Kiyo Ohara


Thursday, September 19th, 7:00 – 9:30pm

Don’t Limit Your Vision . . .

In The Duncan Anderson Design Department Gallery at California State University, Long Beach

Kiyo Ohara is the designer and owner of Dragon 88, a modern collection of textile accessories and furniture that is sold to luxury and fashion hotels like the W Hotel Hollywood, SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, and the Trump Beach Walk Hotel Waikiki. She has an extensive fashion background as a retail and product development merchant having worked at the prestigious Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendels. She moved into wholesale and manufacturing as VP of Merchandising at Esprit. Kiyo was a Creative Producer for a t.v. site for Carsey-Werner Company with her consulting company, Icon Marketing. She has a Bachelor of Arts dual degree in Communications and Art from Syracuse University and a Masters in Business Administration in Marketing from Hofstra University.

Kiyo will share her experiences in her journey from fashion merchant to business owner in a time of change. She will elaborate on the following pieces of advice.

Don’t limit your vision…I got invaluable advice early when I was very young from an artist John Manchester, who was friends with Georgia O’Keefe, and the only white man to witness a sacred ceremony with the Indians in Taos, New Mexico. I was debating whether to go to an art school although I was interested in many subjects and he advised me to not limit my vision and to learn as much as I could. Your art feeds from your inspiration and knowledge of the world: history, culture, literature, music, fashion, etc. He often felt that students learned too much about technique and did not know how to express themselves, or to see or experience the world around them.

Taking risks…I came from a very small town and many people were shocked that I pursued fashion with no contacts, no urban upbringing, and with no fashion to speak of in my community. However, I was raised in a college town with an artistic community, with an extremely intelligent, culturally aware father, and a mother that was also an over-achiever as a swimming athlete. She would have competed in the Olympics if the games hadn’t been cancelled due to WWII. I’ve pursued whatever I’ve dreamed of doing by planning, aggressively seeking the goal, and with an awareness of the adversity, but to not make that a deterrent. Go for the juggler!

Finding your design signature…Everyone has a signature style or look to their artistic expression. You need to realize that signature and be able to evolve and package the look with your brand, the trends, and marketing. I’ve learned through fashion that this requires merchandising and styling of your statement. Produce your statement, but be able to look at it critically to edit and heighten its aesthetic impact. Dragon 88 is known for its fashion statement, use of color and texture, and novel looks in technique in embroidery, laser, and digital prints.

Changing your business model…Dragon 88 premiered its line at High Point, the largest furniture show in the world, three weeks after 9/11. We were jury selected for a new High Design area. It was the worst show in the history of High Point, but luckily I got incredible advice from the Publisher of Home Accents Today, a trade magazine similar to WWD, to focus on our textile accessories since during an impending recession, these low ticket items like pillows and throws would still be in demand. Our current mix at the show was 85% furniture and 15% accessories. Dragon 88 maintained the furniture, but we quickly changed our mix to reflect pillows and throws as our dominant focus which saved our company. We would continue to change our business model several times over the next decade to grow and expand with the economy.

Build an Incredible Team…I’ve worked with my contractors, mills, and vendors for long time. It takes times to establish a good working relationship with your factories and mills. You need to work honestly, with respect, and with integrity. Pay your bills on time or early. Your contractors need to make money to stay in business, so negotiate for good prices, but make it so everyone can profit. If your vendors feel you look out for them, they will help you out in a difficult situation which often comes up in manufacturing.

Research and Development…Always be forecasting and looking for new developments in sourcing and techniques to expand your line with. The newest technologies can be your next cash cow. Digital printing is one of our newest developments over the last couple years which we continue to broaden our offerings.

Crash and Burn…I live for chaos, but everyone has their own ways of working and handling their daily work schedule. I love traveling, so I do that a lot for sales. I used to work every day which has changed the last 3 years to a more balanced life. I don’t work on weekends as much. I do workout every day. My to-do list, if I see tasks that appear on there every day for a week, I delegate it, or break it out so I do get it done. I prioritize my tasks and work it out over my weekly calendar so it gets done. As an owner, there are tasks that you don’t like, so it helps to get contractors to help you accomplish those big tasks that have to be done. In my case, I hate doing financials; so I get great advice from my book keeper and accounting firm.

Starting out…Work with a company that is similar to what you want to open yourself. Learn about the systems you are going to need to open your own. Get financial advice from your bank or government organizations. Network and listen to accomplished people in your industry and others. I feel you can never have enough information, so be aware of what is happening around you economically, trends in the marketplace, and changes in your industry. You might observe changes that make you change your company to make it grow or prevent you from losing money or positioning.

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