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On a Whim

The boundless imaginations of fashion designers Atsuyo Yang and Akiko Mukae come to life with the pair’s eponymous children’s line, Atsuyo et Akiko, designed around the story of Sara, a young Brooklyn girl. “We found a doll in an antique shop in Brooklyn that my daughter immediately named Sara,” Mukae says. “We brought Sara with […]

The boundless imaginations of fashion designers Atsuyo Yang and Akiko Mukae come to life with the pair’s eponymous children’s line, Atsuyo et Akiko, designed around the story of Sara, a young Brooklyn girl. “We found a doll in an antique shop in Brooklyn that my daughter immediately named Sara,” Mukae says. “We brought Sara with us to Belgium and France, and while in Paris, we found a toy sheep, who then became Sara’s friend Merry.” The story, which is brought to life on the fabric of their clothing, accessories and home goods, practically wrote itself, the designers say.

The very definition of whimsical, the line is brimming with French sayings, Eiffel towers and adorable animals, and offers everything from totes, pillows and tutus to one-pieces, cardigans and tees. As both designers are Japanese American, the line reflects both cultures. Mukae says it is both straightforward and dynamic—what she sees as American traits—while remaining simple and delicate, showing the Eastern influence.

The creators’ design backgrounds in womenswear play heavily into their wide assortment of accessories and screen-print tees. After completing a degree in fashion design, Yang designed shoes in Japan and spent two years in Tokyo and Milan studying pattern making and sketching. Yang moved to the States the latter half of the ’90s, for a job designing handbags for TOCCA. It was then, as Mukae was working for the renowned Japanese artist, Amano, that the designers’ paths converged.

With close to 20 years of experience between them, they launched Atsuyo et Akiko four years ago, and the pair handled every aspect of the business—from designing and sewing to selling and shipping. Since then, the company has grown to a total of nine employees, who work inside a former sewing factory re-fashioned into a sunny loft in Brooklyn.

This past year the brand has taken off, thanks in part to a partnership with Disney to create Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse and Friends T-shirts. “It was the first time that Disney collaborated with an independent designer in North America,” Mukae says. She also says that despite working with such a large licensor, the company has been able to keep control of selling and choosing retail partners, so the line maintains its boutique appeal. Mukae adds, “Working with Disney is challenging and a lot of work, but it has helped us to see our company grow, and we’re learning so much without taking any classes.”

To the Rescue!

Wonderboy and Stun alleviate parents’ headaches with mix-and-match basics.

Dads are envious, moms are relieved.” That’s Wonderboy’s motto, and founder Christine Johnston has fulfilled that promise to parents with cool prints, wearable silhouettes and locally made threads since 2004. A former paper products designer, Johnston has a penchant for prints and launched Wonderboy as an army of one. Since the initial launch, the business has grown to a team of four, though the brand still depends on the creativity and expertise of outside assistance. “We run a tight ship and rely heavily on independent contractors,” Johnston explains. “We’ve been using the same contractors for five years and work very closely with them. So really, the team is huge. However, not having a ton of overhead allows us to be nimble when necessary.”

For Spring 2012, Johnston says she found inspiration on a recent trip to Lisbon, Portugal. “The beautiful sights and sounds and lifestyle of that city really spoke to me. It’s beautiful, but not too perfect or overdone,”she says. The collection, comprised mostly of navy and aqua blue with gray and red accents, includes stick shift and scuba helmet graphic tees, as well as classic henleys and polos. For the bottom half, brown, navy and steel cargo shorts, harbor trousers and dark denim mix and match well.

With boys squared away, it wasn’t long before Wonderboy parents with little girls at home started to ask for a line from Johnston, so in 2009 she launched Stun, a play on her last name. The Spring 2012 Stun collection features three bold, casual prints fashioned into a halter dress, flutter sleeve dress, tunic and tiered skirt. Stun Select, the company’s special occasion line, also makes its debut for Spring 2012, offering a sleeveless silver polka-dot dress, in addition to a royal purple, flutter sleeve dress in Japanese silk and cotton. Both lines are based in Philadelphia, and 90 percent of the production is done within a five-mile radius of the headquarters. Asked what kind of kid should wear her clothes, Johnston says, “The kind of kid who changes your mind about kids.” —Meagan Walker

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