1076
7 min 24 sec

Japanese Designer Folds Profitable Paper Wallets

After spending his twenties studying in Europe, a Japanese graphic designer returns home to a small village where his story of making paper wallets unfolds.
Arts & Crafts Niche Ideas Retail

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What It's About

An origami-style paper wallet to keep cash safe in style.

Business Model
Product
Skills Required
Design & Marketing
Complexity
Low
Profit Potential
Medium

Words of Wisdom

Kan has some great advice for people worried about sharing their ideas; "People seem to be reluctant to share their idea because someone might steal it, but most of the time, that's not the case. I think I made the right decision to release the DIY version as soon as possible to get feedback and brush it up"

Fun Fact

Origami comes from the Japanese words for “folding” and “paper.” and started in Japan in the 17th century. It has since expanded to be a common art form worldwide. There’s barely anyone who isn’t familiar with the folded paper crane, one of the most common origami symbols.

Notes from Chris

Episode 1076
Kan Yamamoto is a freelance graphic designer and woodworker based in Tosayama, a rural village in southern Japan. There he works with clients around the world from his small studio. Tosayama is a tiny place, with a population of just over one thousand. Kan is from there originally, but it hasn’t always been his home base.

He spent most of his twenties in Switzerland and Germany studying fine art and graphic design. While he enjoyed refining his skills in Europe, the call of home eventually drew him back to Japan. So, in his thirties he returned to the land of the rising sun to rediscover his roots and contribute to the local community.

Living in a rural village has its advantages, including a close proximity to nature and a high quality of life. But there is one great disadvantage: the lack of jobs. It’s why so many people his age move away to the larger cities.

Kan wasn’t willing to compromise. When he returned he was committed to making it work financially. While he looked for design clients he picked up some local jobs, including working as a lumberjack and producing charcoal the traditional way. Even though he got by, he had a more defined long term goal.

You see, most young people from Tosayama move away for work and never return. Kan thought the best thing to do was learn how to start a small business so he could be an example for the younger generation of villagers. He could show them that it didn’t matter where you lived, you could build a global business using your skills and the internet.

Being creative, he began brainstorming ideas for products that he could make by hand. He landed on the idea of a wallet because he couldn’t find the type that he actually wanted. Something slim, lightweight, cruelty free and eco-friendly.

Inspired by the ancient Japanese art of origami, he began folding paper into different shapes in hopes of finding a design that suited his needs. He spent weeks shaping and folding different papers until he eventually found something he liked.

In his career as a designer, he’d worked with many different types of paper and remembered that some were actually machine washable. They were durable and didn’t use any animal products. Turns out paper, which he’d always considered a material for prototyping, was the perfect solution for actually making the wallets.

Kan was serious about this: he didn’t want to launch this side business and have it fold or remain stationary. So he decided to test the market before investing any more time or money. And he did it in a unique way.

Rather than create actual wallets and try to sell them, he designed a template that others could print directly onto paper. With it, they could fold a wallet themselves. After selling his first few wallets, he received feedback which he used to improve and upgrade the design. He did the same with his ads, the ones that worked he put a little more money behind or improved them, and the ones that didn’t got thrown out like scrap paper. It was a good method that totally worked.

After a year of running the Kamino Wallet as a side hustle, Kan is now selling up to $1,500 worth of wallets per month of which eighty percent is profit. He’s expanded into five different types of wallets and plans to continue obtaining customer feedback to create even more.

Kans story is proof that living in a rural community isn’t an excuse not to get started building your own side hustle. We look forward to watching the rest of the Kamino Wallet story unfold.

 
  MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

  • Kamino Wallet: Check out Kan's beautiful wallet designs and order your own at his website.
  SEE ALSO:

Yours in the revolution,

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—Kan Yamamoto #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau