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Yuki Oshima, co-founder and creative director of Owa Yurika, on blending Japanese simplicity with chic European design influences.
Despite the nearly 6,000 miles between them, Yuki Oshima and her mother, Yuriko, have never felt closer. Yuriko lives in Tokyo, where Yuki was born and raised, while her daughter has settled with her family in London. However, together at the helm of their luxury children’s label Owa Yurika since 2016, the duo is able to seamlessly offer a unique fusion of London’s cutting-edge style with the meticulous attention to detail that comes from Japanese manufacturing.
“We aim to offer high-quality, timeless and sophisticated pieces that are influenced from Japanese design characteristics such as asymmetry, origami-like layering, textured mixed material usage and the overall Japanese streetwear aesthetic,” Yuki says, noting the line (available in sizes 3-14) isn’t “overly feminine” with several gender neutral options. “We want the children who wear the clothes to feel empowered in expressing their own styles in a more fluid way.”
Yuki originally studied economics at Tokyo University and philosophy at Yale before becoming an investment banker in New York and London, where her career then shifted to fashion. She served as an editor and contributor to Harper’s Bazaar and held managerial positions at luxury lifestyle and fashion companies, including Celux, LVMH and ISSA London.
“My interest in fashion definitely comes from my mother who has always favored avant-garde style, making her the one to stand out during the school run,” Yuki says. Her mother has written best-selling books on color theories in Japan and is passionate about art. “She has an amazing eye for color and styling, as well as the ability to pay attention to details and practicality, so her input is crucial when we are designing,” Yuki adds.
Bolstered by such well-balanced talent, Owa Yurika quickly gained traction internationally. Noteworthy accounts include Barneys New York, Harvey Nichols in London, Kids 21 stores in Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as Isetan in Tokyo. By the end of this year, Yuki aims to double the brand’s wholesale distribution. “We’re going to be very careful to work with only the right stores,” Yuki says, adding that the brand will also be updating its e-commerce site to better facilitate its direct-to-consumer traffic. In the meantime, it continues to be a labor of love for Yuki. “While it’s challenging to oversee both the creative and business side, I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” Yuki says. “Designing a children’s brand is a learning process that leaves me feeling rewarded every day.” —Emily Beckman
Who is Owa Yurika’s core customer? Cool, international and style-conscious parents and grandparents who care about sustainability, quality and uniqueness in design and are interested in Japanese culture. With that, we definitely are on the higher end, with tops and dresses retailing for $50-$90 while coats are sold for around $160. The value is exceptional though as we pay close attention to practicality and longevity, exclusively using high-quality natural materials that are kind to the environment.
What’s new for Fall ’20? Our beautiful dresses inspired by origami and obi of a kimono, a kimono jacket and a number of Japanese streetwear-inspired unisex pieces. The print for this season was inspired by endangered species, and in it there are Japanese-style illustrations of animals doing quintessentially Japanese activities. It’s super fun!
Where do you look for design inspiration? I take in everything I see in my daily life as inspiration. Sometimes, I get ideas just from talking to my daughter and her friends or going away on a family holiday. I also enjoy talking to my friends and my daughter’s friends’ mothers to get the parents’ perspective. It’s like an impromptu focus group!
What does a typical day for you involve?
I wake up early to meditate before I start getting breakfast ready, wake up my daughter, take her to school and then go to work. There’s always lots of meetings, and I’ll try to squeeze in a yoga or ballet session to help me keep at peace. Soon, it’ll be time to pick up my daughter in the afternoon, and I’ll take her to extracurricular activities. I’ll focus on her until her bedtime and usually wind down later by catching up on emails and reading. Whenever possible, I like going to bed early!
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? Owa Yurika has us constantly dealing with three seasons at a time: the one in stores, the one being manufactured and sold to buyers and the one that’s being designed for the next season. It’s a never-ending rollercoaster, which keeps us very busy.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
I love Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons) and Chitose Abe (Sacai) for having strong philosophies/identities. They’re always thinking outside the box and coming up with highly innovative designs.
What do you love most about being a designer? Being able to take an idea or conversation and turn it into a tangible piece for other parents to share with their children. It’s the best feeling.