I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such strong, empowering, creative, smart, and talented friends. My friend, Sawako, is no exception. Not only is she beautiful, caring, insightful, smart, and a wonderful mother and friend, but she also runs her own business selling bike helmets and accessories. The company’s name is her namesake, Sawako. (To watch a video of the company’s story, go here). Take a look at our interview below. Thanks, Sawako!
You used to be an architect — how and when did you make the switch over from architecture to helmet design?
It all happened organically. I love architecture and I loved being an architect. It was my occupational habit to want to solve any design problems, which in my case was bicycle helmets. I cycled to work everyday and I must admit I used not to wear helmets. But I have witnessed and experienced enough accidents or near-miss accidents and I had to create a helmet which would be beautiful enough for me to wear. Then this turned into a business, Sawako. My boss was actually really supportive of my entrepreneurship as long as I did my day job well. I have always loved working with creative people who are often really supportive of other creative minds because their prize is not on money but to create something better and more beautiful than what we have today. Then I had my first child Koko back in 2010 and Connie in 2012…I knew that I could not do all of the 3 important jobs (mother, a business owner and an architect) well and I put architecture on hold. But I miss it sometimes!
What is your favorite style of helmets? Favorite print?
The helmet du jour is definitely the Sparkle helmet. Covered with multi glitter fabric, the helmet reflect light into so many different colors. It is stunning. I love all my prints but perhaps Hanabi, due to its Japanese heritage.
What comes next for Sawako helmets? How do you pick a new style? A new print? A kids line?
Our helmets have been so popular that many lines are currently out of stock. Currently we are focusing on getting our new stock in this summer. We have re-branded Sawako and we are excited to introduce the new packaging etc. We are launching bike bells this summer in leopard and Hanabi patterns. They are so cute and perfect for gifts also! We are also working on stylish city cycling jacket, which should become available this year. My products are what I personally would love to have when I cycle. I would love more bicycle accessories including beautiful or basket…or shoes you can wear on bike and off bike.
What does the bell sound like? Tell us about the product!
It sounds really cute! To hear the sound, go here.
What type of bicycle do you ride? Are you loyal to one brand?
Since I moved to NYC, I have been using Citibike a lot! In the morning I have so much stuff on me including 2 kids’ backpacks and a stroller so the flexibility of Citibike helps my mom-life with 2 young kids. I also own a beautiful purple Bobbin Bramble, it’s a UK brand which is founded by my good friends. I did the 5-boro ride with it this year. Having moved to USA, I am encountering a lot of different beautiful bikes I would love to own…the problem of owning more bikes is storage space in Manhattan!
As a mother of two, how often do you now ride bikes? And are your girls in to bikes and helmets as well?
I ride almost everyday. It’s amazing how fast you can go A to B with bike! We are juggling with so many things and time poor…I prefer to cycle instead of being stuck in traffic, you burn some calories also!!
My girls cycle. Koko (6 years old) can properly ride a bike. She learned in Upstate New York where you have so much space. Connie (4 years old) is on an Early Rider balancing bike but I am planning to get her try a real bike this summer! They do wear helmets but currently really unattractive ones…they have been excited about my new kid line!
Honestly, how many helmets do you keep in your apartment for your own personal use?
Well, maybe 8 in my apartment. I can pick and choose a helmet depending on what I wear or how I feel, which is fun. We choose our clothing this way, why not bicycle accessories!? When I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) in London soon after I launched my business, he had no idea that he would end up living with hundreds of helmets! We lived in this beautiful loft space in Shoreditch (it was super cool then!) but one of the bedrooms was a helmet storage!
What are some of your challenges as the founder of a company? What keeps you going and motivated?
Everyday is a challenge! I think a lot of entrepreneurs are addicted to challenges. I miss working in a big team as I used to do in architecture. Also it was so much easier to go to work, do what you know you are good at and be paid. I am learning literally everyday and I have to EVERYTHING myself.
But when I see my products used on the street or in a magazine, it is like my own baby doing well and I feel really happy. Also, having supportive friends has been a key reason I can keep going. It is incredible how generous people have been during my journey so far. They keep reminding me how far I have come and keep my motivation. It may come as a surprise to many but architecture (despite long long training) it’s not a well paid job. People do it for passion. So my motivation comes from this pure desire to create something beautiful and share them with people who would appreciate it. It is hard to build a brand if you are focusing only on money and don’t have passion.
Owning my own business has given me flexibility as a mom, too. In early days, I used to bring baby Koko to my warehouse in London, get her to sit on a cardboard box while I packed all the orders and carried 10-15 boxes around her stroller to our local post office almost everyday. (My friend was joking that I was having an affair with a postman because I went there so often!!) My girls are really proud of me having my own business and they get to see my struggle,excitement and success firsthand, which I think is a great education.
Last but not least, my husband is the biggest supporter. His motto is you get one shot at life and if you are not passionate about what you do, you are wasting your precious life. He is in a different industry which helps me see my business from different perspective, too. You need a supportive family to keep going.
What is your inspiration for your designs?
Anything in fashion, design and architecture. I am a professional window shopper! Also one of the advantages of living in a city like London, New York and Tokyo is style and fashion are everywhere. For example, our NYC line (Madison & EyeCandy) was born when I moved to NYC 3 years ago. I also try to visit art galleries and museums as much as I can.
I would buy a Sawako helmet even if she wasn’t a friend that I wanted to support — they are that good. If you ride your bike, then get this helmet. It makes me smile everyday when I wear it. Thank you, Sawako, for being a great friend but also for being such a terrific and inspiring designer.