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Thursday, July 16, 2009
TAKING A CHANCE
Chrysmela founder sticks to it
Maker of high-quality clasps for pierced earrings aims for fame
At first glance, it comes as a surprise that such a quiet and sensitive young woman founded her own company, but Eri Kikunaga, 28, moved aggressively to establish Chrysmela Inc. in July 2007 and continues to drive it forward.
Two years have passed since she established Chrysmela, which sells original pierced earring clasps that stop earrings slipping off, an experience almost anyone with pierced ears has had, and the business is steadily on the rise.
Chrysmela sold 3,500 clasps in the business year that ended in June.
"My dream is to make our pierced earring clasps known as a high-quality precision product and to make my company known to everyone like YKK Corp.," she said, referring to the Japanese zipper company with a dominant global market share.
Although her product is tiny, it involves high technology.
An ordinary clasp, also known as a clutch, can slip off the stem if it is placed at the end, or if it gets caught while the wearer takes off a pullover.
But Chrysmela's clasps, priced between ¥4,800 and ¥9,800 a pair, do not detach unless a small knob at the back of the clasp is lifted and pulled.
The company took out a Japanese patent last July and is now applying for international patents.
The idea for Chrysmela's clasps came from Kikunaga's own experience.
One time, her boyfriend became angry when she lost a pierced earring he had given her as a present. Although she found the earring later, that was when she started to think about making a totally new clasp that could hold any pierced earring.
There was demand, according to Chrysmela's recent survey conducted last October on 1,000 women in their teens and 20s. More than 70 percent of the respondents said they have lost at least one pierced earring.
But the idea was challenging because stems differ from earring to earring, with diameters ranging from 0.6 mm to 1.1 mm. She had to develop a clutch that held any size.
Kikunaga, who always liked to make clothes and accessories by hand, started to learn the structure of pierced earing clasps on the Internet.
She then created several new ideas for clasps that could hold earrings but could be unclasped whenever the wearer wanted. She decided the products had to be hypoallergenic, fit any earning design easily and not break easily.
But starting up a business wasn't easy, partly because of her youth and also because of her gender in a country where young entrepreneurs, particularly females, have problems raising funds.
When Kikunaga first came up with the idea of starting a business to make clasps, she was still working for an IT-related startup, trying to learn how to run a young firm.
Although she visited about 10 manufacturers with her blueprint to make a pilot product, all turned her down.
Even after a small plating company agreed to make one, 20 to 30 makers declined her request for mass production. It was then that she decided to quit her job and start a new company.
"To me, setting up a company itself doesn't mean much," Kikunaga said. "But I thought I would never be taken seriously if I didn't found a company with proper capital."
Just as she was about to give up in April 2008, Okaya Precision Industry in Aichi Prefecture and several other small firms in the region agreed to mass-produce nine miniature parts of the 6-mm large backings with a very complicated internal structure. After two months, they had reduced it to 4.8 mm, small enough to hide behind an earlobe.
In the end, artisans at Okaya and other companies bet on her passion and her unique but challenging idea to make backings that could hold precious earrings.
Her interest in starting a new business dates back many years. She has handed in her own business projects to her father, a banker, since she was in high school.
While at university, she became the lead singer in a band to build her self-confidence so she could speak in front of people.
Later, she got a job at the IT-related startup firm to learn how to manage a young company before starting her own business.
Like her firm's name, Chrysmela, with "chrys" meaning gold and "mela" meaning black in Greek, her company wants to "support active women with the pierce backing, like a shadow that makes sunshine more shiny," she says on her corporate Web page.
In this occasional series, we interview entrepreneurs whose spirit may hold the key to a more competitive Japan.