I am visiting Luis and Yuka in their Tokyo home studio, where they live with their cat called Señor (“Mister”, in English), who has his own Instagram account @nekosenor. Although this is a new post, it is actually the continuation of an old one that was done about a year ago. Lots of things have changed, so we thought it was time to grab another coffee and take a fresh approach.
I met Luis a few years ago thanks to my good friend Alvaro, with whom I hung out with for several years back in London; we both come from the same town in Spain, Zaragoza.
Luis is also Spanish and well known in the Tokyo design and illustration expat community, due to his social and kind nature. If you attend art fairs, exhibitions, and art events, there is a chance that you will bump into him. We also hang out together with a group of other Spaniards and meet every now and then for dinner, drinks, and endless stories. Luis has been a role model for me because of his natural talent and the amazing story behind his career.
Yuka and Luis are now a couple, and they have so much in common. Together they make an empowering story: they both decided to escape from a well-established position in life and decided to break out of their comfort zones to pursue a fulfilling, yet risky, new life. Both have lived big chunks of their lives in different countries and both have a great passion for what they do.
I hope you enjoy their stories and feel inspired by them.
Bio – Luis Mendo, Illustrator, art director
Luis Mendo was born in modest Salamanca, Spain. His early visual influences were bullfighting (on TV) and his mother’s women’s fashion magazines.
He later became interested in comics, kids’ first and then grown-up ones later.
When he was 17, he most enjoyed talking politics with his friends and reading artists’ biographies while trying to learn from the comic artists he admired. After schooling in graphic design, he finally graduated in Madrid and lived in Groningen (The Netherlands), then Barcelona, and finally Amsterdam, where he worked mainly as a magazine (editorial) designer and art director for about 20 years.
After being the creative director of a successful design studio in Amsterdam (and almost burning out from it), he opened his own firm in 2005 (GOOD Inc.). He then discovered what it meant to be freelance and soon became one of The Netherlands’ most renowned Art Directors.
Despite his success, it was all exhausting and far from fulfilling. After his father’s death in 2009, he decided to take a 3 month sabbatical in Tokyo, which changed his view on life and made him question everything he had done so far. Impressed by the Japanese capital’s lifestyle, he decided to break away from design and his well-established life in Amsterdam and moved permanently to Japan in 2013. Having drawn all his life, but never professionally, a friend recommended that he show his drawings to a Tokyo illustrator’s agency, which, much to his surprise, hired him on the spot. Now, he learns every day about how to draw and how to survive as an illustrator. He draws for magazines, brands, and websites from all over the world.
He enjoys drawing on the train, with friends at cafes, and works on commissions from his living room studio. His favorite themes are mostly people, travel, and nature. He also enjoys drawing anything he hasn’t drawn before all the same.
Bio – Yuka Okada, Founder, and Director of INHEELS
Yuka was born in Chōshi, Chiba. She graduated from Keio University and then worked for an M&A company as a consultant. While she had a well paid and high profile role, Yuka felt it wasn’t a fulfilling life and wanted to contribute to making the world a better place, rather than just having a good life. She quit and decided to move to London to work for an ethical fashion company while studying fashion design at a night school. When Yuka felt she was ready to return to Japan, she came to Tokyo and established her own brand, INHEELS. Back then, Japan did not have many options to choose from for sustainable fashion and she quickly gathered attention from media and peers.
Today, INHEELS is an award-winning, sustainable fashion brand operating from Tokyo. Her company produces stylish casual-wear using environmentally friendly materials and fair trade labor in Nepal. As the founder of one of the leading sustainable fashion brands in Japan, Yuka is responsible for planning, marketing, sales, and production control while regularly giving workshops and talks at universities, public institutions, and events. Ethical fashion has been constantly growing as a response to fast fashion. The goal is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the planet and social responsibility. Basically, her goal is to produce clean fashionable products of good quality and durability and at a fair price for consumers.
Next to fashion, Yuka loves cooking Spanish croquetas and drawing! You can follow her art on Instagram @yuka_draws
Yuka and Luis are now planning to create a new physical space in Tokyo where people will be able to show their work, sell their products, and work together.
A whole building with gallery, shop, co-working space and a small apartment for international creative guests. Stay tuned!
Also published on Medium.