The Future is Bright: How Perseverance and Passion Made Mokuyobi a Success
When Julie Pinzur started her company, she was a 19-year-old studying in New York. Having been sewing for friends since high school, Julie launched Mokuyobi – which means Thursday in Japanese – to produce quality bags and accessories that would bring a smile to anyone who came across her items.
Fifteen years later and Mokuyobi is still very much fulfilling the goal of bringing happiness via fun products. The brand offers a range – from clothing to bags and caps to patches – in bold colors and patterns to their customers, who they call the Super Beings of Earth.
Mokuyobi’s products are all USA-made, either in-house at the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles or by local contractors. Each Mokuyobi bag also comes with a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty, with a free repair offer to keep their products in use for as long as possible.
Mokuyobi products are currently sold in stores nationwide. If you’re interested in buying Mokuyobi products wholesale, check out their Handshake profile.
Handshake: I’d love to hear a little bit about Mokuyobi and how you came to start it. As I understand, you’ve been around since 2006?
Julie: So I started the company when I was 19. I’ve been sewing since I was 13. I always had a love for bags and construction. I would always rip bags apart to figure out how they were made and put them back together before I designed my own bags. But I was always sewing, always making stuff for my friends when I was in high school, and then I actually didn’t know that you could start your own business. That was something I didn’t really realize.
I ended up going to college to study psychology, but once I realized that I could major in art, I switched my major to art, and then I ended up transferring to Parsons The New School in New York and studied illustration there. So that’s where I was really able to combine my sewing skills and my history of sewing with more illustrations to bring the print design onto the bags.
And from there, I moved to LA in 2014 because the whole goal always was to make everything in the USA – high-quality everything. Once I moved to LA, then we were able to incorporate more of the apparel side into it. We did some T-shirts in the beginning, but then I moved here and hooked up with my now-fiancé, Alex who’s the production manager of Mokuyobi. And he actually had a huge background in more of the apparel side. My expertise is bags and sewing bags and designing bags and also designing prints; his expertise is manufacturing clothing. So we were able to do a lot more, really grow our clothing selection.
Handshake: What does the business look like today compared to when you started?
Julie: Including me and Alex, there’s four of us, and then we have two more in-house sewers. So that was another recent development that we were able to grow our in-house sewing team.
Handshake: It’s really exciting that everything is made in the US. I know that for fashion to be made in America, it’s becoming more and more rare because of the cost of production.
Julie: Yeah. For me, it’s not an option. I want to support the community that I’m in. Why would it be here and then sending something or paying somebody across the world to make something? It doesn’t make sense. I’m here, so I should be supporting this community here, or why am I here?
Handshake: Where do you get all of your inspiration for your colors, and also the bold patterns?
Julie: Yeah, so a combination of drawings and futuristic ideas, ’90s cartoons, like everything I was raised on. I’ve always loved color, I’ve always loved fun, illustrative designs, anything that’s playful and bold. I just love drawing weird stuff.
I don’t know quite how to describe the palettes that I use, but they look right to me. I know exactly what I’m looking for, and if I see it and I don’t like it, then it’s not working.
Handshake: So when did you start moving into wholesale?
Julie: So I started wholesale pretty early on. Everything I do, all the business, everything, I’m pretty much self-taught. I never went to business school.
In 2006, the internet wasn’t really a thing, so you had to pay somebody thousands of dollars to make a website for you. It wasn’t just like, “Here’s your free website.” But [in 2006] you used more platforms like I was on Etsy and Storenvy in the beginning, and then I did a lot of in-person shows like Renegade craft fair. I did that for a long while.
I would reach out to stores all the time, just cold email people, and I would get basically no responses. It was very challenging. Even up till 2013 or so, I was still cold emailing people and not really getting much of a response. But every once in a while, I got one that would bite, and back then, mostly the patches were what we were selling because the patches had a big trend boom around 2012. So that was the main wholesale interest because the bags were too expensive for most people, or it was hard to find the right fit for us. And then we started working with Urban Outfitters and got connected with PacSun, did one with them.
Wholesale was always very challenging. It’s hard to find buyers, and it’s hard to get them to reorder, and direct-to-consumer is much easier, and especially with something like an expensive product, you want to have a good margin. So that’s always challenging.
Handshake: It’s a struggle.
Julie: The struggle is real. So you really need to foster those relationships that you can continually get those reorders for.
Handshake: What other sort of challenges have come up from selling wholesale over the years?
Julie: Wholesale can also be really expensive too because if you’re going to do wholesale shows, that’s where you’re really trying to get your exposure is in a show, and the shows can be thousands of dollars, and not only that, but you’d probably fly somewhere because it’s not always in LA, they’re all over the country. So at the end of it, you’re hoping, “Okay, well, if I get some long-term customers from the shows, then it’ll be worth it,” but there’s no guarantees.
Handshake: Do you have any advice that you would give for people wanting to take their business to the next step?
Julie: Yeah, I would say – this is something that I say all the time – but be sure that it’s something that you’re passionate about, that you’re willing to stick with forever, because you could have a fleeting idea and be like, “Oh, I’m gonna start this business,” and then like five minutes later you’ll be like, “No, I’m gonna start this business.” It’s a really long road, and I didn’t have success for a very, very, very long time.
If you think it’s something that you want to do forever, do it. If you want to make something, just be sure that it’s something that doesn’t exist, that’s unique. Don’t just jump in and make something because you saw somebody else making it. That’s not helpful. That’s already happening. Do something different, new, bring your own spin on it. Just be true to yourself and your vision and what you see yourself doing.
Handshake: Is there anything else you would like to share about working in the wholesale sphere?
Julie: Another interesting thing about wholesale is that everyone buys in seasons, so everything is very strictly like, “Okay, you’re going to buy this, they’re shopping for this season at this time, and then you’re gonna ship it at this time.” That model can also be extremely challenging because, with production for everyone, there are delays, and there are problems, and there are issues. And for us, we decided that that model didn’t work for us, so we actually just do capsule launches.
We do almost a launch every Thursday (for Mokuyobi). We’re basically just launching products as we finish them, which is much more realistic for timing-wise, especially for wholesale, [buyers are] always like, “Oh, what’s your new season?” And then it doesn’t quite line up for us that way.
But, yeah, wholesale timing is very interesting and very complicated to work with buyers, especially if it’s big-box buyers. Those are the really challenging ones. There’s so many regulations and rules, and just the exact way that it has to be delivered and when. It’s just too stressful for us. So we’re moving on more to our own rolling out system.
Handshake: What are your proudest moments as a business owner?
Julie: My proudest moments are, honestly, going through the dips, the hard times. Running a business is very up and down; struggles all the time, but good times too. So there’s nobody making you do it but yourself. I’m just here alone; nobody’s like, “Get back to work.” It’s just me. So just having the persistence to really just keep on with this dream I have and fulfill it and keep working towards growing and getting out there and getting the word out. Yeah, I’m proud that I’ve been doing that for 15 years and still going.
Handshake: I think you’re also probably an anomaly in that you knew what you wanted to do straight out of school. Even though you didn’t know you could start a business, you went and did it anyway.
Julie: Yeah, it was kind of funny because I was very meander-y when I was a kid. I didn’t have a ton of interests. I wasn’t really into drawing necessarily. I did a lot of sports, but I wasn’t the person I am until one day it clicked, and then I’m just like, “That’s who I’ve been forever” now. It’s just kind of funny how that works.
Mokuyobi products are available for wholesale purchase from $300. Find the entire range of available wholesale products on their profile page.