EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH UKA’S FOUNDER, KIHO WATANABE
by Alyaka.com Editor on Oct 18, 2022
Nail care is a beauty experience that comes with rejuvenating effects. Thanks to high-quality nail products, a refreshed and beautiful feeling is achieved by embarking on this beauty routine. UKA is one of the luxury nail care brands that have greatly contributed in improving this experience. As it has already expanded to haircare, there are more reasons to consider the brand for a much improved beauty regimen.
Organic, addictive and beautifying are the words that best describe UKA products. Offering luxury that can be felt right down to your fingertips, the brand offers a range of products that use natural essential oils and are infused with vitamins and antioxidants. With its argan oil component, you are assured of healing benefits that don’t just benefit the nails and cuticles, but also extend to the skin. What’s even more amazing is that while UKA nail products do great wonders for your nails, they also work great for the lips, can be used as massage oil, and even be worn as a perfume on your neck and décolletage.
Truly a beauty essential to include in your regimen, you ought to learn more about the brand and the person behind it. Here’s a Q&A with its founder, Kiho Watanabe, to give you a better overview of this amazing organic beauty product.
Q&A with UKA’s Founder, Kiho Watanabe
MOST OF OUR READERS KNOW THAT YOU ARE, AS VOGUE HAS IT, ‘A TOKYO STAR MANICURIST’ WHO HAS CREATED HER OWN HAIR AND NAIL CARE BRAND: ‘UKA’. WHAT MADE YOU EMBARK ON A BEAUTY STARTUP?
I grew up watching fashionable hairdressers because I was born to a father who was a hair dresser and owned a barber shop. Therefore, I’ve taken beauty for granted. I can say that I grew up surrounded by beauty.
To inherit the family business, I went to beauty school to get a Cosmetology License and makeup school to learn basics of makeup application. However, I ended up becoming a manicurist after discovering the occupation because it seemed more attractive for a chatty girl like me. Unlike hairstylists, manicurists do not leave their clients during a treatment, so they are able to enjoy conversations and exchange information, and I thought I would enjoy building such close relationships with my clients.
WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN THE VERY BEGINNING AND WHAT ARE THEY LIKE NOW FOR YOU AS A BRAND AND COMPANY FOUNDER?
There were many challenges and I felt immense pressure when uka was established in 2009.
The biggest challenge at the early stage was definitely changing the brand’s name from ‘excel’ to ‘uka’, as well as taking over the business from my father and launching our first ever products.
‘Will the clients be fond of the new name as much as they were of the previous name, excel, which they were familiar with?’
‘Will they even pick up our new products?’
‘Am I capable of being a business person?’
Everything was a challenge.
The first product we launched to spread the name of the brand was uka nail oil. It disseminated the brand widely across to the world, like butterflies going from flower to flower. The cult range gained sympathy from our target customers—women and men who are busy, lazy and demanding. I am truly proud of us for receiving warm comments such as ‘uka shaped a custom to use nail oil. What uka created was, rather, a culture—not transient popularity’.
UKA PRODUCTS ARE LOVELY IN EVERY WAY INCLUDING THE DESIGN-DRIVEN PACKAGING WHICH REFLECTS SUBTLE TASTE AND STYLE AND THE JAPANESE LOVE OF ATTENTION TO DETAIL. WHERE DO YOU GO FOR INSPIRATION?
Taking uka nail oil as an example, I took inspiration from a neckpiece on a Japanese Kimono. Han-eri, a neckpiece which peeks from the collar of a Kimono, inspired me to design uka nail oil in a simple white packaging with a floral print emerging when the lid is opened. Just like Han-eri is necessary for Kimonos, the floral print adds spice to the simplicity of the packaging and changes its overall impression.
Other than that, I receive ideas from everything I see and from the times I spend with my clients and friends chatting about beauty. I always try to keep myself open to new ideas.
WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL UKA MUST-HAVES?
uka nail oil for sure. The first ever product which I poured my heart into, that I went through good times and bad times with, like war buddies. I feel deeply attached to it.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT UKA OILS? WHERE DO THE PRODUCT NAMES COME FROM AND HOW DO THE OILS DIFFER?
I sincerely undertook the development of uka nail oil as a professional manicurist, with the hope of creating a product which would help clients maintain healthy nails. We manicurists are happy to see our clients with healthy nails when they returned to the salon, not only because it boosts confidence in our own skills for giving long-lasting manicures but also because seeing healthy nails itself is a joy for us.
Before uka nail oil was born, I kept telling my clients to apply nail oil frequently to maintain healthy and beautiful nails, but none of them did. After learning the reason, I developed uka nail oil which combats all the negative points they mentioned. I developed ‘nail oil you cannot resist’ and put it out into the world with confidence that they now have no reason not to apply nail oil.
I also carefully selected fragrances that evoke particular times of the day with their respective names, since I have, in fact, had many clients who did not know when to apply nail oil.
TURNING TO HAIR CARE, WHAT MAKES UKA SHAMPOOS AND CONDITIONERS DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER BRAND AND WHY HAVE YOU TURNED YOUR ATTENTION TO CREATING HAIR CARE IN THE FIRST PLACE, ESPECIALLY SINCE YOU ARE MORE RENOWNED FOR YOUR NAIL CARE EXPERTISE?
My father’s mantra was ‘A hairdresser who is good at giving a haircut is the one good at giving a shampoo’. Therefore, our hairdressers work very hard on improving their skills, which has given uka a very good reputation when it comes to shampoos all the way from the excel era to now.
On the other hand, the clients coming for nail treatments were tired and busy workers. They often complained about how even massages could not get rid of their tiredness, something which applied in my case too.
So, I came up with an idea to develop a head spa treatment working alongside the hairdressers who were good at shampooing. That was almost 20 years ago.
Head spa became one of the most popular treatments, and the number of head therapists grew. Eventually the head therapists themselves voiced their desire to develop products to help clients to maintain a healthy scalp and hair between salon treatments, in much the same way I had cared for my clients.
WE WANT TO ASK YOU AS A BEAUTY VETERAN WHETHER YOU ARE GIVING PREFERENCE TO CERTAIN SKIN CARE AND BODY CARE PRODUCTS? DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITES YOU USE IN YOUR DAILY SKIN/BODY CARE ROUTINE?
I am the type of person who’d try anything and everything that has a good reputation. I like trying innovative electrical beauty devices too. Technology is rapidly evolving, and amazing products are being created every day. As a product developer, I try to enjoy new beauty products on the understanding that good products will be expensive, but that this is a reflection of the time and investment that has gone into researching and producing them.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL HAIR/HAND/NAIL CARE RITUAL(S) YOU MIGHT RECOMMEND TO OUR CUSTOMERS?
For hair care: Brushing before washing is very important to lift dirt from the hair. It’s also important to rinse with warm water before applying shampoo. It’s called ‘pre-wash’ and it removes 80% of dirt in the hair. Also, I highly recommend cleansing your scalp regularly. uka Scalp Cleansing Deep & Light removes dirt and build-ups remaining in the pores and scalp, despite being a regular shampoo, and nourishes the scalp to promote healthy hair growth.
Also, encouraging blood circulation is the key not only for hair care but for overall body care too. Pamper yourself with a head spa treatment by a professional once in a while, or try to learn and become accustomed to giving self-massages—this is where the uka Scalp Brush Kenzan comes in handy.
For hand and nail care: moisturisation is the key. I carry uka nail oil everywhere I go so that I am able to apply it anytime I feel the need to do so, and I also apply oils and hand creams when at home and work.
When you apply a hand cream, put it on the back of the hand and rub your hands together. Once it’s absorbed, apply the remaining cream on the palms. The back of the hands tends to get dry more than the palms, so this way your palms don’t get greasy.
Also, self-massage is effective on the hands too. Apply uka nail oil on the fingers, and stretch them backwards. Also, apply pressure to the roots of the fingers as if you are blocking the blood flow towards the tips, and release. It enhances blood circulation and warmth in your fingers. Nourished fingers are beautiful—you can also try self-massages while watching TV or chatting with your loved ones.
OUR MAGAZINE IS NOT ONLY ABOUT BEAUTY PRODUCTS, BUT ALSO ABOUT FOOD AND LIFESTYLE IN GENERAL. THIS IS THE QUESTION WE ASK ALL OUR RESPONDENTS. DO YOU HAVE ANY DISH OR SPECIALTY WHICH YOU PREFER ABOVE ALL OTHERS?
It depends on the season, but I like Yakitori as it’s healthy.
HOW DO YOU RELAX IF SHORT ON TIME?
I’d go for a relaxing shampoo with one of our salon staff, or hug my beloved cat.
YOUR FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION?
Overseas: A beauty and health resort such as Chivasom (Thailand). I enjoy relaxing with healthy and delicious meals, and trainings and massages suitable for my body.
Domestic: Onsen (hot spring). I enjoy having Onsen baths multiple times a day.
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