Getting to know you: Junko Kemi

Junko Kemi

What do you currently do?

I am the founder of ‘kay me’, a Japanese clothing brand specialising in women’s business wear. ‘kay me’ has five stores in Japan and has just launched in the UK, so I am currently splitting my time between London and Tokyo. In addition to our flagship store in Ginza, I have a store in downtown Osaka, another at Haneda international airport and concessions in two Tokyo department stores.

Since launching in the UK, I have been immersing myself in London life and learning all about British culture – I’ve enjoyed every minute so far!

What was the inspiration behind your business?

In my previous life as a marketing consultant, I found it challenging to dress professionally whilst also expressing my own personality in a corporate environment. You may not think it would be difficult to find practical yet elegant clothing in a city as large as Tokyo, but I would often return home empty handed after walking round the department stores in Tokyo. I often wondered why larger clothes companies were not catering to the professional female demographic so decided to create my own label! I also personally test and wear every style created and if I do not like it for myself, it does not make it into the collection.

Who do you admire?

I admire my grandmother; she owned a kimono store in Osaka, Japan at a time when few women were business owners. She placed the customer at the heart of her business and would achieve anything she set her mind to.

I also admire anybody who has taken the plunge and set up his or her own business – it is not for the fainthearted and takes a lot of courage and determination.

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?

I wish I had travelled more when I was younger. When I started to travel I realised that there was much to learn from people who culturally were so different from myself.

Having said that, there isn’t a lot I would do differently – I don’t have many regrets as I’ve learnt important life lessons from both positive and not so positive life experiences.

What defines your way of doing business?

My aim is to take customers on the kay me journey, putting them at the heart of everything we do. To do this effectively, I frequently liaise with my network and hold focus groups in which I interview existing and future kay me customers and show them sample products.

I believe that focus groups are a useful way of gaining insights from your core audience. However, if you are asking for advice it is important that you respect any advice given as it does usually help the business in the long run.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

To someone starting out I would say use your common sense, be humble and take any opportunity to network – you never know who you may meet who can help you on your business journey.

Having a solid financial plan is also very important; I have always had financial reserves in place and continued to work as a freelance consultant before launching kay me, ensuring that I had sufficient funds in place.

Finally, one of the most important life lessons I’ve learnt is that anything is possible and that there is a positive learning to be taken from all experiences. Difficult life experiences can often be the source of our greatest professional and personal development.