Michelle K. Hanabusa: The Creative Director Who Started An Uprising
THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR WHO STARTED AN UPRISING.
Figure skater. Graphic designer. Entrepreneur. Creative Director. Founder of Uprisers. Michelle K. Hanabusa wears many hats and she’s rocked them all. I first met Michelle when we worked together many years ago. Even when we were both fresh-faced, recent college grads in an industry that’s saturated with ingenues — I knew she had the talent, the ambition, and the eye for something more. But most importantly, I knew she was ready to stand for something.
Q - So I knew you way back when, you were an in-house graphic designer. Now you're the creative director of your own brand. Take us through this journey.
A - Time flies! Feels like yesterday when we were working together every day!
I knew early on that whatever I was going to do, it would be in the creative and/or entertainment field. My first passion and something I took extremely seriously was figure skating. I told myself that I wanted to be the next Michelle Kwan and over the course of 14 years I was convinced that this sport was my calling. I enjoyed designing my figure skating dresses (plus, it was cheaper for my parents than finding an actual designer, lol) so I spent many hours designing 30+ outfits over the course of 14 years. At 16 I had hip surgery and was no longer able to keep up with the competitive side of skating. That led me to look into other passions outside of figure skating.
Graphic design quickly emerged as a new interest. In college I started designing graphics and fulfilling merch orders for sororities and fraternities throughout different universities across the US. I didn’t approach it as a business - just as a way to perfect my graphic design skills.
Post college — I ran an ecommerce site selling Japanese-inspired goods and fashion (which you was my badass model for our holiday line)! It was purely a side hustle as I worked full-time at AEG at the time. Through this site, I was connected to my first investor; who gave me the opportunity to quit my corporate job and take a risk in trying my hand at entrepreneurship. That was back in 2016.
Q - The name of your brand is Uprisers. What does it mean to be an Upriser?
A - Uprisers is a community of creatives, leaders, and doers. With everything going on in this world, I think it's important to address topics we feel need to be heard and stories that need to be told. My hope is that Uprisers will continue to think outside the box; push their boundaries; and explore avenues of consuming differently.
Q - How would you describe the aesthetic of your brand?
A - Uprisers was inspired by my Japanese culture with a Los Angeles lifestyle. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, with a mom who immigrated from Japan and a dad who is third generation Japanese-American and a grandma who lived with us under the same room. Growing up I tried to assimilate as much as possible to look, act, and blend in with my peers. It took me 24 years to fully embrace who I am and be proud of where I came from. Fashion is a form of expression I use to share my history, culture, and pride of being Japanese-American.
Q - How would you describe your personal style? Does it align with the aesthetic of your brand?
A - Minimal street (is that even a thing, haha)? I also mix vintage pieces from my grandmother and mom's wardrobes. I think it aligns with the aesthetic of the brand. My goal is to incorporate vintage pieces with Uprisers down the line.
Q - You had an entire social media campaign built around your "American Made" tee. What's the story behind this shirt?
A - The idea behind "American Made" was to celebrate the diversity that makes up the US. We photographed over 600+ people across the country, all wearing this one tee, and our goal was to generate conversation and a space where people wanted to share their unique backgrounds and culture. We met some amazing people with incredible stories during the 4 month process of executing this campaign. On the day of our launch, May 2nd, all 600+ posted on their social media in "unison" and were excited to be aired on ABC7 for this reason.
Q - You recently had a pop-up in Little Tokyo (in downtown Los Angeles) and a portion of proceeds went back to the Little Tokyo Community Council. Can you tell us a little more about the mission of this project?
A - We had the opportunity to open up a month-long retail store in December last year; I'm still dreaming about that pop-up experience!
There is a strong community behind all the Japanese American businesses and organizations you see in Little Tokyo and Southern California, but we are also being threatened by gentrification.
Little Tokyo is a place I consider my second home; somewhere I grew up going to get mochi with with my parents, cheering my grandmother on every year when she performed during the Nisei Week Parade. This opportunity was our chance to give back to this community. We created an exclusive tee with a message of "Supporting your neighborhood, your friends, and your family. Let's do something that is bigger than ourselves."
Our mission was to show support by giving back a percentage of our exclusive shirt sales to LTCC.
In this given climate,
it's important to me to stand behind individuals and organizations
who are making a positive impact.
It takes a whole village to create change;
a whole village to give voice to something that may not be heard.
Q - What has been the biggest challenge of launching your own brand?
A - Bringing awareness to the brand in an overly saturated market. I also think lack of capital has been a constant struggle to expand as much as I wish.
Q - What's the best advice you've ever received and what advice would you give to women who are looking to start their own businesses?
A - It takes patience and resilience when starting up your own company/business. It's important to celebrate the small wins along the journey because that just means you are a step closer to your goal. Advice I would give to women who are starting their own business is bring out that inner boss b*tch to any scenario you are in and when you feel that you can't do it:
and know that you are supported
by a whole community of women
who are also making waves.
Q - What's next for you?
A - More pop-up shops! I’m heading out to Tokyo in a few days to explore some pop-up locations. Stay tuned ;)
Q - Who are the 5 people (dead or alive) that you would invite to your dinner party?
A - Michelle Kwan (hands-down), Michelle Obama, Elon Musk, and my closest friends.