My blog has helped the Kumano manufactures to have more presence internationaly, it also helped other businesses around Japanese Fude (brushes) to kick start, I have never asked anything in return, never been paid for my reviews, when I started the blog I didn’t even know that I would one day be in PR lists and receive free products to review.
I was happy like this, posting whenever I had the chance, enjoying my hobby during my free time.
At some point the manufactures started saying that if one day I wanted to create a collection of brushes that I should contact them. This made me laugh, I really thought they were joking, that they were just trying to be funny and kind to me.
I could not imagine myself doing this for many reasons. Lack of time, lack of confidence, no pro skills, I am not a legend, I am not a celebrity… I did not think I had the emotional strength required and who would be interested anyway?
I continued to go to Kumano and they continued to talk about wanting to work with me. I think that the main reason why I am here today, with my own brushes, it’s because of them.
I was offered this huge opportunity and I was not considering it, not even trying… I started dreaming about it, and thinking what if I did?
I was actually really scared of trying, of failing. But not trying is failing anyway.
I started designing a few prototypes in 2014, a friend of mine put them in 3D but when I showed these to the manufacture and told them what I had in mind, they said it was not possible to do that amount of customization, even paying the price, they could not technically achieve it.
I had a few chats with the manufactures to understand what could be done but when you want a high level of customization -handles, shapes, ferrules- it’s difficult to find a manufacture that could mass produce them without having to pay an astronomical amount of money.
I had to put this project on hold, technically it was really challenging and mentally and physically I was in a difficult phase. I was trying to have a baby, it was my top priority and could not focus on the brushes.
I stayed in continuos contact with the manufactures, kept investigating further and one day, in 2016, a miracle happened, I finally had my baby Alice. I was then ready to continue my brush project, when I checked with the manufactures, there was technically a way to make it happen and we were going to give it a try.
THE MANUFACTURE AND THE CHALLENGES
I had some conditions, one of them was that I could work with several Kumano manufactures in the future should I wish to do so. I want to have the possibility to involve several artisans with the idea of bringing the best from each one.
Mass-producing something unique, consistency, quality, ethically sourcing materials and getting to a final price that was still reasonable, those were some of the challenges that I was facing.
For contractual reasons, I am not allowed to share who worked with me on this project, however, there are still many things that they allowed me to share.
I worked with amazing people, we would talk on a daily basis for months and months, the conversations we had on the emails broke gmail limitations because they just grew too big 🙂 I had to handle each issue and very carefully the financial aspect.
They allow me to share the picture I took with the Master Artisan who worked with me, he is very talented and he told me he really truly enjoyed the challenges I was giving him 😀
I wanted the handles to have a unique design, like something coming straight from hell alive 😀 with a stunning gradation and the right shade of red. I wanted the logo at the bottom of the handle. The center had to be slimmer to help with the ergonomics and balance of the brush.
The manufacture didn’t have anything like this available so we had to involve a new handle provider. In order to get to this shape, we had to play with different tools, with a bit of imagination we managed to combine the right tools, get to the final shape and still keep the costs under control, there was a way to make it work!
This painting technique is also something they never tried before, it was an opportunity for them to try new products and a new way of using them within their traditional knowhow. It was a big challenge but you have no idea how excited they were doing this!
Then you have to play with the colors and with the sampling and this is not free, on their side they have to purchase products too so every sampling has a cost, it’s not because you buy just one handle that you pay for one handle, you pay much more.
I cannot share the technique used to paint the handles because it’s their knowhow that they will keep secret from their competitors but they had to apply at least 4 layers, pigments and special clear coatings or the depth effect would not show through.
Because the orders are of smaller quantity and because it takes so long to make them, this has an impact on the final cost.
Something else that I can share is that these handles have a “step”, they are not crimped. This is more costly as it requires to sculpt a step at the top of the handle to “click” the ferrule in place and have a smooth transition from the handle to the ferrule.
The ferrules are glossy black chrome plated brass, this material and the black coating make them really luxurious… and costly.
Some ferrules also had to be produced and purchased just for these brushes, they are not produced at the manufacture and because the orders were for smaller quantities, their cost is steep.
These are brushes that were never made by the manufacture so they had to create tools for them, some were easier, some were more complicated and time consuming. Prototypes had to be made, again and again.
This part is done at the manufacture, in order to print the logo at the bottom, the name of the brush and my name on the handle, we need several plates. In my case 3 per brush, and each time you change the name of the brush, you need a new one. This is just to say that using different plates on each brush comes with a cost and has an impact on the price, both because of the time consuming process and because of the additional material required.
The printing had to be the most long-lasting technique they had in the manufacture, it is also unfortunately the most expensive.
I have faced several limitations along the way, for example the initial logo that was planned could not technically be printed at the bottom, after doing some tests we had to decide to change the logo completely. The technique to paint the handles was really innovative and required a lot of work. Waking up in the morning and checking my emails was so exciting but so nerve-wracking too.
These are the factors that make Japanese handcrafted brushes more costly:
- unique handles
- custom heads
- long lasting logo
- black chrome coated brass ferrules
- high quality materials
- step handle (vs crimped ferrule)
- bottom logo, name on each brush
Neither the manufacture, not the ferrule or handle provider will give you a reduction price because you are new, the production cost is the same whoever you are.
The cost to produce these was very high, if those brushes were sold by a famous brand they would be much more expensive, you can trust me on that, I wanted as many people as possible to be able to afford them.
I believe that my readers expected from me something unique, with the highest quality. Creating something cheaper would have been possible but I would have to compromise somewhere and the artisans would not have had the opportunity to experiment new products, it was a very enriching adventure for all the people involved.
I will share more about the designs in the upcoming days, also about the reason why I chose those materials and more info about each brush, I have prepared a site specially for this topic but I need to work a bit more on it.
For the moment, only the set is available on Beautylish, the individual brushes should be available sometime in January 🙂
The link is here.
Now, I am going to celebrate Christmas with my wonderful family and I am looking forward to share more pics about the whole process and more details about each brush very soon!
I wish you a very Merry Chrismas to you and I cannot wait to start this New Year with you!