next day creating a wholesale order, or doing admin, teaching a small business class or one-to-one mentoring small business owners. I mostly enjoy working alone, but sometimes need to reach out and connect with others through the communities I’ve founded here in Tokyo and online (Tokyo Instamingle and Overseas makers Guild).
When are you at your most productive?
Mornings are my favourite time to create. I walk my puppy every morning before 8am and then head to my studio which is in a 51 year old building near my house. It’s lovely to kick off my shoes in the genkan (entrance) and pad across the tatami to my work table.
Do you have a best seller or favourite to make?
I actually enjoy making all of my best sellers! If I don’t enjoy making something, it gets retired pretty quickly. I need to put my heart and soul into every piece and feel proud of them before I pass them on to their forever homes.
What’s on your workbench today and could you let us take a peek at your workspace?
I’m not currently working on new collections as I’m focusing on setting up my new studio and getting some workshops booked in. I have a small shop space where I represent a variety of makers from overseas who share their unique take on Japanese design.
What are your favourite materials/tools to use?
Of course, vintage kimono! But I recently went back into silver jewellery too. I’ve been experimenting with silver clay by making moulds of the Sakura tree (cherry blossom) in my garden. This tree has special significance for me as it survived the 2011 triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown).
What do you listen to/watch when you’re working?
I need peace and quiet when I’m thinking about new collections, preferring relaxing instrumental jazz over anything else to start the flow of ideas.
If I’m doing repetitive tasks that don’t require thinking, podcasts are my go-to. Anything creative, small business development or something to make me laugh.
Do you have a motto or favourite quote for inspiration?
I always end my newsletter with ‘keep sparkling’ for the reason that I want my customers to feel lovely in the jewellery I create. My brand started as a way for busy mums to quickly feel put together on a night out, on the school run or when having coffee with friends.
Minimum effort, maximum sparkle.
What have been the greatest challenges of Biku Designs so far?
Moving into a new studio space while my hubby recovers from knee surgery has been a challenge but hasn’t been impossible!
The pandemic was actually great for my business in terms of online sales, but post- pandemic has been quite a bit harder.
I launched a business partnership with another creative business owner during the pandemic, and we now teach practical online courses to other creative business owners (ginkgoandfern.com)
What is it about Biku Designs that you are most proud of?
The VIP Club. I want my customers to feel connected to me and my brand story as well as to each other. When they share photos of themselves wearing my jewellery while out and about and other members leave lovely comments about how great they look, my heart is full.
What myth would you like to bust about running a creative business?
The 80/ 20 rule is true. Most people think that they will be doing the creative work 80% of the time and spending the other 20% running the business. But the reality is I spend about 20% of my time working on creative projects and 80% doing marketing, photography, accounts, shipping, sourcing supplies, website design, e-commerce, emails, content creation and more!
What tip or truth would you tell yourself at the beginning of this journey if you could go back and give young Victoria a heads up?
Start early. Take the art degree, set up a studio in your 20s and be proud and confident in your work. Don’t let anyone tell you that the art world is too competitive (i.e. you’re not good enough to succeed in that industry).
What do you like to do when you’re not creating stunning jewellery?
I walk my dog twice a day, stopping for coffee at one of the fantastic coffee places here in Shimokitazawa. At the weekends I enjoy going out for lunch with my family and browsing the second hand shops with my fashion-conscious daughter or going to antique markets.
What are you looking forward to next?
I just started a YouTube channel called Studio Biku to document moving into my new studio space and the renovations I’m doing. It’s in a 51 year old building but has all the Japanese retro touches that love. I’m featuring lots of stuff about Japan, my area and the Tokyo-based makers I know.
What are your plans or ambitions for the future?
I’m hoping to hold creative and small business workshops in my new studio space and rent the space to others for their workshops. I’ve already set up a little boutique and I’m open for private shopping sessions.
How can we find out more about you?
Follow on Instagram: @bikudesigns
Like on Facebook: @bikudesigns
Join the VIP Club: Click to join here
Subscribe to the Bench Press newsletter: Sign Up Here
Subscribe to Studio Biku on Youtube: @studio_biku