From the Mile High to the Textile

Yuko is a young 40-year-old woman. She’s married with two kids. She arrives at the meeting dressed in a green kimono (the traditional Japanese garment) with cherry blossom prints in honor of the season.

Yuko Sato, kimono teacher. Photos by Paolo Mazzo, Milan, Italy

Yuko Sato, kimono teacher.

We met Yuko Saito in Ginza, the most famous commercial district of Japan, one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world as well as one of the oldest districts in Tokyo. In the past, Ginza was the area where the Shogun (Lord of War) lived, and it has always been an exclusive place; as a matter of fact, its name derives from Gin (silver). In 1990, at the height of the Japanese economic bubble, land in Ginza was the most expensive in the world (by far). At the time, land in the area was sold for 100 million yen per square meter. Since then, land prices in Ginza have fallen drastically, by about 90 percent. Nevertheless, it’s still the most expensive zone in Japan. Every detail of Yuko’s clothing is perfect, from make-up to hairstyle, the green of her dress, and the pink fingernails, like petals. She seems very shy and apologizes sincerely for the slight delay. But after a few minutes we make an astonishing discovery: to wear a kimono alone it takes around 1.30 hours. If you walk around Tokyo you may see a lot of young women wearing one and, contrary to common belief, this has nothing to do with tourism. It is a real tradition that all Japanese girls follow because it is handed down through generations; in fact, every girl has at least one kimono at home.

ws How did this passion start?
ys I was born on the island of Kyushu and I moved to Nagusahi to complete my studies in English culture. At that time, I wanted to become a flight attendant for Japan Airlines. It is a very important and coveted job in Japan for girls, and not because only beautiful and clever girls can hope to do it, but this type of job allows young girls to find a rich man to get married to, as social rules impose. Then, when my children were in kindergarten, many of the other mothers asked me to teach them how to wear kimonos properly, so this and the fact that at home I had a lot of kimonos made me decide to change careers and become a kimono teacher. A kimono can be very expensive, from a minimum of $5,000  up to $20,000. Last week in a shop I saw an obi (the traditional belt) covered with precious stones for $300,000.

ws Why have you chosen to become a kimono teacher?
ys Kimono means care for aesthetics. For example, as curves are not considered to be aesthetically pleasant in Japanese culture it is important to wear a kimono perfectly, hiding curves and reaching perfection. We must not forget that beauty in Japan is an absolute value.

ws How did you become a kimono teacher?
ys I took a 3-year college course that cost me around $10,000 excluding the price of the kimono. At school I studied different subjects such as types of material, locations of fabric production, the garment’s symbolism, and the subtle social messages they transmit, colors and obviously the several steps to wear it correctly. The most beautiful materials are produced in the prefecture of Kyoto. There are around 9 different types of kimonos. Obviously there are also men’s kimonos, but in contrast to women’s they are far simpler, typically consisting of five pieces, not including footwear. Also the combination between seasons and colors of the kimono is extremely important; if not done correctly you can make a bad impression. A bit like in Europe when men wear white socks with the classic suit.

ws What were the biggest frustrations.
ys During my training the biggest frustration was deciding the right color for the season. For Japanese people, making a decision may be very hard and often is a task left to others − those who have authority. This is often linked to the age of the person. That’s the reason why elders in Japan are so well thought of and respected. Now, being a teacher, I have acquired authority, so I decide for my students.

ws What are the main differences between a kimono teacher and a flight attendant?
ys Substantially, there are no differences. Both of them enhance the grace and beauty of the girl, but in our culture the concept of mistake does not exist. The ritual of kimono is the maximum expression of this, so every passage must be perfect, and this generates a little bit of anxiety in the person. When I was a flight attendant I was more relaxed.

freccia “When you start your own business you have to be really passionate about it as you will live and breathe it while it gets off the ground.”

Anne Ackred is an English designer and dressmaker at the bridalwear collection “This Modern Love”. After years in an HR advisor role for a firm based in London, she had the courage to transform her passion for fashion into her job.

ws What were you doing before becoming a designer and dressmaker?
aa I was working in international mobility for an insurance firm in the city of London, and I’d been working in that field for several years after studying law at university.

ws What were the reasons for this change?
aa I had always wanted to study at Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion, so in 2013 I signed up and did it. I took lots of part- time courses. Then I created an installation at a flagship store in Oxford Circus, a great launchpad for doing other creative work and designing my own label.

ws What are you doing now?
aa I’m the designer and dressmaker behind a bespoke bridalwear collection called “This Modern Love”. So far I have made almost 200 dresses in my first year of trading and my designs are now sold in a bridal boutique just outside of London, as well as online. 

ws What sort of investment did you make in this career shift?
aa I invested a lot of time for learning skills and making the contacts I needed to take my business idea forward. I was also accepted on to the Prince’s Trust Youth Enterprise scheme. They supported me with a business mentor and practical steps to launch my own business.

ws Are you happy now?
aa I absolutely love working with beautiful textiles, and hearing back from a happy customer that they love the dress I’ve designed and made for them is such a great feeling. My work is full of challenges, but it gives me lots of reasons to be satisfied.

freccia “Working on my farm, now I have the chance to discover the importance of hand crafts and traditional jobs from the past.”

Marco Bernini is an Italian professional, managing a farm in northern Italy where he bought a plot of land for grazing and producing cheese − a considerable career shift compared to his previous job as an in-demand photographer, which has permitted him to move from one of the busiest cities in Europe to a place dominated by nature.

ws What were you doing before managing a farm?
mb I had a photography studio in Milan were I worked for 28 years, dealing with high-profile advertisement campaigns for brands like Gruppo Averna, Omnitel and others, participating in important backstages and in sport events like the famous Paris-Dakar race.

ws What is your occupation now?
mb Seven years ago I decided to stop working as a photographer due to the increasing economic crisis, which affected many companies. Then I bought a farm, now called “La Cavarchella,” in Pozzol Groppo, Italy, and a flock of goats. I started producing delicious cheese which has won lots of important awards so far, and I transformed my farm into a workshop laboratory open to school visits, too.

ws What investment did you make?
mb I had a budget for the purchase of the portion of land where my farm now stands, and I didn’t pay lots of money because the previous owners didn’t want it any longer and sold the property for a reasonable price.

ws Are you happy now?
mb I have really found the happiness formula. My new lifestyle is what I have wanted for years. In addition, my family and my son can live in a very inspiring place where it’s still possible to learn hand crafts and traditional jobs that have almost disappeard in modern cities.

freccia  “I was interested in work coaching and that is what pushed me to found my own company.”

Susanna Halonen is an English coach, consultant and motivational speaker with international communications experience. She founded “Happyologist”, a company which helps people to reach high performance through a sort of happiness philosophy.

ws What were you doing before working as a psychology practitioner?
sh I started my career in a big, international corporation. I tried everything from product management to marketing communications to employee engagement.

ws What made you change?
sh I had an “eureka moment” in a coaching session when I was asked, “What do you want out of life?” I reflected and I realized that I really liked to work in the positive psychology field, helping individuals find more happiness whilst helping teams and organizations find performance through happiness.

ws What kind of investment did you make in this career change?
sh I set up my blog on Happyologist, I completed a coaching accreditation course and I started coaching people on the side. Luckily when I left my job I managed to leave with some redundancy pay, which really helped me feel a bit more secure. Then I started doing some free talks and consulting jobs, which eventually turned into paying clients.

ws Are you happy now?
sh I get to do what I love every day: it really fits me. I get to use my natural strengths and make a real difference, hopefully inspiring others to do the same on the way. I end my workdays energized, not drained.

freccia “My customers’ satisfaction when they come and eat at my restaurant is such a good feeling that I wouldn’t ask for more.”

Davide Vozzo is the Italian owner of a restaurant called “Italie, là bas” in Avignon, France. After 23 years as a journalist, he moved with his girlfriend to the south of the country and started again from the beginning.

ws What were you doing before you moved to France?
dv I was in charge of a team of journalists and my working days were intensive, but at the same time really satisfying.

ws Why did you decide to open a restaurant in Avignon?
dv I have always loved this place and after doing the job for so many years I was determined to leave the world of broadcast journalism and work somewhere different from Milan, which is a very big and crowded city.

ws What are you doing now?
dv After quitting my job I tried to open a restaurant with my girlfriend in Tuscany, Italy, thanks to her passion for cooking, but it was too difficult for us because of the red tape, so we went on holiday to try to forget this débacle and have a break, and fell in love with this French town.

ws What sort of investment did you make in this career change?
dv Starting a business in this sector in Avignon was quite easy compared to Italy. My girlfriend and I got a loan from some French banks and obtained some help to start up. With a investment of less than 100,000 euros we could buy premises right in the center of the town.

ws Are you happy now?
dv I think that running my business in this location made me find the right way to happiness: despite working 12 hours a day, I still have the time to enjoy myself. But what makes sense is, above all, my customers’ satisfaction when they come and eat at my restaurant.


Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2014