This past week Jerry and I had the pleasure of visiting Mjolk. We are big fans of their style and curation so we were very excited to visit for an interview. Owner John was gracious enough to entertain our questions while we admired their Scandinavian/Japanese inspired store.
Mjolk is located in the historic Junction area of Toronto. The neighborhood has quickly become a hotbed for design and furniture, making it the perfect home for this eclectic modern design store. Mjolk is owned and managed by John Baker and his wife Juli Daoust who have created a place where Scandinavian and Japanese design meet.
Note: Some responses below have been paraphrased for formatting
1. How did Mjolk first get started?
We had a blog [Kitka] long before we had a store. We frequently wrote about designs we liked and our travels in other countries. A store became a real possibility when blog readers started reaching out to us about purchasing things we had showcased. In 2009 Juli and I made it a reality and Mjolk will be 5 years old in December.
2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Japanese & Nordic themed design store before. What inspired you to take this design direction?
We had never seen one before either. Originally we had more of a Scandinavian focus and a smaller collection of Japanese crafts, now the store is split between the two cultures. I really admire Danish designer Borge Mogensen and Finnish architect Alvar Aalto so we draw a lot of inspiration from them. In an interesting way both of these designers took a lot from Japanese architecture, so seeing these connections first hand by visiting the home of Aalto which incorporates a lot of Japanese architecture, or Borge Mogensens’ home which has a Japanese garden and Japanese paper lanterns we got to see the connection first hand.
3. Did you study design in school? What did you used to do?
No studying, all passion [laugh]. I used to work in advertising but I quit and started working in a furniture store in order to expose myself to design and learn more about how to manage a store.
4. How do you source your products? Do you attend a lot of tradeshows?
We don’t attend any tradeshows. We tend to work mostly with small companies and designers without distribution, people that we can actually help and add value. Many of our products are specially commissioned for our store and cannot be found anywhere else. After meeting a lot of the designers and craftspeople we were working with, they introduced us to their designer friends and in a way the store has become a community of designers and craftspeople.
5. Speaking of community, we heard you have a lot of special exhibits at the store. Could you tell us a bit about that?
Exhibits are a big part about what we do here. We do around six exhibits per year. During an exhibit the front portion of the store is converted into a gallery so a designer/artisan can come in and showcase their work. We make sure artists have an open forum to do their best work, they showcase what they want, how they want and the only thing we control is the budget. We have had many overseas designers/artisans showcase unique works here that are not even available in their home countries. For some exhibits we don’t even turn a profit. We may close the store front for 4-6 weeks for an exhibit and nothing from the exhibit is for sale. Our aim is to educate people on design and shed light on products normally not found in Canada.
6. How big a role does your online presence play for your store?
Social media and our online store are definitely big parts of our business now. The funny thing is I was against an online store for a long time. I originally felt like online stores would kill brick and mortar. There is no physical connection between a person and the object when purchasing is done online. You lose the experience of trying a product before you buy it. Our online store only materialized once we saw we had such a large international following. There was no way for some of these people to purchase or even see a lot of our items without online.
I do reserve certain products for sale only in our physical store. Ones that I feel require a personal connection before purchase. Many designers we work with will also request their commissions not be sold online as well. At times I feel like our online [presence] suffers because we put so much attention into our brick and mortar, but we care a lot about the store experience.
7. That’s understandable, the experience we’ve had in your store has been an amazing one. You must see a lot of return customers.
Customers shouldn’t need to come back to the store unless it’s to say how much they liked something [laughs]. We pride ourselves in curating products that are a pleasure to use and become an extension of your life. We don’t want you to buy a coffee cup and need to replace it soon after. As weird as it sounds, we are a retailer against consumerism. We want people to buy something and love using it. Then if they want that same experience for another aspect of their life they can come in and see what else we have.
Photographs by Adriel Yu
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