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Waxing Whimsical in Japan


Ros Lee is a talented young designer based in Tokyo continuing the trend of Singaporean artists flourishing on foreign soil. We catch up with her to talk about her experiences in Japan, (including the frightening earthquake in Tokyo), find out what Zakka is and to discuss the possibilities of her returning to Singapore in the near future.

Hi Ros,

We get a really comprehensive bio of yours on your blog so I am going to try and dig deeper and ask you some ‘piercing’ questions!

Polkaros – How did you come up with that name? (I think I know the answer but I want to see if I guessed correctly!)

If you are thinking of polka dots, you are right! But it’s not just the dots that I like, it’s the unique traits of polka dots that have inspired me. They have has been around for decades and we are never tired of them! They can be cute, quirky, classy, pop, sweet, timeless… and they’re everywhere. That’s how I’d like Polkaros to be some day. Unique, versatile and integrated into our daily lives.


Was your visit to Japan in 2002 your first visit to Japan? What was your first impression? Would you consider yourself a Nipponphile prior to going to Japan? (I am sure I have seen you at one of the Nipponphile support groups…so I digress here.)


My first trip to Japan was actually in 1999, where I traveled for two months to Japan and the US. My first impression was that everything was super colorful and cute. It was like walking into one of those Japanese fashion magazines. I guess you can say that I was a Nippponphile prior to coming to Japan. It was the era of Zipper magazine and crazy Harajuku fashion…


You were in Tokyo when the tragic earthquake struck. Could you tell us what it was like and the thoughts that went through your mind? Do you think it has changed your outlook on life or influenced your art in any way?


On the day of the earthquake, I was in my office and the building was shaking so vigorously, I really thought that it might be the last day of my life. After the first earthquake struck, there were strong aftershocks every 5-10mins. I thought about my family and friends back home, how I left them seven years ago to pursue my dreams in Japan and whether it has been worth it. After the earthquake, watching the tsunami hit Northeast Japan live on TV, walking 2 hours to get home from work as the train lines were terminated, the whole experience really put things into perspective for me. I realized how small we are on this planet and how we are just temporary occupants. I’ve learned to treasure life more and appreciate the very fact that we are able to live on. I am thankful for everything I have and I am glad my loved ones are all safe.


So…back to more light hearted topics. You did glee before GLEE (the tv show) got big huh? Did anyone think your products were in anyway related to the tv show? Prior to designing products for glee, had you worked with felt and textile before? Did your claywork experience help or shape the way you design?


Yes we launched the brand ‘glee’ in 2008 before the TV show was aired. It didn’t really affect us as not many people in Japan knew about the show until this year! I don’t think anyone has associated our products with the TV show.

Prior to designing for glee, I studied Textile design and majored in fiber art (felt) in Joshibi University of Art and Design in Japan. My main focus has always been to create lifestyle products for living environments and so I wanted to have a good understanding of the craft before I start designing. My claywork experience does play a part when I design some of my characters as I have to consider them in 3D form.


Having known you for a while, I know you always had the whimsical flair and I must say it really carries through in all your product design. Could you explain briefly, in your own words what Zakka means?


Zakka to me are little things that we use in our daily lives. Just like fashion, it also expresses who we are and our personal style. What zakka you choose to buy and use at home shapes your lifestyle.


Do you have any favourite pieces from your collection? I really liked the gleepets series 🙂 Are they available in Singapore?


My favourite pieces are from the glee PEEPS series. It is a series of people from all over the world and the shape is inspired by Japanese ‘kokeshi’ dolls. GleePets was one of the earliest series and is also very special to me. They are actually a series of animals that have escaped from the circus. They are not yet available in Singapore but we are making some plans to bring them in soon!



                                             GleePets Fabric

                                                   Escaped from the circus!


Do you think the demand for Zakka is unique to Japan?


No I don’t think the demand for Zakka is unique to Japan. Zakka has actually been in the lives of many people around the world for many years. It’s just that Japan has decided to address those items and expand on them, giving consumers more options to choose from. In fact, I think the lack of Zakka actually makes the demand for it higher in other countries.


So what are your plans for the future? When was the last time you were back in Singapore? Do you feel the winds of change in the artistic climate of Singapore?


My dream has always been to launch my own brand of lifestyle products in Japan. Until that is done, I think all my plans will be to work towards materializing this dream. When I finally am able to settle down and retire, my plan will definitely be to go back to my roots and set up my pottery studio again where I can just do my clay art freely.


I was back in Singapore in January this year. Yes, I do feel that things have changed a lot ever since I left. It’s good to see that there are a lot more design/craft related shops and events in Singapore these days. It’s great that there are new platforms for young designers/creators to showcase their works and interact with each other. I am also glad that there are more young entrepreneurs in Singapore now.


Thank you Ros for her thoughtful replies. Find out more about Polkaros at www.polkaros.com/blog


– Jau






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