April 4, 2021

27. Exploring the world of socially responsible stationery with Daryl of Musubi

27. Exploring the world of socially responsible stationery with Daryl of Musubi

In today’s episode we will be talking about the magical world of high-end notebooks and what it takes to be a socially conscious company in an Amazon packed world.  Our guest today has established himself as a fixture at pen shows, a trusted source of knowledge for Tomoe River paper, he has just released a new series of notebooks featuring Cosmo Air Light Paper, and will be releasing his new line of Folio Covers later this year! Please join me in welcoming him all the way from Singapore, Daryl from Musubi.


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Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise,raiSE

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27 Daryl with Musubi


[00:00:00] John: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 27 of stationery or where we're all here to learn more about creative letter writing. I'm your host John West, and I'm joined by our co-host Evan Harris.

And in today's episode, we'll be talking about the magical world of high-end notebooks and what it takes to be a socially conscious company and an Amazon packed world. Our guest today has established himself as a fixture at Pen shows, a trusted source of knowledge for tomoe river paper. He has just released a new series of notebooks featuring cosmos air light paper, and will be releasing his new line of folio covers later this year.

 Please join me in welcoming all the way from Singapore, Darryl from musubi. Good morning, Darrell or good afternoon, Daryl.

Daryl: [00:00:36] It's perfectly on the opposite sides of the world. I think we are. So this is this is the evening for me. So I'll say good morning to you in turn, because I know it's very early there and I appreciate you making the time for me so early in the morning

John: [00:00:50] Yeah. And likewise, we appreciate you taking some time out of your evening to speak with us.

Daryl: [00:00:54] Oh, these are always fun. I love them.

John: [00:00:57] Good deal. We've got some fun questions for you and I'm going to start it [00:01:00] right out of the gate. For those who might not be in the know or think they're in the know like myself, which I've turned out that I was wrong. What does atelier mean?

Daryl: [00:01:07] An atelier is essentially, it's a French word, obviously, and it is a workshop at its core, but it has a very strong sense of being led by. Designers by makers. So it is a place where stuff is made. They're not typically considered very large places. We use it primarily in terms of the Japanese context, where, you know, in a lot of fallout of Japanese makers still call themselves ateliers because they have a one designer or one maker leading a small team.

And everything is done in-house or has a very strong in-house focus. And we called ourselves that because really what we wanted to, I think  most of your listeners will probably be familiar with this, but Musubi employees, persons with disabilities and other persons from disadvantaged communities.

And so [00:02:00] one of the big things that we wanted to, to in calling ourselves in atelier, a workshop is that we wanted to make sure that there was a deep. Sort of personal connection between the artists who makes the stuff that you buy and the client who writes in the stuff that is made, we yeah, you mentioned just now that we live in an Amazon packed world and that's pretty much you have in large part, it is terrifyingly easy, I think, to just go online and buy stuff that is of you, you place an order.

And then it's sent to a factory, like on the other side of the planet where some faceless people working for $2 an hour will just make the stuff a thousand at a time. And then it gets stuffed into a container. It picks its way across the planet. Occasionally getting stuck behind the ship and the Suez

and then when it arrives where you are, you don't really have any [00:03:00] sort of a personal connection with the person who made it because it's just stuff. It's just stuff that has been made. And it is delivered to you to fulfill like a commercial contract. There's no, I hesitate to say that there's no soul in it because that's not true.

Everything that's made has has the effort and the soul of the people who made it put into it, but it has no life. It's not personal. There's no connection. It's something that just fills that air, if that makes sense. And.

John: [00:03:30] I think that was where I, I made the mistake in my definition of atelier is that I thought it was  directly descended from just the French word maker and admittedly  in France, you have a definite culture of making and the kind of craftsmanship and small.

Company kind of culture that's over there, but I didn't realize that there was a an additional context to that from the Japanese side, which doesn't surprise me too much, but in a way it definitely [00:04:00] alters the definition in my mind.

Daryl: [00:04:02] Oh, for sure. I'm not a, I'm not a French speaker. For me, it's definitely in the in the Japanese context, I lived and worked in Japan for many years. And  the thing that always struck me about Japanese maker culture Japanese atelier culture was that. You meet these people who lead these workshops and they are directly connected to the materials they use.

They're directly connected to the things that they make. They are almost always owner operated. They have a deep passion for one specific thing that they're making, whether it's an Indigo dyed gene, or whether it's a Woodcraft or leather, or really just anything like there's a really great guy.

I know up in our Maury who makes fish hooks, for fly fishing. And that's literally all he does is he makes high end fish hooks for people who love to fish. And his great passion is making hooks that [00:05:00] reduce the amount of damage the fish. So they can put it back in the water as safely as possible.

And that's all he does for a living. And he makes like maybe a hundred of them a year. It's like the, that, that sort of obsessiveness, that sort of passion, I think, is what we want it to communicate. 

John: [00:05:15] I think that you're you got it exactly. It's I relate more to the food side of things, which is just partly me, but I, I remember hearing about some of the Westerners that suffer culture shock going over to Japan because they're so used to walking into restaurants where the menu is like four pages long.

And you get to Japan and there, somebody down on the street that has a restaurant that has four seats in it and they serve two things.

Daryl: [00:05:42] Yes. Yes.

Evan: [00:05:43] If you are lucky, two things.

Daryl: [00:05:45] you are lucky, two things, in many cases, you just sit down and whatever's put in front of you, you eat and you will have a very good time.

Evan: [00:05:53] Yeah I remember that sort of restaurant from when I went to Japan several years ago, it was fun for me. [00:06:00] Atelier some what tends to connote fabric, but I think that's just the little I learned in high school, French. But it's also very different from the at least American use of the term maker, which is when I, at least when I think about it, makers and maker spaces are not so much artisans as a hobbyists.

But you are all really doing artisan work.

Daryl: [00:06:25] I, there were so many great American makers and obviously they'll use the English term maker, 

you have folks like Ian, Schon who does these fantastic handmade fountain pens in the U S and he's one of my, one of my favorite guys in the entire space. And obviously it's contextually very different for American and Western makers who obviously we use the term, maker in English, but really, I think what unites the two is that the people who make these things are incredibly passionate about what they do.

They're incredibly knowledgeable about [00:07:00] that one specific area that they work in, which I think is really important because it's very difficult to make anything good. Unless you have a strong technical background in that I hear what you're saying about like the, when I think maker spaces, I think like 3d printing, coworking spaces, the sort of the thing that is very trendy.

And obviously there's a lot of making that goes into that through. I think as long as you're keeping it real, keeping it small, keeping it sustainable and keeping it relatively less corporatized, I think whether you call it an, atelier or maker, there are all of these people who are doing just such amazing work.

Each in their own space frequently using local materials. These days we talk so much about stuff like the doughnut economy and what it means to consume local and reduce our footprint. And I think part of that revolution is going to end up being led by people like Ian and the many other makers in the fountain pen space who care deeply.

About the environment they care deeply about the product that they [00:08:00] make. They care deeply about making sure that everyone involved in the process is paid fairly. And that's, I think, we'll probably get  into this topic later in the interview too, because we'll at some point, because this is a Musubi interview, I will talk about capitalism, it's into what we talked about earlier with the whole thing about an Amazon packed world, where you have essentially just very large corporates producing things in very large quantities.

And they're optimizations, I think are different. You've all seen the sort of pictures online. I think on the Facebook groups where Amazon will ship you one ink bottle and they will ship it at the bottom of an enormous cardboard box, because they're optimizing for the packing of the boxes onto the truck.

They're not optimizing for anything else. And so the decision making process, I think made by large corporates and the decision making process that makers and people operate workshops and work with their hands come too, I think is fundamentally different. [00:09:00] And consequently, the impact that each of these decisions has on the whole system on the whole economy is fundamentally different.

I realized that answer meander a bit, but I th I think I got there in the end,

John: [00:09:14] I think that this is going to align really well into the next question, because with your detailed idea of what the atelier means I think I'm very interested to hear the next answer, which I'm sure is going to be a repeat for some folks. Just because you've been in this space for quite a while, and you've probably said this before, but what got you into creating notebooks?

Daryl: [00:09:33] so I've always liked stationery and. When I decided that I wanted to do something that had positive social impact, because that was my driving force by driving force was never, I need to make books with social impact. My driving force was always, I needed to do something that had positive social impact.

Otherwise I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. [00:10:00] It's difficult to create a social enterprise in today's economy because margins are thin. Production is difficult. It is very challenging to verify that everything you do is ethical.

The barrier to entry is consequently higher for creating a social enterprise than it is  for say, doing something like drop shipping on Amazon, or just making like a mass produced stuff to sell. Because the barrier to entry for being in the social end for creating a social enterprise is so high.

I asked myself, wouldn't it be incredibly dangerous for me if I started off by going into a field that I didn't understand at a very core level. So I wanted to reduce the barriers to entry in terms of the type of product that I was doing. So something that I care about, something that I knew about.

So I've always been a collector of vintage pens and a big fan of like just fancy not books. And [00:11:00] so what happened was I started looking around at the various NGOs that were operating in Singapore. And what was, what they were doing? You have a really great organizations like SAV, H Singapore association for the visually handicapped.

I hope to work with them someday because they're doing some exciting stuff in their craft workshop. You have organizations like SPD who we work with and they had a bookbinding workshop on the premises, but it was primarily focused on stuff like binding corporate, tomes of nonsense, and also a university thesis.

So you like any national university of Singapore and Nanyang technological university, which are two big boys here, they would send the thesis over to be bound SPD to put in the libraries. And so what I did was I walked in the front door one day, like an ass. [00:12:00] With a bunch of Tomo river paper and some fabric in my hand and sit, can I talk to whoever runs this place?

And they kicked me out, why it's not right to say they kicked me out. They hurt me up. They heard what I had to say about what I wanted to do, and then told me very politely that they didn't think that it was, that it would work up because to where river papers, very difficult to Hansel and the artisans had not tried it before.

What I did was I just went back the week after that and asked again, and I went back over and over again, slowly making friends with the artisans until they decided that they would try it. And six years later here we are.

John: [00:12:43] right on. No, that's a great story. And glad you were persistent about that. So the so you were talking about the

Daryl: [00:12:50] to say so that the workshop doesn't kill me, that once they got over the initial, like a hump of how do we actually work out how the case, these [00:13:00] notebooks in a high-end fabric, they were very accommodating about it. So it was the folks who work at SPD, both on the administration site and the workshop site are just excellent people and a joy to work with really.

John: [00:13:16] okay. You had mentioned that there, their big hangup was in trying to deal with the Tamalia river paper, but I think one question that a lot of folks have is what inspired you to start using kimonos as the covers for those notebooks.

Daryl: [00:13:32] Ooh. Okay. So this one is a, this is going to be a bit of a long and very complicated answer. The Japanese fabric angle, the kimonos came a little bit later, but th the core of it was craft preservation. And I'll explain that. When I was living in Japan, this was in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

I think most of your listeners will be familiar with that one. And a lot of the craftsmen who lived in the the [00:14:00] various regions that have been affected by the the disaster. No one was buying anything from them, because everyone's scared of radiation. And, even in places which were not irradiated they had to evacuate, many of the factories were destroyed either by the Fukushima disaster itself or by the flooding that caused the disaster in the first place, the tsunamis.

And so th the whole region was not doing great to put it mildly and I had friends up there. So I wanted, I went up there to see them. And I met this group of Sachiko craftsmen. So it's, he's multi-generations of of his family do Sachiko, which is the sort of PS decorated fabric for traditional Japanese art.

And, he was telling me that. He had so few customers that he was going to, if the next few months didn't work out for him, he was just going to shut it all down and go do something else, like working in a [00:15:00] normal factory or something. And it really struck me that the sort of local economies of all of these areas are tied very intimately with the fates of the people who work there with their hands and their feet and the things that they make.

And so one of the driving philosophies at the ended up making its way into the pursuit process was how do we work with these artisans from wherever they may be, whether they be in Japan, whether they be in Peru, like we do with the Peruvian fabrics that we have, or the Philippines or whatever, anywhere, really, how do we incorporate.

All of their work, into what we make so that they can be paid a substantial and fair amount for the stuff that they make. And [00:16:00] B that they, you do it in such a way that it respects the story of the people who made it and the culture that grounds the people who made it. And so one of the things about Komodo making in Japan is that it's not really that popular these days, because the vast majority of people that came almost like expensive to hideously, expensive things, right?

You could easily spend a five digit sum on the care model for a wedding and then just never use it again. So a lot of the younger generation of Japanese, and this is no fault of theirs because money is tight, did not buying some of the old fashioned stuff that's made with gold and silver.

They're buying stuff that's made with like polyester syntactic. Fabrics is usually OEM to like China or some cheap factory in Japan. And so the question was how would we preserve the artistry that went into creating and maintaining [00:17:00] traditional kimono fabrics? So I knew some folks who operated a store that was connected to a team of artisans up in for Gorka, which is in Japan.

And they restored traditional kimonos for like museums and bits and stuff. And business was not particularly good. So I asked them if they would restore some pieces for us so that we could cut it up and use it as covers for diaries. This, obviously it does. The first composition did not go so well because you're asking us to restore this so that you can slice it up into diary.

Ship things is really strange. But I think so. So I had to convince them that it doesn't really matter what the shape of the product made by the craft days, because at the end of the day, when you talk about Kebony and fabric weaving it's fabric, in the same way that so the Peruvian [00:18:00] artisans that we work with, they traditionally weave this fabric out of wool, alpaca, cotton, and it's woven into clothing and backs.

And so you have to ask if it's a fabric and as long as you respect the patterns and the stories that the fabric tells, there's really no reason you can't use the fabric for other stuff like, notebooks or folio covers or anything, really, because it is a material. And in fact, finding new uses for dying crafts.

Is part of what I think will make it possible to allow these crops to survive into the next century and beyond, because if all you're doing with it is making the same stuff that you beat before and demand for that stuff is dropping then without any, really creative action that the craft is going to die out.

So the long winded conclusion to this answer to your question is that the reason why we started using [00:19:00] vintage kimonos is we wanted to do something that would help preserve traditional craftsmanship. And in the case of Japan, that happened to be a vintage fabric weaving. So vintage kimonos, if that makes sense,

John: [00:19:15] Yeah, absolutely. And I think that it's important to realize the challenges that you were dealing with because of exactly what you had said, where these are traditional artists, they were raised and trained in this very specific craft. And that craft was to make clothing. And while your idea was in the best tradition of what we consider to be a P sorry, Amanda choked on that one with what you were doing was in the best tradition of what we consider to be a pivot in Western.

Business. It I'd imagine that, like you said, that was probably a pretty hard pill to swallow for some of the traditional artists, but I'm glad you again, persevered and got them to agree to that.

Daryl: [00:19:59] I [00:20:00] think, yeah, pivot is definitely the right word. And I think the most important thing in working with artists for various cultures is that you help them to understand that what you're going to do is going to celebrate their culture rather than appropriate from it. So I'll give you a specific example because I think it quite cleanly illustrates what we were trying to do.

So you've probably see it on our website that we have a shoe people, Knievel fabric, which is this white Peruvian fabric that has a hand etched, black and white pattern on it. So this is made by artisans who live along the banks of the Amazon river. And traditionally, what this art is they take the mud and the berries from the region.

And they turn it into a dye and the edge dis pattern onto their clothing and their fabrics. And this pattern actually tells the story of their cosmology, which is, the grant, the cosmic serpent, the river. And so the first thing that we [00:21:00] did when we started working with this group of artists, was we set, okay.

Traditionally, the pattern is very big because it is designed for like clocks, Kips clothing. How do we make this smaller by shrinking the proportions of the etching in such a way that no critical parts of the pattern are cut off, meaning that when you buy a musubi diary that has the  fabric, you still get the full pattern that tells the full cost Knology because otherwise there's this real real fear, this real tendency to just treat all of these Cultural artifacts, these sort of cultural processes as purely decorative things that can be sliced up at will.

So how do you reinterpret these patterns by shrinking the proportions of, for instance, in the case of the vintage kimonos? We don't talk about this very much, but we actually cut only specific parts of the OB. So most of the fabric is from the OB, which is the belt [00:22:00] around the kimono. We only cut specific parts of the belt because what you want to do is you want to make sure that the pattern reflects, for instance, let's say you have a pattern that has like a crane, a carriage, and a flower on it, like a very traditional tempo or wedding style pattern.

You, you only make pieces where all three of those elements are represented so that you make sure that you have the final product still reflects the appropriate cultural context in which the material existed. And that's that number one that goes a long way into, in terms of convincing your artistic sense that you mean you're very serious when you talk about making sure that the cultural story of what they're doing is preserved.

It goes a long way towards making sure that you're not just coming in and saying, Oh, we're just gonna, we just cherry pick, right? We're just take the stuff that looks good. Cut it up, put it on a back. Who cares if the cosmic serpent is cut in half, nobody gives a damn about that anyway.

And it also goes a long way. I think, into making [00:23:00] sure that when you are making these things at the workshop that you keep yourself honest, that you always ask yourself at the end of the day is what I am doing, generating this positive impact and making the world a better place than if I had not done it and not just making the world a better place for you or your pocketbook or your customers, but making the world a better place for everybody that was involved in the production.

Of this product, everyone, for the people who make the fabric to the people who diet to the people who bind them books, everyone, because it's very good, easy, I think in terms of, and I know I'm getting excited about this because this is one of my pet peeves. It's very easy. I think when operating a social enterprise to just laser focus on one part of the enterprise and say, okay, we generate social impact because this stuff is bound by artists and so disabilities.

But if in that process [00:24:00] of generating the positive impact for your artists who have disabilities, essentially drop the ball with all them, the other people that you're working with, and it's not fundamentally good, is it's not fundamentally meaningful. You just shifted the problem. The wit of the mystics that you've met from one culture to another.

And in many cases, what we mean by that is you're shifting the weight of it from a richer culture to a culture that doesn't have as much. And that is, it's greenwashing, which a lot of corporate folks do these days, but it's also just, it's just shameful, isn't it? Because you don't, instead of taking a comprehensive look at what you're doing and saying, am I truly generating social positive, social impact for everybody involved, you just shuffle the cards around the deck, but the problem hasn't actually gone away.

John: [00:24:51] Yeah, I think that what you're talking about here, and I think that this is something that some folks in the Western culture are starting to get their [00:25:00] minds wrapped around. But I think you're talking about this in a way that really a lot of Asian cultures tend to look at context a lot more than the Western cultures do.

And I think that part of that. Considering context is checking all of the assumptions that you're making. And I think that is a real weakness within Western culture. We don't check our assumptions nearly enough.

Daryl: [00:25:25] I would say that I think you have a lot of by one of my favorite companies, I think in all the world is Patagonia, obviously, which is run by  and he's a personal hero of mine because he's proven that it's possible to build. A company that's laser focused on generating positive impact, but also worth like a billion dollars which proves that you can, you can effect change at a large scale.

And I think a lot of that comes from the fact that he's thinking about these problems holistically, really thinking about the context in which [00:26:00] these, the larger context in which these problems sit rather than just going okay, Hey, we've got this problem. That's tick of an immediate and rational solution that addresses this problem.

But in reality, it doesn't really look at the underlying sources of what created that in the first place, or it just pushed us the burden on to some other part of the system, which then just has to eat it for you. So you feel good about what you've done, but in, in actual fact, you've just increased the burden for someone else.

John: [00:26:29] Yeah. So I'm gonna, I'm gonna take just a quick note here. I'm actually gonna skip this next question about Tamara riverbank, paper and co Cosmo airline, just to just keep the rhythm on this going a little bit better. So I'm just going to skip into the next question, if that's all right.

Daryl: [00:26:43] go for it.

John: [00:26:45] Okay. I think that it's safe to say that you've probably forgotten more about washy, which is Japanese paper, washi paper than most of us will ever learn. Can you tell us a little bit more about washing in your own words?

Daryl: [00:26:58] So this is an interesting [00:27:00] question, a little bit of a pet peeve of mine. So you'll forgive me for going off on this a little bit. A lot of what is called washy on the bucket. Isn't actually washy, and this is something that annoys me a little bit because I represent a group of craftsmen and craftswomen craftspersons and artisans.

And so stuff like this. Washy Arushi that with Japanese lacquer as well. These are terms of art. They mean a very specific thing. When you say that something for instance is a mucky, a fountain pen. You mean that it is a fountain pen that has been so it's like a hoary dashi bucket has to be, you have to scoop out some of the material and then you have to fill it in with the gold dust and paint it.

There are specific procedures involved with each of these terms of art. So you can't just slap like a sticker on the pen. Like some sellers are doing, put a bit of lacquer on it and then say that Sparky. No, it's not because McKee is a specific term. That means a specific craft. And you've just boldly raised it by [00:28:00] doing that.

And so a lot of what is on the market that we call a washi tape is just actually paper. It's just. It's just paper with fancy patents printed on it. There's nothing about it. That's washy. Washy is traditionally made using Mulberry causal. It's not the, it's not Western Western what the Western world would understand this Mulberry.

It's the causal plant. There's some variations of it, even within Asia. So you have Korean paper is different from Japanese papers, different for Chinese paper, but it's all like varietals of the same plant. And it's a paper characterized by being met by from the pop of the causal plant.

Typically with very long fibers compared to most Western papers. I would say probably the fibers would be in like the 12 to 13 millimeter range instead of being in like the much shorter range for a lot of modern papers. 

John: [00:28:52] Yeah, you get to recycled paper and you're down to practically zero.

Daryl: [00:28:55] yeah. Yeah. And that's just the nature of what you put into it, right? Because [00:29:00] by the time it's gone through like the pulping process and the recycling process, it's just all mush at that point. So you don't have, you don't have these long fibers. So washy is traditionally, it was traditionally used in like the Japanese courts for a bunch of things as they were in other Asian court processes, the paper for calligraphy paper for wrapping things.

People meet umbrellas with them, one Casa, where you put you paid the washy with oil and rich solution and that will make it waterproof. So yeah it's really just, it really refers to a specific kind of pop and a specific manufacturing process typically by hand. Alto. There are a lot of Japanese companies these days, they're doing incredible things with automated washy processes.

And that's still washy. It's just being made in a different way, because obviously there are not the stuff that's made by hand. If you go to a  factory or whatever it's very expensive because it's so slow to make. And so it's not suitable for [00:30:00] necessarily every single product. So you have a lot of these mechanization processes that are being applied to washy manufacturer.

In modern days, you have some companies that are doing things with it they're covering it with a specific sizing or coating that allows you to print on it with ink jets so that you get that really beautiful fiber. Look, when you look at the paper, but you can run it through a typical office in jet printer and it won't fall apart.

So that's pretty cool. The chemical engineering side of that is beyond my expertise. And so I'm not qualified to explain it, but it's I've seen some really cool examples of modern Japanese washi that sort of use technology to build on the traditional making techniques of the past.

Evan: [00:30:40] and it sounds like they're fine. A lot of places are finding a nice balance between automation without losing kind of the, as you talked about it earlier, the soul

of the provider of the product.

Daryl: [00:30:52] Yes. I think it also ties into the fact that a lot of these Japanese manufacturers, even when they're automating, they [00:31:00] still have a tremendous amount of pride in what it means to, to introduce like washi as an element of Japanese culture to a larger worldwide audience. So when you carry a certain amount of that pride into your work, you tend to take more care.

You tend to be more respectful of the traditions that you're upholding. So yeah, I think definitely it's as you say, it's about finding that balance between what is old and what is new and seeing if you can take some of these processes that are not particularly suited for a modern age and seeing, Hey, but we have a different way.

We could do these now. What if we try this, what have we tried debt? And let's see if it works up and there will always still be a space for the really traditional handmade stuff, but you could find a wider, broader use for some of these crafts, as we mentioned earlier, by using new techniques to see if you could pivot them into other use cases.

[00:32:00] John: [00:32:00] Yeah. And one of the things I wanted to ask, and this will actually tie into the next question. You had mentioned that some of the manufacturers had started to figure out automation, ways that would in terms of sizing and calendaring and that kind of thing, that would allow them to be run through inkjet printers.

And I know this is a little bit different than the question I had originally asked, but are there two of those style of ink jet papers that you consider to be hidden gems?

Daryl: [00:32:30] Okay. So there's this that is really cool guys for a traditional maker in Tokyo co Ozu washy. They have a really nice store. I forget where the exact address is these days. Also, Oh, Zach, you, your listeners can Google for it and it will come up. And they have this really great line of what they call E papers, which in the Japanese context means office automation, meaning it's meant for inkjets.

And that stuff has [00:33:00] like the very traditional sort of like Japanese washi look. So if you look at it, you can see the slick fibers, you can see the irregularities, but you can run it through an inkjet printer. And I've seen that stuff used for, when you what's the, what's a good example, for instance, when you're sending a thank you letter to your corporate partner and you want it to look a little fancier, because you're like, Oh, thank you for working with us on this project. So you, yeah you

John: [00:33:25] Yeah, really personalized note.

Daryl: [00:33:27] It doesn't have a specific product name. So I can't help you with that, but Fox will visit a store in Tokyo. We'll be able to find it on the shelves and it's really not expensive. I think, which is the really cool thing about it.

Because if you think about traditional washy, I think that association is immediately that, Oh, it's going to cost an arm and a leg and make no mistake. When you walk into the OZO washy store, there is some stuff there where like a single  size sheet of that will be like 150 us dollars. But yeah, some of that, some of the new stuff that they're trying is really affordable and quite [00:34:00] nice.

So if any of your listeners are ever in Tokyo, I really do encourage them to go check it out.

Evan: [00:34:05] it looks like they do have a online store. 

Daryl: [00:34:08] Do they ship overseas though, because the last time I talked to them, they were quite reluctant

Evan: [00:34:12] delivery by EMS is now suspended to some countries due to COVID-19. For those two countries, we will ship via DHL. This is going to be a, I was already planning on buying him a Musubi notebook. This is going to be an expensive episode for me.

Daryl: [00:34:24] Oh, yeah. When you are in trouble, my friend, because we will open your eyes to some stuff that you never even knew existed and you will love it. I think one of the most important things that you can do as a maker and I've spoken to, I actually spoke to Ian about this last year when we met at Tokyo Penn shore, I think one of the most important things makers can do is lift each other up.

There is this tendency, I think in many industries and the fountain pen industry is not immune to these forces. There's a tendency to treat everything as a gigantic competition in which the dollar that [00:35:00] you make is the dollar I don't make. And that's really reductive and destructive because.

You were talking about an industry that has had a little bit of a Renaissance in terms of its popularity. Fountain pens went out of fashion, they got replaced by BICS. And in a sense you have. Now, if you go to the pen shores, you'll see that there's a lot of younger users of fountain pens who are very interested in the history of the matter.

They might use a modern pen and they might also have a vintage pocket 51. And that, that whole Renaissance means that if you all play your cards correctly, the industry has room to grow. It has room to accommodate all of the makers who want to enter it. And so there is no point in this sort of mutually assured destruction approach where people just complete compete with each other ruthlessly.

So one of the things that I think is most important for makers to do is to encourage each other, to lift each other up. To [00:36:00] go, Hey, have you heard of these guys? Did we incredible stuff with X and Y because there's room for everybody? So I'm always really happy to talk about all of this stuff, even when we don't make it, because it's just cool and great.

John: [00:36:14] Yeah. So you've actually tripped onto one of my personal pet peeves, which is the difference between a scarcity mentality and a, an attitude of plenty or 

Evan: [00:36:25] a rising tide lifts, all ships sort of mentality.

John: [00:36:29] yeah, an abundance mentality. There you go. Scarcity versus abundance. And the idea of scarcity is you show up at the pizza party and if you're not one of the first 10 people to get to the pizza box, you ended up eating the box and the abundance mentality is, Hey, stand back, let everyone have some, you can always order more pizza.

And like you said, it's something that way too many businesses have gotten into that scarcity mindset way too many people have gotten into that scarcity mindset. And it creates so much conflict. That's [00:37:00] unnecessary.

Daryl: [00:37:01] the entire system is built around the idea of what I have is mine and what you've got is yours and never, the Twain shall meet. You have entire system structures built around this idea of competitive consumption. You have. I mean in your pizza party analogy, the fact of the matter is that the room collectively, all of you put together could definitely afford more pizzas.

Thanks, Donnie, for the question. But instead, everybody is Oh, I've got to be first. I got to cut other people out. Otherwise I won't get my stuff and it's really not necessary. It's not healthy. It's not constructive, but 

John: [00:37:41] Yeah. And the pizza party analogy is so clean because it, predominantly shows that exactly. It leads to antisocial behavior and behavior that you wouldn't want your mother to ever see you, you doing, but you're going to do it because no one else is going to call you [00:38:00] on it. And I think that,

Daryl: [00:38:02] right? That's basically it.

John: [00:38:04] yep. Mentioning the kind of a FOMO and some of the trampoline to the door stuff. One of the things I know, and I know this is going to be a trigger for you, but FOMO seems to be the, a word of the hour in here in the Penn community here the last couple of years. And you have specifically stopped using special additions.

Why is that?

Daryl: [00:38:27] buckle your seat belts. This is going to be a big one. The whole thing is just bloody madness. Isn't it? You have, you, you have essentially and I'm not going to call up a specific makers or brands for doing this because it's just really an industry wide thing. You have all of these like limited edition, numbered edition, special edition stuff.

You can only buy in the next two months stuff. You can only buy this year. Ink is a particularly terrible offender. The stuff that the, they only make a hundred bottles often, if you don't get it, you're done. And it's not because it's not because they ran out of the raw [00:39:00] material to make the stuff, but just because they want to introduce like artificial scarcity to the mix.

And so you just create this Chubb pool of sharks, just grabbing at stuff because they feel that if I don't buy it dis damn instant, like I'm never going to have it. And I just can't abide that stuff because you, Y like it's perfectly okay for something nice to exist without you having to own every non-example of it.

If that makes sense. And I think that as phasing out. Special edition nomenclature. And just saying that, Oh, stuff is just named by series. Now we make it until we run out the fabric. And the reason we stopped selling it is because we can't physically make it anymore. If you want it's there.

And then when it runs out, it's because we ran out of the stuff that's required to make it. And then we'll, there will always be other stuff down the line. I think it was just a response to that sort of chum bucket released philosophies that are [00:40:00] increasingly entering our hobby and our industry.

I do not think that artificial scarcity for the purpose of driving prices up is healthy. I don't believe it creates a reasonable system in which resources are distributed equitably. And that's one of my big things is that I think that how best to put it. You. It's perfectly okay. To make good things.

And then you sell them for a fair price. People buy them and they're happy. And then we all just go home. There's no need to add artificial scarcity to the biggest, the truth of the matter is, and I can say this, I can say this very openly because I have no plans to ever do it. The truth of the matter is I could slap a number and and boss' number in gold foil and every single one of those came on or notebooks and say, this is one of six, that's two of six.

And then I could double the price. I would be able to get away with it because we have a following. We will be able to sell every single one of these [00:41:00] things. But how was that meeting in any sense of the work beyond just saying, Oh, I'm going to drive the price up to a point where it's not financially sustainable for people to keep supporting my brand.

What if instead, I just did what what we do as a pricing model, which is we take the cost of. Making something, and we just multiply it by a certain number. And that accommodates I've mentioned this before in a couple of life toxic pencils, but I don't think I've mentioned this in a podcast before.

So internally embassy, Ruby, we have a bottle, we call 25 by four. So our cost structure is divided into quarters. It's twenty-five percent social impact, 25% over hit 25% R and D and 25% profit. So how it works is step the first element, the social impacts or a 25% of the price of anything should be directly contributing to what's positive social impact.

As an example, you have a [00:42:00] diary that's 90 Singapore dollars the standard Sega stuff that we do in a five, right? And we pay a SPD for those diaries, 20 something dollars. I won't reveal the exact amount because it's not fair to them to reveal it, but we paid them about 20 something dollars being almost exactly 25%.

If you look at, for instance, the Peruvian diaries, which are 270 Singapore dollars, we paid the book bindery 20 something dollars for it. And then we paid the Peruvian artisans about 60 something dollars. Bring that total up to about $90. So in the case of the Peruvian staff, the indigenous stuff, and our one was to be like, actually, the social impact of that goes up to about 30 to 35%.

And the principle of it is very simple. You have 25% leftover for overhead. So that's like staffing, design bills, website costs, money, payments, cost fees and stuff like that. You have 25%, which we keep for R and D. So stuff like why our pen cases are so bouncy and also. Things like [00:43:00] developing new sources of indigenous fabric is very expensive because it requires a lot of face-to-face.

It requires a lot of travel. It requires a months of work in order to bring a project to fruition. And then we say 25% of it is profit. And the reason we've structured it this way is that we never met more in profit dead. We put back in social impact. Does that make sense? So company does not swallow more from the system than it generates in benefits for the people who should be benefited by the system.

And the entire point of Masoud is to be that candle in the dark to say, Hey, it is possible to run a successful company that is profitable, sustainable, and also benefits social causes at a quarter of its at a quarter of its revenue. Like it's, it is entirely possible to do that.

And so to bring it back to you or to your question, the reason why we S we said, okay, [00:44:00] forget it. We're just not going to call them limited. We've never released the number limited edition ever. And we want, as long as I own this company we stopped using special edition nomenclature. We just call them by their series so that you can find them on the website.

And the reason we did this is because we said, look, we have a functional business model that allows us to be profitable. That allows us to generate social impact without stirring the shit pot and saying, Hey, you've got all it. You got to buy this stuff. Like now there's only five of these.

And if you don't buy this now and you'll regret it forever, and you just generate this sort of incredible negative energy in your customers, it affects your own thought processes as the people who run the workshop, because you're now like, Oh, how do I oh, I have enough fabric to do a hundred of these.

But if I do just 50 of these, I'll make more money. So the hell with it, I'm going to do 50 of these, right? Like I'm just going to artificially pump that up and let's eat it's I just bite it. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. I [00:45:00] know that's a really rambly answer, but the fact of the matter is that the business model is perfectly functional and perfectly sustainable without having to dig into the cesspit that is artificial scarcity or just a desk sort of race to the bottom where you just release a non-stop stream of limited additions and Jack the prices up.

If that makes sense.

John: [00:45:24] Yeah, I think that the big thing I take away from that answer is that it's very easy to use psychology and that idea of scarcity to prey upon a consumer group by using special additions or limited additions. But at the end of the day, you're still using a psychological trick to have that happen.

And at some point in time, that will end up coming back around to bite you because

Daryl: [00:45:54] thing as I, sorry, I'm interrupting, but you both engineer. So you'll be familiar with, it's [00:46:00] a recent topic of discussion about dark patterns in terms of like user interface, design, where you sign up for a subscription and then when you go to cancel it, like the button to cancel, it is like hidden right in the bottom.

And it's just a text line. And the button to keep your subscription. It's like big and blue and glowing and like flashing at you, and you have to click through six different links only to discover that the only way to cancel your subscription is to call in physically using a phone it's nonsense like this, where we have used, we have developed, I think, as marketers and as business owners, we have developed this sort of suite of psychological tricks.

This bag of tricks that is designed to get people, to just buy and buy without the thought in the world, for things like their budgets, without the thought in the welfare, for things like sustainability, you're just telling people. And there, there are many folks in the falter bank community who are working on very tight budgets to students.

There are people who are struggling, especially now in the [00:47:00] midst of a worldwide pandemic. What you know, did not necessarily staffing, but it's not as if money is like flow flowing in like mana from heaven or anything. And you just to prey on that sort of base human instinct to say, Oh, you got to have the shiny because in the old Hunter gatherer days, if you didn't keep all the Chinese, you would stop in the winter.

Do you though? You just nonsensical, but painfully effective psychological trickery to just get people to buy stuff. And I'm like, you don't have to, you can run a perfectee crumble and company without having to result to any of that crap. Sorry. It's

John: [00:47:35] Yeah. We've

Daryl: [00:47:36] upset about this

John: [00:47:37] I understand it. Cause it's something where we've evolved enough to understand why we haven't evolved enough to stop ourselves from using it badly.

Daryl: [00:47:45] don't think we will ever evolve past the point like this isn't a gene Roddenberry's star Trek sort of future where, money is not necessary and Ben can wear. Skirts without getting looked at on the street. It's, we're not there. And I think it will be very difficult [00:48:00] for us to ever reach that sort of state of quasi enlightenment.

If all we're doing is just thinking about how to remove money from each other's pockets in the most expedient manner possible.

John: [00:48:11] One of the, one of the questions I really wanted to get into on this is, and we've danced around this quite a bit in terms of social responsibility and why you do some of the things that you do. But I feel like there's something there at a deeper level. And I wanted to ask you with all of your work with NGOs and charities and indigenous groups, and your getting Misubi accepted into res, which is the Singapore center for social enterprise. What spurred you to dedicate yourself so much to charity and social responsibility? Was there a particular life event or somebody who influenced you.

Daryl: [00:48:50] Oh, so this is going to be a heavier, answer than I think most of your listeners, but what the hell let's go for it. So I have been battling clinical depression [00:49:00] since I was a fairly young and  I've always questioned in my life what the meaning of being on this God soresaken earth is in the sense that you have all of these structures and systems built around.

Fundamentally just exploiting people, right? It used to be when I was younger, that it was primarily a sense of enui like emptiness at the sort of things that went on in the world. And then I think as I got older and gained a little bit more agency in terms of being able to do stuff that it was that enui we started to be replaced by a sense of indignation.

I know that I have a certain skill set. I'm not actually a paper expert. I'm not a craftsman by trade. I'm not good at making stuff. I'm not artistic. I am a very good storyteller. I have training in terms [00:50:00] of product logistics, supply chain, and all that. So on the operation side that's easy enough for me to do, but really what is my strength?

What is my role in this world? What can I do to rage against the dying of the dark as it were, and so against the dying of the light, sorry, as it were. And so when I sat down and just asked myself, what would I do? What could I do with this one life that I've been given that would make me not want to hate myself all the time.

That would bring some meaning to what this existence is. Then the answer became very clear very quickly, which is I will use the skill set that I have and the connections that I have to build a blueprint for a better way that we could go about doing things, because it's very [00:51:00] easy to run, like just isolated operations.

Spurt me to build Musubi is that Musubi is a platform. This will be, it's a blueprint. We say platform very often these days in terms of tech platforms. But what I mean here, when I say platform is it is a model. You can look at  the way Musubi functions. We're open about the way the business model operates.

Just 25 by four. We talk about our costs openly. I think if you've read some of our newsletters, that we're very Frank about the way we treat with people when we drop that bomb about tomboy river, I think it was quite funny because a lot of folks who are not our regular customers were looking at the newsletter and going, Oh, that is really long, has a lot of detail.

And it's wild. And a lot of our regular customers were like no, all the newsletters, I like this this is a pretty standard we can for the soupy. But to get back to the point. To build a blueprint for what it means to operate a business in this day and age, that [00:52:00] is honest, that's sustainable.

That's meaningful. That doesn't shit relentlessly. on the rights of people as human beings, as workers, as colleagues as artists,

I wanted to create something that other people could look at and go, Oh hell, this actually is possible. Maybe I could try it too in their own field that Def familiar with, because really what you want to do is spark change. That brings some meaning to the way we do things in this world. And I think it's not controversial.

For us to say that there are many elements of the system in which we live in which we all live under that are fundamentally broken, right? You have, this is probably going to get me a toasted but you have things like,  you have slave labor in factories that make fabric for H and M and Nike [00:53:00] in Bangladesh, you have all of these conditions that are fundamentally exploitative.

That shit on the rights of people as human beings that treat them as cogs in a machine to just grind, to dust for money. And I don't think this needs to be the way I really don't it should be possible within our collective effort to build a better system that doesn't rely on reducing people to dust.

In order to make the world go around. And so for me, the reason why I'm so committed, I'm so fired up and so angry all the time about things like charity about social responsibility is that I believe that there has to be a better way, because if there's no better way to do all of these things, then all of what everybody does is fundamentally meaningless.

Isn't it? One of the reasons why Musubi is a for-profit company, as opposed to [00:54:00] being a charity is I knew that it had to be sustainable within the system because you can't just come in from Narnia with a business model and say, I'm going to tear the system apart, but you're actually just there's  a story about the old lady pissing into the ocean saying every little bit helps.

And you can't really do that. My goal is to demonstrate that even within the confines of what we see as a system that is built around consumption and capitalism, that it is possible to effect serious demonstrable, meaningful, positive social change. And that fuels me. It's why the work may be difficult, but I don't ever feel that I'm unhappy in doing any of this.

I wake up every morning with more energy than I've ever felt at any other point in my life, because I know that if we try a little harder, if we work together, we could build a better blueprint [00:55:00] for the way that we do things, a better system for all the people who don't have the voices to speak up for themselves.

And I think that just being able to do that imparts, meaning. To life. And that meaning is not easily found elsewhere. I think. Sorry, that was a little bit of a rambling answer, but that's how I feel.

John: [00:55:23] Yeah. That's a good answer. It's something that for me I tend to go back to certain mental models and one of them that's. Becoming one of my favorites because I have to use it so often is something called Hanlon's razor, which is never attribute to malice. What is more attributable to stupidity.

And I think that having a group out there like Musubi and like some of the other socially conscious companies is important because it raises that awareness. It raises that level of knowledge that people can look at and look at some of these [00:56:00] other companies like Patagonia and be able to tell themselves that it doesn't have to be that scarcity mindset all the time that you can work in an abundance mindset and rays have that, that lifting tide raise all boats.

And so I think that's a great answer.

Daryl: [00:56:20] Fall into the same mental traps over and over again. So if you all, is the scarcity model. If all you know is that you have to step on people in order to get ahead. And that's all you've done all your life. It can be very difficult to envision a sort of world where you don't have to do that in order to survive.

And I think having concrete examples of businesses, of organizations, of people who can prove that it's possible to lead perfectly good lives while not being exploitative, while doing something meaningful, helps shake people free of that sort of [00:57:00] mental trap, where all the know is the models that did th the destructive models, the scarcity models that they grew up with.

John: [00:57:07] Yeah. In, in, in psychology speak, you end up with folks who have been part of that scarcity mindset. And when they stumble upon somebody who is working in an abundance mindset and doing it successfully, they actually suffer something called cognitive dissonance, which is that their mental model of the world.

And the film that they've been watching for their entire lives is like some kind of a big Arnold Schwartzenegger action film. And then they look at what the world is actually behind the screen and realize it was a sound of music playing the whole time. And it's very hard for you to mentally adapt to that.

Daryl: [00:57:50] I think the first and most common reaction when they're faced with that is they reject the new model because it's easier to just say, Oh that, that doesn't work. That's not a thing that,

John: [00:57:59] Oh not [00:58:00] just reject angrily.

Evan: [00:58:01] People are more

dig diggin. 

Daryl: [00:58:03] it. Yeah.

John: [00:58:04] So I've got some, I'm going to, I'm going to put one in here and I've already put on here that this isn't a question, but you've just come out with a new set of your folio notebooks that are made with the Cosmo airline paper. And you've got them in blank, seven millimeter and five millimeter cross, which is a page unaided now.

And I absolutely love that you're using this cross grid pattern. I know that it's not the most universally loved paper, but I love radical grid as a seventies and eighties nerd of the space program. So I love that. Like I said, it's not a question, but I want to throw it out there that

Daryl: [00:58:40] totally get you. I'm going to say something that is probably the most controversial thing I'll say today. So get ready for some flaming cross grits are better than doctorates and the reason is this. If the cross grit has,

John: [00:58:52] hot drop.

Daryl: [00:58:53] heart drop. If the cross grit has small enough crosses, it is functional enough as a dot grid, but it provides more information than a [00:59:00] dot grid by definition.


Evan: [00:59:01] Absolutely. I fully agree with you.

Daryl: [00:59:04] And more information is critical. So one of the design elements that we use in musubi is that we try not to strip any information ever. If you look at our cross grades, you'll see that for instance, the center more element it's off the grid is actually an X rather than across.

And it helps you find it easier. You'll see that the sites are we cut off a quarter of the cross grid and make it into a T shape. We use horizontal lines to do not line counters. So we have all of these features, but at no point can't you find the center of any of these features, because if you took away the center of any of these features, you'd be stripping information from the grid.

And that's not a design principle that we add here too. So it's one of those, like really nerdy things that you should be able to use all of these features or ignore all of these features without. Losing any information that you would have had on a normal reticle group? If that [01:00:00] makes sense.

Evan: [01:00:01] complete sense to me.

John: [01:00:03] Yeah. I love that there is actually a design decision behind that and not just John loves his Apollo pictures, so that's good stuff. So this does lead into the final question for this, and this is the question that at least anyone who is in the nose has going to be asking is when are you planning on releasing your folio covers your Tomo system?

Daryl: [01:00:26] God, this was always coming. Wasn't it?  Officially that isn't a debt. Let me explain. So it's supposed to be insight of this year. I make no promises because the city, so as we bake our pen cases and so the upcoming folio covers as well in Indonesia, and the COVID situation, there is quite frankly, both dire and fluid.

And we're working up ways in which we can progress the work without endangering any of the artists involved in it, because I would rather wind this company down tomorrow, then put [01:01:00] anyone who works for us in an unreasonable amount of danger, just as an exploitative. You know how I feel about it.

We've covered this for a solid half an hour just now. But so we think that as the nation's progress and herd immunity is achieved, that we should be able to bring it out inside of this year, but it will be quite late. So I don't want to get anyone's hopes up and say that, Oh, we will definitely be at like San Francisco this year with the folio covers because that's a bit of a tall ask, but the goal is to bring them in insight of this year.

But. Only just barely.

I know this isn't necessarily the answer that people want to hear, but I hope that folks understand the reasoning behind what we're doing because at the end of the day, I know people want to cover us, but they're just covers and you shouldn't, nobody should have to die for covers

Evan: [01:01:54] yeah, exactly. And give given everything in the last year has [01:02:00] been fluid for all sorts of things, but

Daryl: [01:02:02] for sure.

Evan: [01:02:03] as you are well aware, there are plenty of people who are very excited for what they are finally

Daryl: [01:02:09] Oh, I know. I know. I will drop a teaser and save that. If you look at our pen cases and that because a lot of people think that our pen cases are like the soft floppy sort of fabric pen cases. And then when they get one in their hands, they realize that it has structure. It has an anti shock frame in it.

And I think it's safe to say. Can I say this? Yeah, I can say this show, the, so the folio covers will have certain features that very different from what on most of the covers on the market. And that's in a very technical sense. I can't say more than that because I really don't want to spoil it with you when you get them in your hands.

You'll see what I mean. But one of the core tenants of musubi has been, how do we merge traditional craft with modern technology, modern processes? And so [01:03:00] we're very interested in seeing how modern developments in terms of like shock absorption, waterproofing, and other stuff like that can be applied to traditional cotton fabrics rather than just technical fabrics.

That's probably a very big hint for where we're going with these. So I'll just leave your listeners to stew on this. And people will obviously email me after this and get very antsy and ask when it's coming. And I will

John: [01:03:26] well, I'm gonna, yeah, I'm gonna finish this episode out with like I said, I won't lie to anybody and say that I'm not chomping at the bit. Like a lot of other folks are for that to come out. And the question was asked specifically from that mindset, but I also completely understand your mindset.

COVID-19 has upset so many plans and I don't, and I completely agree with your idea that there are, you have the material world, and then you have [01:04:00] the human world and you cannot sacrifice that human world just because there's a material demand. We push ourselves to get there, but we've gotta be super careful about how far we push.

And I think that what you're doing is a wonderful balancing act. And I wish you a lot of luck with it in the future.

Daryl: [01:04:23] I really do appreciate it. I think it's, as you say, there was a human element and there is a real human cost to every decision that we make. And if there's one thing that I hope that all of your listeners and everyone out there can take home with them from this interview, it's that I implore you to please always consider that you are a link in the chain, the decisions that you make have human costs that go beyond the material costs that is immediately visible to you.

And I, I beseech you. I implore [01:05:00] you. Please take that human cost into account when you are making your decisions, because through your, every act that you undertake through every decision that you make, someone is out there benefiting or suffering, and you can make a material change in their life through your decision-making that's 

John: [01:05:23] yeah. And to make it even more plain I'll go back to an old  idea,  the grandson comes up to his grandfather and his grandfather says in, in everybody, there are two wolves, there's a dark Wolf and a light Wolf, and they fight inside of you every single person, and that the grandchild asks, so who wins?

The one that you feed.

Daryl: [01:05:46] Yes. That's a really good story. Yeah. That's about right.

John: [01:05:50] We'll leave it on that. And Daryl, I thank you so much for coming on with us. This has been a real treat

Daryl: [01:05:55] Oh, it was the pleasure was mine. It's always wonderful to it's very easy to get lost [01:06:00] in the work that you do when you're doing it all remotely on the other side of the planet for most of your customers. So I always appreciate being able to talk to people about why we do the things we do.

So I, it was a real treat. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

John: [01:06:14] Yeah, thank you so much. 

You can find Daryl online on Instagram at Atelier musubi. And you can also find him at Musubi at M U S U dot B. I.