The Getting To Know series features interviews with makers, artists, designers and small business owners at all different stages of their careers. I’m always interested in how other adventurers in the world of creative entrepreneurship run their businesses, get inspired and how they got started in the first place.
Ros Lee is the Singapore-born, Tokyo-based designer and consultant behind the Polkaros brand. Polkaros is known for quirky and colourful lifestyle goods aka zakka. I’m particularly smitten with the personality-filled ceramic pots… and pretty much everything else too! Let’s get to know Ros:
Hi Ros. To start with, I’d love to know a little bit about you and your business.
Polkaros is a small lifestyle product design company based in Tokyo, Japan. We also provide design consulting, surface design and lifestyle product design services.
What inspired you to start Polkaros?
I’ve always wanted to make art for the living environment; things that can be enjoyed in our daily lives. I visited Japan 14 years ago and that was when I first stepped into a ‘lifestyle goods’ store. That inspired me to pursue my path in designing lifestyle products.
Why did you choose the name “Polkaros”? What does it mean to you?
I chose the name Polkaros because I hoped that the products I create would carry the same characteristics as the polkadot pattern – happy, cute, classic, timeless and simple. It always amazes me how you can find polkadots everywhere and in many different eras. This may be a bit overly ambitious but I wish that our products would add a bit of childlike fun in every household and last for decades.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration from old toys, folk art and ethnic cultures. I love to look at the motifs and colors from the past as they tell a story about a certain time and a different way of life.
What does your typical work day look like
Currently the majority of my day is dedicated to my consulting work – replying to emails, liaising with clients and negotiating with suppliers. Consulting is a full-time job on its own, which means I end up putting in some long hours to further develop the Polkaros brand. My nights and weekends are dedicated to designing Polkaros products, but this is a labor of love so it really doesn’t feel like “work”. There are a few ongoing projects. One is our handmade pots that we are producing at a local pottery studio. Another upcoming project is a series of bag items made with our Polkaros textile designs. We are constantly experimenting with new methods of making products with our hands.
Do you have a favourite piece in your collection?
I have started making a lot of new ceramic pieces in recent years. I think one of my current favorites is the Fuji-san pot that comes in pink and blue.
Besides designing your own line of products, you also work as a design consultant. How did you get started as a consultant and what does it entail?
I was working in an Interior lifestyle product design company in Japan for about four years when I was offered the role as a design consultant for a global cosmetic brand. I think it was my experience with the Japanese consumer market, working with suppliers in China and language ability that got me the job. I’m in charge of designing gift premiums for all the markets within the Asia Pacific region. The work entails market research, communicating with markets, liaising with suppliers and working closely with the headquarters in New York.
What do you love about running your own business?
I love the flexibility, the ability to plan my days freely. Also for the Polkaros brand, I love the freedom to create what I want rather than what my boss wants.
What do you find the hardest?
Not being able to switch off. When I first started, I used to work till midnight and sometimes until the sun came up. I would be replying to work emails, planning my next pop-up store or new products in the middle of the night. Now I have learned to stop at a decent hour but I am still thinking of new ideas when I am in bed.
Do you have any secrets to balancing business, social life and self-care?
I think allocating time for every aspect of your life, be it play or work is important. Creating a schedule/routine is a good way to balance business, social life and self-care. However, I enjoy my work so much that I am guilty of spending the biggest percentage of my time working.
How do you spend your free time?
During my free time I like to play the Ukulele, go to the gym, do some simple craft projects, blog, read, take photos around Tokyo. Recently, I’ve been camping with some friends and it’s lovely to be close to nature.
What’s your favourite social media platform?
Instagram! I am actually a person of few words and it’s so much easier for me to express myself visually through pictures, drawings or my works. It also allows me to practice and experiment with some photo shoot ideas I may have for my products. I am very thankful that there is a platform like Instagram!
If you could give someone just starting out on their creative business journey one piece of advice, what would it be?
Stick with it. I think perseverance is the most important thing when starting your own creative business. There will be a lot of hardship but if you are keen to learn from mistakes and keep doing it, you’ll eventually succeed.
Treat yourself – buy a Polkaros Piece
Connect with Ros
Blog – Polkaros
Instagram – @polkaros
Facebook – Polkaros
Twitter – @polkaros