Meet Our Member: Ryoko Bags
Learn more about how Ryoko Bags got started and where they see themselves growing.
Why did you start your business? What was your inspiration?
It all started with a camera. My wife, Noon & I are passionate about photography and were looking for a new camera bag. We needed something functional that would fit our everyday work style, and weather the tolls of travel – the other thing we both love doing during our free time. Little disappointed with the lack of practical options, we decided to design and handcraft one ourselves. And that’s how Ryokō (which means “travel – 旅行” in Japanese) was born in 2015.
Now, three years into our journey, we have extended our range beyond camera accessories to hand-stitched wallets, briefcases, and other travel accessories, and are branching out from UAE to UK, Australia and Singapore through our retail partners. The common ingredient is the unique full-grain leather, which are sourced mostly from Japan and some from Italy and India. Especially our wallets are handmade with intricate traditional saddle stitching – which gives Ryokō its classic yet contemporary look and feel.
Many people ask us about the ‘Japanese connection’. One of the main reasons was our inspiration from the Japanese way of focusing on function along with style when they design products, machinery, houses etc. Our materials were the other link to ‘Japan’. We wanted the accessories to be made from high quality leather that ages and gets better with time. This took us on a journey to tanneries in various countries, learning traditional craftsmanship from artisans. We chose Japanese vegetable-tanned leather for our hand-stitched range of wallets for its durability and natural features. The slower tanning process is what gives these leather goods their beautiful patina. Starting with a beautiful pale tan shade, it eventually develops into any range of browns through wear and use.
What would be your advice for anyone looking to start their own business?
Do what you love and believe in, and the rest will follow.
We think that our love for travel is perfectly captured in our designs. And through this passion, we have met like-minded people all over the world. Photographers who, like us, wanted to capture their moments in style, and travelers who wanted accessories that could see the world with them. Ultimately, that’s one of the key reasons behind Ryokō’s success. In a way, the gap in the market was our own needs for functional travel accessories. What turned Ryokō from a search for the right bag into an actual business was simply the belief in our own instincts – and that there would definitely be other people out there who would share similar interests.
This whole idea continues to shape our journey ahead. We will keep focusing on the needs and desires of fellow travelers which will hopefully give direction to Ryokō’s future designs.
What is your top tip for other SME’s to generate sales?
The ‘stand set up’ would have to be eye-catching from a visual merchandising perspective. If one style does not work, keep trying different ways to display your products. The other important thing would be to actively engage your community on social media for upcoming events.
Lastly, it is best to advise potential customers and keep their interests in mind especially when they are looking for something specific rather than trying to sell them a product which may not suit their needs.
As an SME, to what do you attribute your success?
I believe the common ingredient to our success has our designs which are a combination of classic and contemporary styles. It is also the quality of materials we use, for example – full grain leather, which are sourced mostly from Japan and some from Italy and India. The craftsmanship has been our key focus as well – our wallets are handmade with intricate traditional saddle stitching. This gives Ryokō its classic yet contemporary look and feel.
How do you think the communities of UAE can further support SMEs like you?
The community here in UAE is an amazing mix of different cultures. Like us, there are others as well who have moved here from different parts of the world and made UAE their home. These people bring with them unique and innovative ideas to start businesses here. It would be great if there are initiatives to promote, support, advertise UAE-based startups like Ryokō in the region, alongside the international retail brands that we are typically accustomed to seeing in various shopping centres.
It would also be amazing if there are more exhibition and showcases like Dubai Design Week, to encourage local designers and introduce them to visitors from outside the UAE as well.
What do you see the future of Ryoko looking like?
We spent our first year focusing on building our brand through pop-up events like the Ripe Market and this was the perfect launchpad for us. People got to know about Ryoko and a lot of this was through word of mouth and social media. Soon after, we started collaborating with retail partners and distributors in the UAE and a few internationally. Our focus for the future would be to further grow Ryoko in the region and to introduce our leather goods to the international community as a UAE based brand.