PE Interview Series No.3 - niko from always smile...

PE Interview Series No.3 - niko from always smile...

{Editor's Note: always smile... is one of the Japanese indie rubber stamp brands I fell in love with at first sight. The brand features intricate botanical patterns that are truly delicate in every detail. When you hold one of their stamps in your hand, the craftsmanship and delicacy become even more apparent.

I had the honor of interviewing niko from always smile..., which has been a long-overdued conversation. niko answered all my questions with sincerity and honesty. As a retailer, Pinky Elephant aims to be the bridge that connects creators like niko with our customers, sharing the philosophy and artistry behind the brand.

We also have a Japanese version of the interview available here. However, since my Japanese is quite limited, you'll notice that the questions rely heavily on translation software. Hope our Japanese-speaking readers will understand. - RJ}

Here is our interview with niko:

① Could you please introduce yourself and your brand "always smile..." to our readers?

Hello, I'm niko, which means "smile" in Japanese. I sell delicate designed rubber stamps and stylish, cute stationery goods. I create my works with the hope that "stylish stamps and paper items can help everyone in their every day ‘always smile...’ life".

② Could you tell us how you entered the world of rubber stamps and illustrations? What kind of training or background do you have?

It all started with handmade eraser stamps. I was drawn to their charm and the warmth of hand-carving. I remember my first attempt was a design of an apple, about ten years ago. At that time, my children were young, and the ability to create at home suited my lifestyle well. Four years ago, I switched to rubber stamps. From there, I transitioned from practical designs that could be stamped in children's notebooks to delicate botanical designs. I always try to observe the plants and flowers that change with the seasons, such as those in flower shops and other places.

③ What are the fundamental ideas or philosophy of "always smile..."?

The main focus is always on the customers who use the stamps. I believe it's most important to inspire them and let them enjoy various ideas freely. Therefore, I propose designs that are easy to combine with other stamps, making them even more beautiful together. I've also cherished the unity of a delicate and ephemeral worldview. I'm aiming to create stamps that are not just used once but can be enjoyed continuously.

④ Your customers love the delicate plant patterns on your stamps. Where do you get the inspiration for these designs?

The inspiration for delicate and realistic designs always comes from everyday moments. When I see the detail and delicacy of real plants, inspiration strikes. I also expand my ideas based on seasons and themes. I constantly feel the needs of my customers and keep in mind collaborations with the items they already own.

⑤ Can you tell us about the design process when creating new rubber stamps?

When an idea comes to me, I immediately draw a rough sketch. At this time, I understand the balance when combined with existing stamps. Then, I create a digital drawing based on the rough sketch. I repeatedly make corrections and complete several design proposals. Even after a stamp prototype is completed, I may redo the design again.

⑥ What challenges do you face in your creative process? How do you overcome them?

Sometimes it's challenging to maintain the unique delicacy and design of always smile.... Compromising here would make it hard to differentiate from other brands, and I wouldn't enjoy the stamps myself. I believe quantity breeds quality, so I keep creating many works until I'm satisfied. However, time with my family is also important. Balancing time constraints with the passion I put into my work is an eternal challenge.

⑦ Do you have a favorite type of ink pad or ink to use with your rubber stamps? Why do you prefer it?

I like the Shachihata "Iro-Moyou" ink pads. They don't clog easily and are suitable for our delicate stamps. My favorite is “Ginnezu” because this gray color can express a soft and sophisticated atmosphere.

(RJ's note: We have this collection at Pinky Elephant too! You can find our Shachihata Iro-moyou collection here in both regular size and mini size, and the Ginnezu color here.)

⑧ How do you decide which designs to include in a new product release?

First, I check the first impressions with our staff. Since the staff is the first to touch the product, I make sure to listen to their opinions. Also, I never miss marketing on social media. I constantly evaluate whether it matches the customers' needs through interactions.

⑨ What are your favorite tools or materials when making stamps?

I'm particular about the materials used in the stamps. For the handles, I use the wood that from Japan. Additionally, I take the extra step of chamfering the edges to make them easier to hold. This allows me to enjoy the scent and grain of the wood when stamping, and the stamp itself becomes a favorite tool because it's not tiring to use.

⑩ What is your vision for "always smile..." over the next 5-10 years? Is there anything specific you would like to convey to Pinky Elephant's customers?

I want to continue creating stamps that draw out the customer's free ideas and stimulate their imagination. I want people to know that stamps can be used in various ways, not just been bought and then done with it. I hope they feel the fun and sense of achievement in seeing their ideas become a reality. To increase the number of customers who truly love this concept, my goal is to hold demonstration sales nationwide. We hope that always smile... stamps will connect customers with each other. It's our wish that they become a tool to connect people, not just stationery. We invite Pinky Elephant's customers to join us in this journey.


You can find our curated collection for always smile here

You can find always smile's instagram here.

Thank you for the support of niko and the staff from always smile.... I won't be able to finish this interview without your help. 

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