Meet Reiko Katayama, the creator of WA MOGA 29. Her herbarium collections are inspired by a mixture of Japanese tradition, modern design, timeless sentiment and Japan’s “Moga” (“modern girl”) flapper girls of the 1920s. Since discovering Reiko and her creations, we’ve been intrigued to know more about this unusual art form and the person driven to capture and create a series of floral narratives.
We recently had the opportunity to pose some questions to Reiko, who will be selling her herbariums at the Got Craft? Holiday Market, December 7-8.
What first inspired you to begin making herbariums? Please explain your early relationship with flowers and how that evolved over time to eventually develop into starting your own business.
When I had my daytime job, my life was hectic. I used to buy a few stems of flower every week to lift myself. The only problem was they always died within a week. It was a kind of lifestyle that no longer served me, and I had to go through some health issues as a consequence of my bad decisions. During my recovery, I spent time doing photography in nature and it was my way to mend myself. It was amazing to see how fast I made progress and I bounced back with a stronger spirit.
I love flowers, and herbariums are something I could appreciate when I had that crazy lifestyle because I had no time and energy left to take care of those flowers. I believed that it could apply to many people who are in the same situation and who have lost contact with nature. Therefore, I was inspired to create my own platform to share my herbarium art and stories.
Please tell us a bit more about the people/artisans that you work with. Who – in all – comprises the WA MOGA 29 team? What are their different roles? What makes each individual special and a good fit for the WA MOGA 29 team?
I work closely with a small group of people who have talents I don’t have and care for what they do. For example, my vendor from Bulgaria who supplies lichen moss showed me pictures of how he climbs the mountain to collect moss by hand. He also donates some portion to plant a tree.
My marketing team is full of ideas and are always actively seeking new opportunities to grow.
Spacelab has been very supportive of what I do since Day One. It works perfectly for me to use their one-of-a-kind vintage pieces as props in photography and I helped design their custom-built display units. At recent events, my booth received a lot of attention from the crowd, not only because herbarium is new to the market, but also because SpaceLab and I created a perfect ambiance which was highly aesthetic and gave the inviting vibe to attract various people.
What are the technical steps of creating an herbarium, from start to finish? How long does the entire process take?
There is a lot of sterilizing and drying time to make sure there is no moisture on the ingredients, bottles or tools and they are cleaned every time I create a new batch. I use aquarium tweezers and my fingers to put elements into the bottle and create a composition. Once I am happy with how it looks, I pour the oil, then the vibrant colours and plumped shapes come back to life and create the lively appearance. The process is quite free-form, especially when I work on the artistic bottles. It takes a lot of patience to put small pieces together including a piece of the petal. It would take at least a day or two to complete a simple bottle and days for the intricate ones.
Where does your knowledge and expertise come from? What sort of education or training did you do to acquire these skills?
I never took professional training in creating herbarium. However, I have a solid design background. I’ve studied various types of design (interior design, graphic design, photography, etc.) and I have worked as a retail professional for over 10 years in the creative field. Solving problems is what I have been doing my entire life and I learned a lot every time I went through different kinds of obstacles. I wouldn’t be able to create artistically as I do now without those lifetime experiences.
What flower in particular holds the most significance to you personally and why?
Although it is not a flower, I have a sweet spot for Pink Pepper Berry. It represents passion and a shining heart, and that is why I named the bottle “Carpe Diem” instead of using a number – because that’s what I needed to “seize the day”, creating and launching my own artworks. I am sending my message to people out there through my creation in order to take actions now instead of waiting for changes in the future.
The 1920s and flapper girls play a big role in the inspiration behind WA MOGA 29, which I find personally fascinating as I’m also very interested in this time in the past. What are your favourite things about this era? What initially sparked your interest in Japan’s Moga girls?
I was very impressed by how creative and fearless those Moga girls were. I choose to live as an extremely independent free spirit and sometimes I still get biases toward my lifestyle by others, even in 2019. It os not easy to deal with the negative voices around you and keep moving forward, so I was blown away how strong Moga girls were to put up with the society in the 20s in Japan when women didn’t have the freedom we have now, yet they still sticked to their gut feelings and lived bravely the way they wanted. Their mindset was ahead of everyone else and I have a huge respect for them.
In your opinion, what makes a strong, ‘modern’ woman nowadays, in the 21st century?
I believe we, women, can think and do things more inclusively in the 21st century. In fact, my brand mascot, a grey rabbit, is a symbol of inclusiveness and it receives a lot of love. We tend to put labels on ourselves without realizing it. It restricts us from growing as individuals. We shouldn’t make decisions or judge anybody based on gender, age, race, culture or lifestyle. If we are more open and have some respect toward others, we can make more positive changes in this world.
What are the most challenging things about running a business and what are the most rewarding or empowering ones?
Although I have a clear vision for my brand, sometimes I feel like I’m walking in the woods without a clear path. I struggle with anxiety but I can’t lose myself because there is no turning back. I just have to keep moving forward and it is challenging to hold onto it. One of my favourite moments is whenever I witness customers fall in love with my art and share their stories with me as to why they picked a certain piece. I stand by quality, personality and thoughtfulness, and when my customers understand my intentions and get inspired as I wish, I feel all my hard work is rewarded.