Welcome to Movers & Shakers; a series where we look deep into PNW life for people who are making moves, doing big things, and who are just - in general - being rad. Seattle is full of multi-talented and multi-faceted people, many at the intersection of technology and the arts. How do they find the time? What's their secret? Well friends, we're here to find out. Meet Movers & Shakers; aka Seattle Refined attempting to capture the not-so-secret lives of impressive locals. Have a recommendation for us? Email email@example.com.
Jane Park, CEO/Founder at Tokki ranks high on the list of most impressive 2020 pivots. The celebrated founder of Julep (whose headquarters we took a peek into six years back) launched her small, fair-trade business Tokki in late 2019. Unfortunately, this proved incredibly tough timing for the reusable gift wrap company, considering the events that soon followed.
Tokki was not even six months old when the pandemic hit and the company's sales plummeted to zero.
"I had no long-term plan when my girlfriend and fellow entrepreneur Lisa Sun called and asked if she could use some of our gift wrap fabric to make face masks," Park explains. "From the beginning, we wanted to be useful and helpful, so we decided to donate a mask for every one we sold. We didn’t want to wait to make an impact."
Overnight, they went from selling gift wrap to face masks, and were forced to get creative along the way. Since they had no packaging, they used their thermal shipping label printer to make product labels, took pictures on iPhones, and Lisa walked all shipments to USPS herself. "It was crazy," Park reflects.
Although face coverings are still available, the company is getting back to its gifting roots with an enhanced product line (think candles, matcha, olive oil, chocolate, puzzles, games and at-home spa goods), all wrapped in eco-friendly fabrics. The best part: A digital tag made for personalizing the gift with GIFs, personal videos or images.
Park loves selecting products that are truly "wow-inducing," and she only picks items she's gifted herself.
"We look for sustainable brands, small businesses and women or BIPOC owned businesses," she explains. "What is amazing about running a business is the freedom to make meaningful choices with our dollars."
Among her favorite offerings? The Los Aljibes Olive Oil that Park's sommelier friend introduced to her. "It’s made by a family-run vineyard in Spain, and it’s the best olive oil in the world – it’s rich and smooth and emulsifies like magic."
She also mentions the Tokki Gifting Candles, their runaway gift this past holiday season.
"In particular," Park says, “'Here’s to your crazy AF resilience'” was about 90% of our wrapped candle gift sales. Isn’t that amazing? We have over 100 messages, and that’s the one that resonated more powerfully than any other. Sisters gave it to each other, daughters gave it to their moms, and employers bought cases for their employees. I was blown away."
The sustainable packaging is a very important piece of Park's business.
"My former VP of marketing used to say, 'If we can’t solve world hunger today, let’s start by getting some healthy snacks on the table.' For me, the problem of climate change is so important and meaningful, and it’s hard to know where to start. I love feeling the impact of starting with something imminently doable – like reusable gift wrap."
More than merely promoting reuse, Tokki aims to make it more fun than the single-use alternative. "The inspiration is the 'bojagi' colorful wrapping cloths that my grandmother would wrap her important presents in," she says. "We used these over and over, and I loved thinking about the history every time we pulled one out."
The reusable fabric gift wrap and digital “Tokki Tags” allow friends and loves ones to see how many times certain wrapping has been used in the past. "This year, Americans will use enough gift wrap to circle the earth more than 100 times," Park shares. "Wouldn’t it be great to cut down on that over time? What if we never used single-use gift wrap again? And what if that was more FUN than the alternative?"
"I love the idea of Tokki gift wraps connecting people," she says. "What if I got a gift wrap that Michelle Obama had gifted someone? That’s my dream!"
Park admits that growing a "baby company" during a pandemic brought about many struggles, like determining which challenges are meaningful and which will pass.
"The most rewarding thing is working with spectacular human beings. My small-but-mighty team is so creative, passionate and truly world-class as professionals and as human beings. That’s the best part of starting a company – when you’re only working with a handful of people, you get to be outrageously picky, so there’s a time when the caliber of people is just out of this world."
So what keeps Park motivated?
"I love getting better every day," she says. "In my personal life, I am working very hard on breaking up with the idea of constant improvement to be more present, in 'the now.'"
Yet at work, she is delighted when improvements are discovered — whether attaching digital messages to physical products or making candles from the greatest ingredients.
"When we can figure out how to do something better than we did it before, it’s such a rush."
Park thinks it's important to be transparent: "Entrepreneurship is hard!" she exclaims. "Even when it’s wonderful, meaningful and rewarding, it’s so so hard. Actually, my new mantra is, 'Everything is hard and it just gets harder.'”
When she was younger, Park thought life would get easier as she became more experienced and financially secure.
"I didn’t even speak English when I started kindergarten after my family immigrated from Korea," she says, "so I know what it’s like not to have a voice. But learning the language didn’t automatically make everything easier."
"I’m surprised to find that there are always more challenges that pop up the more engaged I am with my life," she continues. "Hardship is the price of engagement. So now I ask, 'How can I use this experience to make me stronger?'"
Park has learned that mistakes and pain don’t simply become lessons on their own; it takes quite a bit of work, reflection and therapy. "I don’t wish for life to be easier," she says. "Instead I wish to grow my confidence that I have the strength to take on hard things."