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Jan 17, 2021

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Conversation

A Moment of Transition with Yu Mono’s Keiko Akamine

We took a moment to catch up with Keiko Akamine, designer of the graceful, minimalist jewelry line Yū|Mono.

“If you were to ask me five years ago what I’d be doing right now, jewelry would not remotely be on the radar.”

A leap, a corner, a turn, a path. A choice. Opportunities present themselves in the most unusual ways–just ask Keiko Akamine, designer of the graceful, minimalist jewelry line Yū|Mono.

“I never really allowed myself to pursue anything art or creative,” says Keiko, “Everything I did revolved around sports.”

Born and raised in Hawaii, where kids are encouraged to pursue a sport from an early age, Keiko began doing judo, and spent long hours practicing and competing in the local dojo. As she explains, “In Hawaii, kids either go into soccer or judo when they’re little.” It became all-consuming as she added wrestling to her roster: she adored the competitiveness, physicality and concentration, and was happy to spend as much of her life as possible chasing the thrill it provided. But as she approached college-age, a sidelining injury and the lack of collegiate programs left her weighing out her options. Opting to focus on sports psychology–a seemingly perfect culmination of her interests–she headed to college in Pennsylvania (where she got to experience the four seasons for the first time) and settled into her studies. 

Toward the tail-end of the Masters program, Keiko decided to flex her creative muscles a bit: on a whim, she signed up for a jewelry-making class at the local art academy. She was delighted, and surprised, to recognize familiar elements as she manipulated sheets of metal into the visions she imagined. Jewelry making requires an immense strength, steadiness and focus that is not unlike what’s necessary to excel at a sport. But it’s also a strange alchemy: The body and mind work in concert to make an idea, a figment, into something tangible and wearable. Bewitched by the process, Keiko let herself dream about a different future. 

“I was seeing jewelry in my head when I was lying down at night…I wasn’t thinking about sports psychology anymore, I was thinking about earring designs.”

“I was seeing jewelry in my head when I was lying down at night…I wasn’t thinking about sports psychology anymore, I was thinking about earring designs.”

And so, after graduation, she found herself at an intersection. One turn brought her to a private practice in sports psychology, where she would work with local athletes–something she excelled at, but had little passion for. Her parents encouraged her to pursue this option: It was safe and dependable, and she’d be happy enough. Yet, despite what her parents cautioned, Keiko had spent a lifetime watching her mother and father try new jobs and start businesses in pursuit of a life and career they could love. 

“I grew up seeing my mom try something new and just go for it. You can try something out and maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.”

It’s a lesson we all could stand to learn.

“I’m someone who follows my intuition. You can set a path for yourself, but if you don’t stick to it, it’s okay; maybe something you don’t anticipate will come up and it’s okay to pursue those things. I took this as a sign.”

A turn in the other direction brought her to Yū|Mono, the fledgling jewelry line she’d started less than a year earlier. She couldn’t shake the thrill she felt holding a piece of gold in her hand and wondering what it would become. 

“I felt so long like I was on the outside of what people were interested in. I wanted to make things I would wear.” 

Keiko relished the chance to create beautiful things for people like her: a self-described tomboy with a desire to to indulge her feminine side. She was ready to create something she hadn’t seen in the world. 

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