Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. This week, we chat with Trisha Okubo, the founder of Maison Miru jewelry, an online boutique based out of the West Village in New York City. Trisha believes jewelry is love made visible and Maison Miru’s pieces are all made by Trisha and with love.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.
A career is like a play, with multiple acts. You have multiple storylines, characters large and small that can alter the trajectory of your path, and adventure awaits you at every crossroads, if you choose to accept it. Act One of my career was living a real (less glamorous, but not much less ridiculous) version of the HBO series Silicon Valley. I learned the ropes at digital media and e-commerce companies, in large and small in roles that spanned business development to product management to business operations. I grew up in Silicon Valley, a stone’s throw from Apple Computer, and technology dominates the culture so heavily that it seemed the natural thing to do after graduation. But while I liked what I did, I didn’t love it in the way I wanted to. After one particularly trying day, I unwound at Cafe Venetia, my favorite cafe on University Avenue in Palo Alto, with a pot of Ryokucha tea and a slice of chocolate crunch cake. I sketched out what I wanted my life to look like in 15 years: a time period where everything still seemed possible, but still time-bound in a reasonable way. It looked nothing like my current life, and in that moment, I knew I had to make a change. I ended up quitting my job for a “gap year” – and did all of the things I wanted to do in life. I travelled all around the world, took cooking classes (my soup dumpling game still needs work, alas), learned how to make shoes (I did a fashion design degree back in college, but I had never done accessories), and started learning how to make jewelry. I knew right away that I was on to something with jewelry. I usually flit from project to project (I’m told that I get bored very easily!), but I can wire in when I’m at a jewelry bench and work for hours on end. (This, by the way, is great for things like stone setting, but terrible for my back! I see my chiropractor so often that I count him as a friend.) . So when friends – and strangers – started coming up to me and asking where I got my jewelry, I took the plunge, opened up a little online boutique, and started Act Two of my career.
2. What prompted you to start Maison Miru?
The jewelry that I loved–elegant, delicate pieces that you can wear everyday–either existed in the luxury space (hello, solid gold and diamonds!) or at the low end of the market (aka the jewelry you can wear a few times before it tarnishes or breaks). What I wanted but couldn’t find out there was high quality jewelry that I could wear everyday at a price that was fair and affordable. Also, I have a bit of a confession: I’m a champion loser of jewelry. I love the look of delicate, tiny pieces, and I can tell you from experience that these are the easiest to lose. So it was super important to make sure that the pieces were affordable – so that if something happened to disappear at an onsen in Japan, or slipped off somewhere on the Paris metro, it wasn’t going to ruin the rest of my holiday!
3. Did you find the transition from the tech industry to the jewelry industry to be challenging?
Surprisingly, I found the transition from working as a part of a large team toworking on my own to be a bigger challenge than transitioning industries. It turns out that a lot of the skills I had honed in Act One of my career – project management, designing customer experiences, and logistics/operations – all were relevant in my new life. There’s a ton that I had to learn from scratch – I had never done product development with physical goods, nor had I done any marketing, and despite my business undergrad degree, I’m not a bookkeeping whiz. Let’s just say that it’s amazing what you can learn on the Internet! But my confession is that I sometimes (and more often that you’d think) miss my cubicle life. At least at coffee o’clock, when I wish I had my work buddies around to go dish with.
4. How did you come up with the name, Maison Miru?
The word Miru in Japanese means “to seed” – and that’s what I hope Maison Miru does for you at a foundational level. Jewelry is love made visible, and it can open your eyes to the world, to love, and the good that’s out there….even in these trying times.
5. What is your most successful form of marketing?
Instagram has been amazing for Maison Miru, and that’s where most ladies hear about us. I know it’s a big leap to try a new brand, so I’m running a limited time promotion to get the word out about the Maison Miru Ear Bar – a pair of our signature Tiny Crystal Studs in Gold for the price of shipping. It’s an easy way to see and feel the quality of the earrings without a whole lot of risk. Also, the ladies I’ve met on Instagram have been so incredibly kind – maybe it’s just that jewelry people are good people, but they’ve been helping spread the word on their own – sisters share with their sisters, mothers gift their daughters, daughters buy for Mom, and brides have been spreading the word to their bridal party. I’ve been truly humbled by the love.
6. Why do you aim for your partners to be either small, local, or businesses run by women?
I love collaborating with people who love to give it their all – people who go the extra mile to do beautiful work – and I find that businesses who are small, local or businesses run by women are more often my kind of people.
7. How do you ensure you’re getting the best version of your products out to your clients?
It’s about being rigorous every step of the way. I prototype and prototype to perfect the designs – the shape, the size, the weight, how each piece lays. And then I use high quality materials to make these designs a reality. One of my goals is to create affordable, beautiful jewelry safe for ladies with skin sensitivities, and I’ve iterated with my factory and my metal plater to systematically avoid metals (e.g. nickel) that commonly cause these sensitivities. I also personally do quality assurance before I place the jewelry into thick plastic baggies designed to preserve the longevity of the jewelry. I love doing good things and letting them speak for themselves.
8. What personal and/or business goals have you set for 2018?
My list of 2018 goals is unrealistically long, and I’m told, somewhat nonsensical! At the top of my list is a somewhat non-specific goal of putting out more net good in the world. One of the random things I designed last year was a series of love notes – little cards with sayings like “I Believe in You and Pie”. I really just made them so I could send silly messages to my friends, but I started sending them out to customers, just for fun. And they’ve been sharing them with the ladies they love – BFFs, sisters, daughters, moms. I love that these notes helped bring people together for a smile – and I want to do more things like this in 2018. Another completely different goal is perfecting my chocolate game. I have wayyyyyy too many interests, one of which is making chocolate from bean to bar. Amongst all of the jewelry equipment in the apartment, I somehow also have a cocoa bean roaster, a grinder, and a melanger to make chocolate from scratch (and a very understanding husband!). I’m constantly trying to refine my roasting game and tweak the chocolate to be as delicious as possible. Does this also count as putting out more net good in the world?
9. What advice would you offer to other self-starters and those who hope to start their own business?
Stop hoping to start your own business: just start your business. Nobody ever feels ready to make the jump – but if entrepreneurship is for you, you’ll surprise yourself with how fast you’ll learn, and how creative you’ll be about solving problems and making things work. I prefer to live with no regrets, and by starting my own business, I never have to wonder about what might have been.
Just for Fun…
Best purchase you ever made: Most recently, the Everlane Cashmere Sweatpants. They’re so comfy and luxurious, and I wear them everywhere. I love them so much that I bought three pairs.
Favorite movie: I’m more of a series kind of gal, as I love the character development you get over time, and my all time favorite has to be The West Wing. I just think life would be better if everyone spoke as intelligently and as quickly as they do on an Aaron Sorkin show. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?
The perfect Saturday includes: Friends and family, tea and cake. And pie. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to also be locked in a room with a litter of kittens. (I volunteer at the shelter, so free snuggles for me!)
Best thing about living in NYC: I’m a night owl, so I love that NYC is the city that never sleeps. Turns out you don’t have to either, if you choose to accept the challenge! You can get 2am pizza (hello, Joe’s), and the fact that you can truly get anything delivered here has taught me the unfortunate (but delicious) lesson that pie can always come to you.
You’d jump for joy if you saw this person wearing Maison Miru: Joan Didion. I believe that jewelry is love made visible, and I also feel the same thing about her work. She has such a depth to her soul, and it’s that kind of energy that I would love to capture with my designs.