“It really excites me when I’m around all of the cute plushies,” laughs Jojo. “I love things that are very decorative, pretty and cute.” Decorative, pretty and cute are exactly the kind of words that would sum up her LoveJojo store.
Having initially began in 2010 selling phone charms, the first convention LoveJojo exhibited at was MCM London Comic Con in October 2012, with just a single table. It has since grown, selling merchandise from the likes of Amuse (Alpacas and Korohamu Hamsters), Bandai’s Sailor Moon (Moon Rod Eyeliner and Miracle Romance Shining Moon Powder) and Sanrio (LoveJojo is an official retailer in the UK for Sanrio’s Gudetama). She also launched the Kawaii Subscription Box earlier in the year. There’s a good chance you’ve walked by her booth at a convention and found yourself hyperventilating at the overall level of cuteness on display.
Our interview was conducted in a café (neither of us drink coffee), where Jojo revealed to be passionate about a range of topics (far too many to include here). “If you’re always just wearing the same stuff, or fitting into certain rules, you’re going to restrict yourself, you’re not going to come up with new ideas,” said Jojo, as a conversation about inspiration moved towards fashion. Yet her comments also seemed to reflect her work ethic. “It’s just embracing yourself and what you love, rather than trying to fit in with what society thinks is normal. Just be you. Be proud of what you like.”
During our interview we talked about conventions, customers, the Kawaii Subscription Box and Gudetama.
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How did LoveJojo initially begin?
(Laughs) It started from a place of love, like the name suggests. I saw one of these alpaca toys in America and I instantly fell in love. It was literally love at first sight. I was like, “I want one of those for myself.” So I thought, “Lets go to the company and buy loads of them in bulk, sell them, and then I can keep one for myself (laughs).” So that’s what I did. I wasn’t expecting this to be a big business or anything like that, but it sold really well. So I thought, “Okay, lets get some more.”
This was in 2012. It started off really small. MCM London was the first event that I ever did in October 2012. It started from there. The whole theme of it is love, so it’s all about me trying to make everyone happy. You know when you sign a card at the end, like, “Happy Birthday, Love Jojo,” that’s what the name is from!
You know when you see something really cute, you look at it and you just get really excited? That sort of… (gasps, raises hand to mouth and hand starts fluttering)… that kind of feeling (laughs). That’s the kind of feeling I want to give to everyone.
I assume you’ve had that? When someone goes by your stall and…
They get excited? Yeah, it makes me really happy! When I go through the creative process, I put myself in my customers shoes and I think, “How can I make them happy? What would make me happy if I was them? How can I give them the best experience possible? How can I make them feel special?”
What does LoveJojo offer that others don’t? Why should I make LoveJojo my first stop if I want Sailor Moon merchandise or an Amuse alpaca?
I really care about your experience shopping with me. I want to make sure that it’s really happy from start to finish. I want you to know that I’m going to be there for you if you have any problems. It’s like having a friend shopping with you. I want to give it a personal touch. It’s not just about the money at the end of the day. For me, the most fulfilling thing is when I see the customers happy, it really melts my heart (laughs). That’s what it’s all about for me.
You’re also the the official retailer for Gudetama.
Yeah, you’ll get the official merchandise from me. That took a lot of time to get (laughs). I’m already a retailer for Sanrio in Europe. About a year and a half ago I saw the potential for Gudetama in the UK. A lot of people saw the appeal in it, I think because they feel like they can relate to him (laughs). A lot of people were saying, “Oh, he’s my spirit animal.” I find Gudetama very endearing myself.
So I approached Sanrio and said, “I feel like there’s a huge potential for this in the UK.” And they weren’t convinced (laughs).
What did they say?
They said they don’t have any plans to bring him over to Europe. I said, “I really feel like you’re missing out by not bringing him over here.”
So many times they were like, “No.”
So then I said, “Okay, I want to speak to the director in Japan (laughs), and tell him what I think.”
They were like, “Write to us, and we’ll forward the e-mail for you.”
So I wrote out a whole list of benefits for Sanrio. I went full out with that. Then eventually they gave in (laughs). They said, “Okay, we’ll be happy to do that and bring some products over for you. But it’s going to take a long time for us to pass these products to be able to sell them in the EU.” They have to go through a lot of testing. That took another eight months (laughs). But as it stands at the moment, it’s just me officially.
In the UK and Europe, people mainly are aware of Hello Kitty, because it’s sold everywhere, but the other characters aren’t given as much exposure here. My favourite Sanrio character is My Melody, but you can hardly get any My Melody products here. Some people I’ve spoken to aren’t even aware that there are other characters. They think it’s just Hello Kitty. So I’m really happy that I can bring Gudetama here as well. People have been really excited about Gudetama ever since I mentioned it.
What tends to be your most popular items, the ones that customers always ask for and sell out?
It really varies. Sometimes I’ll do a convention and I’ll sell out of certain things, thinking, “Okay, I need to get more of those next time.” But then people might change their tastes depending on which convention I go to. It’s really unpredictable! At the moment, it’s got to be the Korohamu Hamsters and the Mameshiba Pups.
You’ve gone from a single table at conventions to having a huge presence and an online shop. LoveJojo has 26,000+ followers on Facebook and 35,000+ followers on Instagram. How does it make you feel comparing your beginnings to where you are now?
Did you ever see my first stall at MCM?
I’ve seen photos of it.
It was really small, just a single table, [with] a couple of things on for display. I didn’t have anything behind me. When I did that convention, I’d never [exhibited] before. I’d just come out of university when I started doing this. I thought, “Am I going to make back the money for the table?” I went into it with the mindset of, “This is going to be fun, no matter what. Let’s just see what happens.” I ended up really enjoying myself. It went well, so… positivity I guess really helped (laughs).
In terms of the growth, it’s been a steady comfortable growth. It’s still quite overwhelming actually. The other day I was looking back at the pictures from 2012 and I was thinking, “I think I need to take a moment to just appreciate that it has gotten so big.” It’s like your business is a baby. Back then it was a newborn and now you’re nurturing it and it’s growing. I feel like it’s a teenager now (laughs).
What have been your most memorable convention experiences?
(Pauses) They’ve all got their good points. I think the most exciting one was Hyper Japan, July 2014 at Earls Court. That was the second time I had ever done that event. The first time I did it, it was so exciting to be around all the Japanese culture. After the first experience I thought, “I want to make this much bigger (laughs).”
Have there been any memorable customer experiences?
There are a lot of different ones. If there’s something memorable, I’ll try and take a picture with them. Recently I did MCM Manchester and I was around the front just tidying up some stuff on my stall. A lady came up behind me with a little girl… she looked about four years old. This little girl was cuddling this big white alpaca. She was really shy. The lady tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You don’t know this, but you sent her that alpaca for Christmas!” The lady then said, “See Santa’s elves do exist !”(Laughs) The girl was so cute and she wanted to take a picture with me. Afterwards the lady sent me a message on my Facebook page saying that her daughter was still really excited and talking about how she’d met her favourite Christmas elf (laughs). That is what it’s about, just making people happy.
You launched the Kawaii Subscription Box in May. What made you decide to release a subscription box?
People like surprises… but surprises that they will love. [It’s filled] with stuff that you know you’ll love, you’ll get it every month and it will be like your birthday every month. You’ll get to open up a present that you’ve bought for yourself, from yourself (laughs).
What has the reaction been to the subscription box so far?
It’s been really positive! That makes me so happy! On Instagram, I look up the hashtag #lovejojobox every now and then, and people are so excited when they open their box. It’s not just the products, it’s the experience and excitement and… (excited) ah, I feel so happy that I’ve provided that for them!
I assume you’ve seen some of the video reviews for your subscription box?
I get really excited! Sometimes I’ll get my mum to come and watch it with me. I’ll say, “Look how happy this person is!”
You put on The Most Kawaii Event earlier this year in May to celebrate the launch of your subscription box. How was the event?
Oh, it was really good. It was better than I expected, considering the short time that we had to plan everything. It was about a month to plan and execute everything, but I had a lot of help. Looking back, there are a lot of things I could have done better. If I was to do it again, I would probably give more time for promotion leading up to the event.
So, could we expect another Most Kawaii Event in the future?
Potentially (laughs). I’ve had some really good feedback from it and quite a lot of people have been asking whether I’m going to do another one. So, I am thinking about it. But as it stands at the moment, for the rest of this year, I’m really busy. I don’t think there will be enough time to do another one this year, maybe next year.
LoveJojo was at a string of conventions in July…
Four conventions in one month. Is that the most packed schedule you’ve had?
(Laughs) I’m very glad I made it through (laughs). Yeah, four conventions in one month, I think that’s a record for me. It was very stressful, but my excitement for doing it overpowered the stressfulness. So it made it fun in the end.
You did MCM Manchester and LFCC on the same weekend. You couldn’t be in both places at the same time, so someone has to be manning the other stall?
My regular helpers that I have for my conventions, I left them… (laughs)… behind to handle the London one. I had full faith that they would be fine. They know everything, how it works.
So it wasn’t a case of, “Look, this is my baby…”
I thought I would be like that. I thought I would be constantly (raises hand to imitate phone – stern voice), “Is everything okay?”
MCM Manchester was so busy. There was not a single moment for me to sit down at all. So most of my focus was on trying to serve the customers at Manchester. [To the] guys in London, I said, “If there’s any issues, just text me or call me.” I didn’t really hear anything from them, so it all went really well.
What can customers expect from LoveJojo in the future?
(Laughs) There is a lot coming, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise (laughs). There is something really exciting that I have… in the pipeline… coming up. Hopefully you’ll be able to see it in the next year or so.
Doing this for the past few years, obviously you will make mistakes, but you learn things as well. Like I said with the planning of The Most Kawaii Event, I needed more time for promotion. That’s why I’m giving myself a year for the planning and everything.
It’s something that big that it needs a year?
It’s much, much bigger than The Most Kawaii Event. I don’t think you’ll be able to guess what it is!
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A huge thank you to Jojo for taking the time out for the interview. You can purchase your own authentic Amuse Alpacasso and much more by visiting lovejojo.com. You can also follow LoveJojo on Instagram and keep up to date with products and offers by following on Facebook.
Interview by Shalimar Sahota.
Header photo taken by TobiNinjaFox.