By MIEKO BEYER
From a young age, Lisa Aihara enjoyed doodling on notebooks, but she never imagined it could one day lead to a fulfilling career. After many different positions in several fields, however, Aihara found herself launching her very own business based on her childhood love of art.
“It was a project I always wanted to do,” she said. “When I turned 30, I thought, I can do this.”
Though she had a position she loved at Disney, working in marketing for email, social media and web, her hidden talent for creating her own designs couldn’t stay in the shadows any longer. Now Aihara is the proud founder of not one but two small design businesses, Fiber & Dye, which focuses on greeting card and stationery creations, as well as Flutter and Spark, which works with entrepreneurs to create brand looks for everything from a logo to a website color scheme.
Fiber & Dye came first when Aihara tackled a lifelong interest in watercolor painting. It’s surprisingly a medium the talented artist finds daunting at times. “With watercolor you have to accept that the paint does its own thing,” she explained. “It forced me to change my mindset about whether or not I’m good enough to do something and has pushed me to expand into other mediums as well.”
Her watercolor creations are a hit with couples looking for personalized wedding invitations, which she creates by incorporating their personalities and wedding themes in addition to a flair all her own. Aihara excels at collaborating with her clients not just for their wedding day but another important life event — launching your own business.
Flutter and Spark specializes in brand looks for small business owners, a challenge Aihara can completely understand herself. “So much of yourself goes into a business,” she said. “It’s you that you’re selling with clients but you also want to feel professional with how you present to them.” With Aihara’s combined expertise in marketing, design and entrepreneurship, it’s safe to say her clients are in very good hands.
In addition to her two businesses, Aihara also serendipitously came into freelance work as a pin designer for Little Tokyo Community Council and as a chalk artist for event spaces. It’s a departure from the more complex design she does for her businesses, but Aihara rose to the occasion once again.
Her pin designs for the launch of LTCC’s inaugural pin set and “Haunted Little Tokyo” events had to be simple and bold to translate visually. Aihara reached back into her love of doodling, embracing a “kawaii” style that works perfectly for the pins. “It’s almost like printing on paper, except you’re printing on metal,” she explained. “I illustrate as usual but these illustrations are bolder, more simple. It was all about finding that balance between lines and colors.”
“Working with Lisa has been phenomenal — not only as a very talented artist, but as a community-based artist who calls Little Tokyo home,” said Kristin Fukushima, managing director of LTCC. “Her connection with Little Tokyo is reflected in the designs, and we are beyond lucky to work with a pin designer so talented but also hold these deep connections, familiarity, and love for Little Tokyo.”
The pin set for LTCC was thoughtfully crafted with Aihara’s eye for detail as well as a lot of heart. She saw the project as an opportunity to tell a story and created each design with the history and legacy of each Little Tokyo image she chose. Her pins for the Halloween season will also be featured as the design for a coloring contest image, giving younger, budding artists a chance to take part as well.
Whether working with a historic community like Little Tokyo, a couple planning their big day or a fledgling business owner, Aihara seems to have quite the knack for helping people tell their stories visually. She actually started out as an aspiring writer, majoring in literature and writing at UC San Diego. She then interned for a magazine as an editor and wrote for a Japanese newspaper in Los Angeles.
After a stint as a copy editor for a Japanese publication company, Aihara felt something was missing. She took on web design responsibilities for the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center and fell in love with the marketing field. After earning her MBA at CSU Long Beach, she went on to work for prestigious companies such as Hulu and Disney.
However, this was only the beginning of her career shifts. While at Disney she began dreaming of having her own business and in August 2016 she bravely debuted Fiber & Dye. “I took a class in watercolor that summer before I launched it,” she revealed. “The medium was super scary to me as well as launching a new business.”
Following her passion has served her well, however, as seen from the quality of her work and the demand for her talents across many mediums. The Torrance native gives much credit to her husband, who she jokes helped her with an unofficial art degree when she helped him work on projects while he earned his BFA in animation.
Now mother to a one-year-old, Lucas Hiro (named after her grandfather), Aihara’s freedom and independence from running her own business comes in handy for raising her first child. However, she admits she misses corporate life sometimes. “I miss meetings!” she laughed. “I can’t call a meeting, no one would come, it’s just me. I loved collaborating with people and learning from them … The best of both worlds would be to have two lives — like two different save files on a game.”
Although strongly connected with the Little Tokyo community now, Aihara actually grew up more familiar with the Japanese community in San Francisco, where her grandparents ran a fish market and grocery store. She also fondly recalls traveling often to Wakayama Prefecture to visit family. “I didn’t visit Tokyo ’til my twenties,” she laughed. “I always went to the country area — that was Japan to me.”
Aihara still calls Torrance home and her business ventures seem to grow day by day, with new possibilities in licensing and apparel as well. It’s clear that this once secretly aspiring artist has come out of her shell and is making her mark — on everything from a watercolor page to a pin.
The LTCC pin set is available for purchase at the Haunted Little Tokyo Pumpkin Patch and Cafe Dulce, limited supply only, both located in Japanese Village Plaza, 335 E. Second St., Los Angeles. Visit Aihara online at www.fiberanddye.com and www.instagram.com/fiberanddye/.
Photos courtesy of LISA AIHARA