Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Photos by SHIMOSH

Meet Satsuki Shibuya, the mastermind and impresario behind zakka nouveau. If you haven't heard of zakka nouveau, now would be a good time to acquaint yourself. Forget buying a throw-away generic item at the mall, because zakka nouveau aims to create gifts that are both handmade and personal. The selection includes everything from tea towels, aprons, pot holders, tote bags, coasters, to even bento bags. Everything is useful and functional, but not devoid of any fun or charm... And neither is Satsuki!

We had the pleasure of meeting up with her at Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach, and we are very honored to have had the opportunity. CMYK have known her from our days at Otis College of Art and Design, and despite her unmistakable talent in design, she's always remained very grounded and down-to-earth. (She was even nice enough to spot me for a tea because I'd forgot to bring cash!) She's now the owner of her very own business, and we're really proud of her.

But what exactly makes her so DGAF? Starting your own business from the ground up, for one thing, is pretty DGAF. (She went from learning how to use her mom's sewing machine when she was little to sewing her very own line of products!) But it's also the way she runs it. She designs all of the fabrics, sources out her own soy based inks, and is very involved with sewing and silkscreening her products. It's very DIY but not in the punk rock way you'd expect.

You'll understand why she reps DGAF to the fullest. But DGAF people aren't born, they're made. CMYK got schooled on determination, ambition, and why you should never give up, no matter where life takes you or what life takes out of you.

CMYK: Tell us who you are.

zakka nouveau: Satsuki Shibuya.

CMYK: What do you do?

zn: I'm the owner of zakka nouveau. That sounds weird! (laughs)

CMYK: Tell us a little bit about zakka nouveau.

zn: Well, zakka nouveau, the whole idea started maybe 4 years ago.

CMYK: Yeah?

zn: Yeah, during school... I realized I really do enjoy hand work and creating tactile design work. So instead of working on the computer I definitely liked printing, screen printing, letter pressing, things where I can actually see it in the process of it being created, instead of like pushing the print button and it comes out of the machine, and ding! It's done! More than that, I felt more gratified by the actual process.

So during that time I got interested in product design possibilities and how I can put the graphic not just as a print on to fabric or paper, but how can I push that even more to make things that people can use every day, so it's not wasteful. Because I don't think graphic design is wasteful, because it's communicating. But I do feel like in a way... it can be if it's overly used and abused. So a lot of printing paper that people just throw away.

CMYK: So is it the disposability of design that you just weren't into? Also I guess that brings up a more environmentally conscious/reusable kind of thing, was that conscious? Did you purposely want something that was environmentally friendly as well?

zn: Yeah. I felt like I wanted something [different] because you know graphic design—not all disciplines but in some—is very ephemeral. It's like, you produce it and bam! It's gone. I thought there must be a way to utilize graphic design so that it will be useful everyday and people will actually enjoy interacting [with it]. It's not just communicating visually, but in their tactile world. And I wanted to create something that is long-lasting.

So that's kind of where the idea started. I started kind of testing out making products... The sewing wasn't all that great but it was fun! I really enjoyed... doing stuff with my hands, whittling away at something for hours, like sewing. So I definitely enjoyed that more than sitting in front of the computer! After graduating I knew I didn't wanna go and work for a company or studio. I feel like I'm at the age where I could take a risk to start something. I've worked in the past and I felt like I had enough experience... and even if I mess up, I have enough time to mess up again.

CMYK: Do you feel you were right about that assumption?

zn: To be honest, I'm not sure yet. I'm 100% sure that I made the right decision to start my own company and not work for somebody. But, as far as if I'm successful with it, I’m not sure yet. Not to say money is a measure of success. Not only that, but are people recognizing what I'm doing is something they can relate to? Are people responding to it the way I hoped? Are they using the product how it fulfills their needs? That will be my measure of success.

CMYK: How do you plan on measuring? You can't just walk into people's homes.

zn: (laughs) For me, zakka is not about mass-production at all. It's definitely about creating one of a kind, limited edition pieces that are special to someone who wants to buy and use these products. For instance, if a customer wants a bag, a lot of times it's a one-off thing, so I'll know which bag is owned by who. So let's say that bag breaks, I want to be able to say, “Send it back, I'll fix it for you.” You know, to make that conversation continue. In that sense, I can gauge if the customer is happy with it, giving me feedback. I definitely don't want a mass product where I send out a questionnaire, because then it's not so personal.

CMYK: Would you say you're trying to create an experience, instead of a design that someone passively looks at? Are you trying to create an experience to connect people outside the internet?

zn: Definitely. That is definitely the direction I wanna go. zakka nouveau is always changing and right now it's becoming a lifestyle brand (such as Martha Stewart or Kurihara Harumi). I'm also interested in branching out to different areas, i.e. culinary, possibly a store, but as of now I'm concentrating on products and being a small goods + interior goods company.

CMYK: I think it's really funny and ironic because you started as a Digital Media major at Otis. What guided you to go in that direction? Because I know you did music before… So what made you go into digital? Was it technology?

zn: (laughs) I already knew when I entered college, I wanted to do something creative. I knew I couldn't do plain business. My body was screaming, "Nooo!" So I thought, I could go visual, or do music. I've been playing piano since I was really little. So I thought, I should go in the direction I know best. I love music and I studied music in college, and then I ended up working in the music industry and I thought I wanted to be a singer/songwriter. And I told my parents and they were like, "Whaaaat? But you'd better have a stable job!” You know, stable. [The] music business [is] not stable... totally not stable! So I would write music and sing at night, and then I would go to work during the day.

And then one day I realized, when I was writing music with my friend who is a super talented producer/songrwiter, that I don't know, something's missing... I wouldn't be 100% confident in saying I am a songwriter, knowing that there are so many others that are so awesome. I couldn't find my own voice or vision, and I knew there must be something else out there that's creative. So I started exploring, maybe it's visual that I'm really liking. I tried interior design, fashion design.

And then... I like music, I like visuals, so I thought, maybe I'll be a music video producer! That sounded great in my brain, in my head. Then I got into digital and I remember my classmate... We had to draw a character in a scene and damn, everybody put their stuff up on the wall and my character looked like an alien! The face was so jacked up! And he said to me, "Are you sure you're in the right major?" And I was like "NO!"

CMYK: (laughs) Straight up like that?

zn: (laughs) Yeah, he straight up told me, "Suki, not to be mean, but are you sure you're in the right place?" And I was like, "I dont' think so!!!" (laughs) I knew immediately from week one, it was not for me! I stuck it through but it was excruciating for me. Everyone drew at a certain level. I was not interested in drawing scenery and characters... and motion graphics. It was a whole other level of computers.

My work was looking like crap and I was feeling like I needed to quit Otis ASAP. I went halfway into Fine Arts... maybe something I would be into. I wanted to go into mixed media, but then I took a lot of the classes, which were really conceptual. I like “conceptual” but not to the point of feeling like my brain is being pushed into outer space! I was so lost and by the first year of Otis I wanted to quit. I was telling my parents that maybe I’m not cut out for anything creative.

Towards the end of the semester, my parents were like, “If you want to quit, we won't hold it against you.” They were really nice about it and said, "You can get married and have a kid!" (laughs) A big turning point was when my then fiancée (now husband!) Kevin said that, “If you start something, you gotta finish it... You gotta ride it through and find out what it is. There's a reason why you went there. You gotta find out.” So yeah, I was searching around for a major and ended up at Communication Arts... Oh this is great, you can use art to communicate with people. This is it!

CMYK: It wasn't even your first choice?

zn: No. It totally fell out of the air.

CMYK: How did you decide on that?

zn: It was immediate, when they explained to me what the major does: to use art, use design to communicate. Right there, I was like, that's great, that's what I would love to do! I was sold on the idea. I started taking classes and I loved them, and I finally felt like I was in my element... Even though classes were hell, I loved every moment of it. So I finally feel like I'm at a point where I can 100% be confident in telling someone, “This is what do, I love what I do, and even if you don't like it, I don't care because I love it!”

CMYK: That's perfect DGAF. Wow. We didn't know it was such a journey... it was a process, much of like what you do now is all about your process. It's the journey, not the destination.

zn: I think that was my biggest nightmare, is not finding what I want to do. People around me were becoming doctors, dentists, lawyers, and businesspeople, and here I am still trying to find out what I want to do with myself... This is what I truly believe, if people give themselves the time to find what they really love to do, then all that stuff will follow… because they're doing what they love. And people respect you for it regardless. Not forcing yourself, but if you do what you love... money will follow, I feel like.

CMYK: What if what you love is eating potato chips?

zn: Maybe you'll get that potato chip commercial.

CMYK: Or a professional chip eater. (laughs) Anyway, so were you always DGAF? What does DGAF mean to you? Do you have a philosophy?

zn: DGAF for me definitely means to have your own policy of who you are as person and to not let anything sway you no matter what anybody says to you or whatever happens to you... you can at least hold your own. If you are the sole person who believes in yourself, you can still hold your own and be ok with it. You're happy doing what you do.

I get it from my dad because I grew up watching my dad really work hard. I saw my dad one time, I just remember one week the car broke down. He literally woke up at 3 in the morning to bicycle through the mountains to get to work. It took him 3 hours there and back. He does motion picture catering so he has to go on set and he's cooking... It's a hardcore job but he still biked there and back… into the mountains.

CMYK: Into the mountains?

zn: Because he had to take a mountain trail to get to work. To see that determination, and to see he did it to support the family, it made me think. I always used to tell my mom, I don't care what anybody says to me, if I decide if I'm going to do something, it may take me a while to find it but if I find it, I know I can stick to it. I know it. I feel that's where I get my drive from.

CMYK: Wow, your DGAF mentor... DADGAF. DGAFather. (laughs) So what is the stupidest name you thought of for zakka nouveau?

zn: “The Green Square,” or “Gray Squares.”

CMYK: What was your thought behind that one?

zn: I don't know, I think it just sounded cool, it has no meaning behind it. (laughs)

CMYK: But zakka nouveau has a meaning.

zn: Well, my dad's a French chef, and I've always been intrigued with French cultural nuances. I'm Japanese, so I wanted to mix the two. “Zakka” means every day things to enhance your life... it could be design work that enhances your life or products or whatever to make your life a little bit happier or better. “Nouveau” is looking at things in a different perspective. I feel in society right now we're so trained to look at things as a brand or things as mass produced or as cultural status... “Nouveau” I wanted to be more of looking at your daily life in a different way, and know that not everything has to be bought that way or produced that way, there are other ways you can be making things around your life.

CMYK: Do you have any influences that people wouldn't expect?

zn: I'm really influenced by moments. For instance, if the sun is shining on the window sill in a certain way, it sparks a thought. Or if someone is laughing in a certain way, I might pick up that emotion and I somehow tie that into a visual reference... little things... spark an idea, so I guess every day little happenings tend to inspire me.

CMYK: Things from daily life? You make things for daily life.

zn: People really influence me. Like little things that people say. For instance, by meeting you guys, I'm getting so many neurological influences that when I go home I start writing it down or drawing it.

CMYK: You've always had a really positive attitude. What keeps you positive?

zn: When I was little, I had a really difficult childhood, and I think I grew up really fast and... I couldn't relate to a lot of kids. I always felt like an outcast because I couldn't talk to them about what I was going through. I am finally getting into the element where I feel like I can relate to people and they can relate to me, even if it's not by talking it could be through other means of communication.

So I keep a positive attitude, because I realize the positive attitude you exude always propels you to something more positive and it brings with it so much luck… I think that's what continues it... it's a total domino effect. It comes from my mom who always told me that even if my heart does follow, to keep moving forward and eventually your heart will catch up. So now I'm just always high, high on laughing with people and stuff...

CMYK: Any words of advice?

zn: It's so clichéd, but no matter what anybody else says around you, I would say just keep going at it because it's better than giving up, going with the norm, and being miserable. I think that's really important.

Thanks to our amazingly DGAF interviewee, Satsuki Shibuya, for giving us a little look into her brain. You can catch more glimpses at zakka nouveau. Don't forget to check out her latest collection: THE GOLDEN RABBIT, and keep a lookout for one-of-a-kind and limited edition items as well!


  1. i love this interview! satsuki is soo sweet and i always enjoy reading her thoughtful tweets. :-)