LOS ANGELES — At 15, Poketo has honed an aesthetic that’s made it a go-to for creatives looking to stock their lives — from the desk to the coffee table or wardrobes — with well-designed pieces in keeping with its “Art & Design for Your Every Day” tag line.
The business, which counts four stores in the Los Angeles area, the most recent of which opened in March at the mixed-use project the Row DTLA in downtown. The downtown location joined a roster that also includes one in Koreatown at The Line Hotel, Platform in Culver City and a second in downtown’s Little Tokyo neighborhood. Poketo also has a wholesale business, which was started not long after the business first began, with the line now in a few hundred stores across the country and some international accounts. Those retailers range from small boutiques and museum stores to larger chains, such as Barnes & Noble, The Container Store and Anthropologie.
The retail business recently ventured outside of its Los Angeles roots with an outpost it’s calling the Poketo Kiosk within the 100-room boutique The Source Hotel and marketplace, the latter filled with independent retailers and restaurateurs, in Denver’s Arts District. There are also upcoming collaborations with a Los Angeles yoga brand and water bottle company in addition to a book deal with Chronicle, due out in fall 2019, that perhaps finally pins down the DNA of a brand husband-and-wife duo Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung first began building in 2003 in San Francisco, where they met via mutual artist friends.
Poketo gets its name from how Myung’s grandmother pronounced “pocket,” and it’s also a reference to the company’s first product, a wallet.
“A lot of it has been building that community,” Vadakan said of how the business was built. “More and more people are doing other things beyond the store being just transactional. Luckily, we’ve always been that way.”
“It’s always been in our DNA to have shows and events,” Myung added. “People don’t feel like it’s just a shop. It’s multifunctional.”
It’s true. Poketo’s gained a following as not just a place to buy a smart looking organizer or sophisticated, minimalist home accessories, but also a space to learn via its constant stream of workshops, including how to make soba noodles, acrylic jewelry, Japanese floral arrangements and perfecting iPhone photos for Instagram. For the instructors or artists, many of whom are friends or friends of friends, the events are their first experience teaching a workshop or holding an art show.
“We’re happy and glad people see us as more than a shop,” Myung said. “It’s almost like a community center.”
The first workshop was in 2013 about six months after the couple opened the original Poketo store in downtown’s Arts District — when the neighborhood was truly a haven for artists and no major brands leased space there. A neighbor, living in the space above the store, would often bring Vadakan and Myung homemade mustard and sriracha and ultimately offered to teach a workshop on how to make the condiments.
“For us, it’s always been important to stay ahead of the curve,” Myung said. “We’re not a fashion company so it’s not stay ahead of the curve in that apparel way of trends, but it’s personality wise. We get bored easily so we want to make it exciting for us.”
And for as much as marketing executives will tout the words organic, it’s very much been an organic process for how Poketo’s programming has been shaped.
“Anyone we’ve invited for workshops, they’re either friends, colleagues or people we’ve done collaborations with or people we just really admire,” Vadakan said. “It’s a sharing of knowledge and getting people together. And then indirectly, yes, you’re bringing people in to see your space.”
Gathering friends and other like-minded individuals is how the company began when Poketo was just a fun side project. Myung, at the time, was studying graphic design and Vadakan was in film and video.
“We just wanted to do something fun and we had so many friends that were visual artists. We were in our mid-to-late 20s at the time so it was one of those things where we’d go to their art shows and none of their works would really sell,” Vadakan said. “It would just be an awesome show.”
So the very first Poketo product was about how they could help their friends sell their art.
“We thought how do we take this artwork but make it easier to buy and more accessible,” Vadakan said.
The result was a wallet bearing the art. They used the inkjet printers at Myung’s school working from midnight to about 4 a.m. to make the pieces. They made fewer than 100 and sold them for about $20. The first run sold out and that’s when they knew they had something.
The two went on to collaborate with artists from Barcelona; Melbourne, Australia; Glasgow and other places, allowing them to expand their network and build the roots of the community that formed the basis of the brand.
“It was not only so much fun, it was amazing to see our friends have so much fun and their artwork actually sell because it was on this more utilitarian or accessible thing,” Vadakan said. “That’s what kick-started this. We’re not from a retail background so it was all learning by doing. When we moved down to L.A. that’s when we started to expand into other products and taking the idea of art every day because a lot of it was we just didn’t want to be pigeonholed into wallets. We didn’t want to be bored doing one thing. We wanted to be limitless.”