Welcome to a brand new feature, where we’ll be chatting to some of our favourite kawaii designers, artists and makers. When it came to picking the first person to interview out of the huge wishlist I’d made, it was easy to choose Maqaroon. We love Joanna’s sweet designs and no-one has yet beaten her amazing introduction email. But enough from me as this interview is so inspiring and a brilliant way to kick things off and I can’t wait for you to read it.
Who are you and what do you make?
I was born in China, grew up in Austria and studied design in London. I went to Central St Martins and Chelsea College of Art & Design. During university, I started designing for Momiji and was a contributing artist for ImagineFX and ComputerArts. After graduating I freelanced for many years and wrote the book Super Cute Chibis to Draw and Paint. My last project was artist and designer for Lottie dolls.
I started my own kawaii business Maqaroon four years ago and Super Cute Kawaii was one of the first blogs that I contacted! It began as an illustrative brand but after noticing how popular macarons were becoming, I decided to focus more on sweets-deco inspired jewellery. My dream was to create a brand that offers lovely, 18K gold-plated pieces at affordable prices. After a lot of sourcing and investing, I managed to create a unique product that I’m really quite proud of.
I also decided to start a Youtube channel sharing some of the things I learned along the way related to business, jewellery making and crafting. It became quite popular so now I split my time between the online shop and my Youtube channel!
Where do you live and what’s it’s like there?
I live in Vienna, Austria. It’s a very traditional and elegant city, with horse-drawn carriages all over town and people attending balls every year. Getting stuck behind a horse in rush-hour traffic is completely normal here! Although I really miss London, the pace of life is so much easier in Vienna. It’s also a supportive place to start a business because there’s a lot of funding for start-ups and young entrepreneurs. Maqaroon was only possible with the help of a government creative grant.
What was your first experience with kawaii culture and why does kawaii inspire your work?
My earliest memories as a child was obsessively poring over the Sanrio displays in every shop I came across and buying as much as my parents would allow. Something about the explosion of pastel colors and imagery in kawaii design always made me happy. I still love that feeling of sensory overload when you first encounter a kawaii display, followed by the pleasure of slowly examining every small detail and little drawing on the packaging. All my work is strongly influenced by kawaii style because I really like designing things that make people smile when they look at it!
What cute products can you never resist buying for yourself?
I can never resist cute post-it notes, pens, notebooks and stickers, using the justification that you are never too old to use stationery! I’m also crazy for kawaii make-up packaging, especially Korean brands like Etude House and Tony Moly.
What was the first product you made for sale and how does it compare to what you sell now?
The very first things I sold were stickers, posters and postcards with street fashion illustrations on them. Paper goods were the easiest items to make and that was all I could afford in the early days after setting up the business. Through trial and error I gradually found better suppliers for more complex products. These days I design and commission gold-plated jewellery which are manufactured exclusively for Maqaroon. Instead of illustrating, most of my work involves sculpting resin clay macarons and then assembling these into finished bracelets and necklaces.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m experimenting with new jewellery designs for 2015 which includes new pendant necklace designs, differently shaped macarons and tiny choker necklaces to match the bracelets. I also have so many tutorials planned for Youtube and trying to use every spare moment I have to film and edit them.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened since you started your business?
Without a doubt, it was when Maqaroon became stocked in Harrods! When I was a student, I lived on the 7th floor of a building in South Kensington and could actually see the top of Harrods from my kitchen window. The roof is covered with sparkly lights, which would be switched off around 1-2am in the morning. I always worked really late nights and would use the light as a guide to tell myself to go to bed. So it feels particularly poignant that all those years of work actually paid off and now my business is thriving thanks to Harrods!
What’s your dream ambition for your business?
After starting my Youtube channel I was overwhelmed by the response from girls all over the world wanting to learn more about design and business. My dream would be to inspire other girls to follow their dreams and find self-confidence in their creativity and intelligence.
Building a profitable business was an experience that has made me happier and prouder than any other moment in my life. I wish that more girls will aspire to build their self-esteem around something they create, instead of how beautiful or how skinny they look. I feel that society has placed a skewed emphasis on what ‘achievement’ and ‘confidence’ really is. Losing weight or learning how to apply make-up is an admirable goal, but it’s a tenuous thing to define your entire existence with.
So I want to use Maqaroon as proof that there are many more dreams worth pursuing than what people think about your appearance or lifestyle. I would love for Maqaroon to be a place where girls can get career motivation, good advice and kawaii inspiration without the glorification of money, status or beauty. The jewellery is a reflection of that philosophy because each piece is hand-made with love, there is absolutely no use of models and the prices are affordable for everyone.
Who are your favourite kawaii designers and makers?
My favourite Youtube crafters include Pufftique, PaperPastels, Crafterzdelights, Frainyxo, Makocinnos, Kapa Bakery and Mizutamabambi. Fellow jewellery makers/brands I find very inspiring are Tiny Hands, DiDepux, Sweet&Tiny, CaffeCupcake and Sweet Ticket.
Where can we find you on the internet?
Look out for more Super Cute Creators interviews soon, and if there’s anyone you’d like to see added to my list, leave a comment below.
Marceline is the co-founder and editor of Super Cute Kawaii and author of The Super Cute Book of Kawaii. She also designs cute character goods as Asking For Trouble. Having visited Japan five times, Marceline is enormously inspired by all things Japanese and especially loves bunnies, space and any kind of food object with a happy face.