How Tokidoki became the famous brand it is today
Dreams do come true.
Italian artist Simone Legno believed this very early on in his career and even as he braved the whole new world of Los Angeles, California, where he began his journey to success.
Legno is recognized worldwide as creator and co-founder of Tokidoki, a one-of-a-kind lifestyle known brand for its über cute, Japanese-inspired characters.
In April, Legno visited the Philippines to meet his horde of Filipino fans, as well as embark on a brand new business venture. The artist, who flew in with business partner Pooneh Mohajer, also met with lifestyle writers and editors for a roundtable interview at The Makati Shangri-La Hotel.
An artist’s space
“Tokidoki started as my personal website right after I got out of design school. I decided to name it Tokidoki because I’m very passionate about the Japanese culture,” Legno began as his audience eagerly listened in on his company history.
According to the artist, “tokidoki” is Japanese for “sometimes,” which for him captured his faith that “dreams can sometimes come true, even for an amateur like me.”
“For me, it’s a very positive word,” he added.
He officially launched a website of his works (www.tokidoki.it) in 2001, recalling, “I was thinking that the [world wide]web is like the ocean, and that my website is my message in a bottle.”
Overwhelmed, Legno further recalled that the site would generate 17,000 hits in a day with more and more curious eyes drawn to the colorful and fun characters he creates, which mirror Japanese pop culture.
Describing the website as his “personal diary,” the artist space on the Internet also became a venue where Legno met other designers from around the world, such as famed fashion designer John Galliano who commissioned him for a collaboration. He also gained many commercial clients including MTV Singapore.
“[Through Tokidoki] I became one of the top fresh animators and designers at the time, and I became known in the digital world,” he related.
Little did he know at that point that something bigger was still to come, when entrepreneurs Mohajer and Ivan Arnold stumbled upon his online portfolio.
A legitimate brand
At the time Mohajer discovered Legno’s website, she already had a solid background in the fashion and beauty business.
“My first company was Hard Candy Cosmetics, which I started with my sister, and sold to Louis Vuitton in 1999. I also had a technology business with our other partner [Ivan Arnold] that markets other people’s brands online.”
Wanting to go beyond marketing, the partners decided they wanted to develop their own brand online, and by chance, saw Tokidoki on the net.
“Ivan was online looking for design talents when he stumbled upon Simone’s website.
He called me to his office to look at it, and literally, I started to scream like a lunatic.
‘Oh my God, what is this? Who is this guy? We’ve got to get this guy’!” exclaimed Mohajer.
“So we proceeded to stalk him,” she deadpanned. “He was living in Milan at the time and we were able to convince him to come to Los Angeles and meet with us.”
Long story short, the three met and realized they shared the same vision for Tokidoki as a brand.
Legno related, “[They made me understand] that it was time for me to go to the mainstream.”
“And it’s been a great journey ever since,” rejoined Mohajer. “We’re having a good time. Simone has been so prolific and talented. It’s an honor to work with him.”
Today, tokidoki.it on the web shows off Legno’s art merged with a unique mix of merchandise including apparel, bags footwear, accessories, collectible toys, skate items, and other novelties.
The company has also gone beyond online with stores in the US, Europe and Asia.
Within a decade, Tokidoki has amassed a cult-like following for its “eye-popping and criminally-cute characters,” as described in the website.
Legno explained, “We have done so much from being a small independent company.
We accomplished many things because we think we are something new in the market.
[Though] we still belong to the world of character licensing, we are also very much intertwined with the fashion and graphic industries.”
Currently, Tokidoki features eight groups of characters namely Cactus Friends, Donutella and her sweet friends, Unicorno, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Moofia and Punkstar—each with a story to tell.
Asked who is most special to him, the artist replied, “There is a character for everybody. But when you think of Tokidoki, you think of Sandy the cactus girl. She’s the most iconic and I love her. You can say that I’m like a father so she is very linked to me.”
Legno also revealed how his passion for Japanese pop culture inspired his work.
“There was a natural craze for Japanese culture in the 80s. Back then, Italy was a country that imported Japanese animations and TV shows, more than any other country. Being a kid in the ‘80s, there was no Internet so that was the way I watched Japan.”
He was fascinated how the Japanese ate with chopsticks, with the bullet trains, cherry blossoms, girls in school uniforms, and samurais.
“All those things shaped the artist in me when I was growing up,” he remarked.
Tokidoki has sealed mega partnerships in the past years with such world famous labels as Le Sporstsac, Mac Cosmetics and Onitsuka Tiger, which carry Tokidoki designs on their products.
Famed designer Karl Lagerfeld also tapped Legno for a cartoon of himself, which he plans to feature in his wide range of luxury merchandise.
Besides these, Legno has also churned out Tokidoki versions of famous characters including Marvel, Hello Kitty and Barbie.
“We work with different segments in the market,” he explained. “While we do classic consumer products like shirts, hats and shoes, we also go into experimental projects, such as stamps for the post office of Singapore, and very soon slot machines for Macau, Singapore and Las Vegas [casinos].”
What then are Tokidoki’s plans for the Philippines?
The answer is a whole lot, as the company is now exploring possibilities and potential partnerships in Southeast Asia (SEA) through a collaboration with Philippine-based company, Click! Licensing Asia Inc.
Marilu Magsaysay Corpus, Click’s chief executive officer, explained, “As the licensee of Tokidoki in the region, [Legno and Mohajer] are here to train our staff to live and breathe Tokidoki, so that when our merchandise starts being developed, our team will understand what the brand is about.”
“It is important for us to be in the Philippines because the strongest community that supports us in the US is the Filipino community,” Legno noted.
Thankful and hopeful, the dreamer of an artist looks forward to the day that Tokidoki will also prosper in the Philippines and its neighboring countries.