We are proud and excited to announce the addition of KIKIITO to the YUGEN platform. We have known founder and designer Kiki for many years and love her clean and unique style, and strong brand values. More importantly, we love her inspiring story and believe her journey is one worth sharing. 
Born in Nagoya, Japan to a family of creative landscape architects, Kiki was a curious child compelled by everything different to the traditional Japanese upbringing, and dreaming of one day moving to America. Even though creative and inventive from a very early age, Kiki found her childhood passion outside of design. It was gymnastics.
Kiki remembers hours of grueling gymnastic training. “It was intense, but it was my passion, something I was into and loved,” she says. By the time she was a teenager, gymnastics for Kiki had become her priority and taken over every aspect of her life. At the age of 16, despite her love and dedication to the sport, Kiki had to face the fact that it may not be her future. Her early gymnastics ambitions were crushed, which was naturally disappointing and built resentment towards the sport for many years after that.

 Later on, at age 18 she embarked on her biggest solo journey yet: Kiki moved to the United States in search of her true passion and place in life. Kiki’s parents had only agreed to support her decision if she moved to San Francisco, but her spirit was pulled by the easy, breezy relaxed lifestyle of LA. After initially arriving in San Fran and without telling her parents, she secretly transferred university and hopped onto a Greyhound bus en route to Los Angeles. 

KIKIITO - YUGENVenice Beach, California

“That really shows my personality but still sounds mental just thinking about it now because I was only 18. I ended up in Venice Beach because there was the only hotel I could book.”

Surrounded by the west coast lifestyle, and despite the uncertainty, she finally felt truly at peace. Venice and Santa Monica became her home. “I always loved that coast life. Skateboards; just casual in a way,” she says. “There was a feeling of ‘I can finally be myself’. Now, I think it’s because my personality didn’t fit in Japan. Things have changed a lot, but I couldn’t feel like I could be myself over there. That changed when I arrived in LA.”  That same relaxed yet chic LA style, hand in hand with her love for sports, has transformed into her signature trademark today. 


In these early years, Kiki was still struggling to find her true vocation. Despite her talent, she avoided going down the creative and design route because it was too familiar and she wanted to carve her path. Kiki fondly remembers her very first design, creating four to five different panels of a rucksack with her aunt’s sewing machine from her mom’s old ivory leather jacket when she was just 12 - perhaps a sign of things to come? This calling became more apparent when Kiki turned 23 and decided to return to Japan. After meeting an artisan in her hometown, she was inspired and quick to decide that handbag production was what she wanted to do next. Kiki learnt the technicalities of the trade while in Japan, but decided to further hone her skills in the UK, at the First London College of Fashion. 
 While studying in the UK, Kiki had an opportune encounter with one of the industry’s leading figures - Harry Mattes - a couture artisan who specialised in the production of bags for high-end clientele, including the Royal family. Kiki and Harry struck up a friendship and partnership that has lasted to this day, and it was under Harry’s tutelage that Kiki’s skills rose to even greater heights. “I still see him all the time,” she says.  Laughing, she jokingly calls him her ‘London dad’     

She has spent nearly 15 years working with various brands and independent designers, including consultations, product development, pattern making and sample production. Crafting has been a passion of Kiki’s since she was a child, and something she has always had an innate skill for. She knew that designing her brand was something she was meant to do, but launching her eponymous brand wasn’t a quick journey. 

Just over ten years ago, she started her first handbag label - she was 29 and newly married. In her words, “It was going great!”. However, sadly things took a turn for the worse three years later.  Her marriage was falling apart and an unexpected tragedy happened to someone very dear to her. She held tight to the one thing she had left - her brand and struggled with a massive fear of losing it. “You know when you hold on to something with fear that they will take it away from you? Not to be mean but to give you an important lesson and right then the last hit came in. In December, this same year, I received a thick pack of legal documents from a larger brand against my trademark - what a great Christmas gift”, she laughs. She didn't have the resources to fight the case and had to let go of her first brand name. After that Kiki continued developing her designs with little commercial success for a few years.

“This was a difficult period but also the time when I realised that all the difficulties encouraged me further to pursue my passion. It was the passion for design that kept me going and helped me through the tough times.”



The new version of KIKIITO was officially launched in October 2018. “It sounds ridiculous now but it did take me nearly 7 years to get my confidence back.” The new eponymous label takes inspiration from her rich life journey - her Japanese heritage, her vibrant years in LA, and her life in London. It is a mirror of the dearest locations she lived in and the life lessons she received. Her objective was to give those who wear her designs a feeling of strength and confidence to be themselves.


Kiki’s story did not have a smooth and easy path, but it shows the strength of character, resilience and her undivided passion for her craft and design.

“Going through difficult times is a valuable lesson. It’s full of discoveries, and without having faced issues and difficulties in life you will never be able to grow and find yourself. It’s about how we see, the attitude we show and how we can recreate a completely different world.”



Kiki’s story is a story about persistence and creativity, but also about pushing boundaries and the wonders of stepping into the unknown. We admire her journey and are delighted to have her as part of our community. Can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

by Carlota Pano  

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