After passing through Shaw Boulevard’s perennial traffic and turning toward A. Mabini St. in Mandaluyong, it’s easy to step on the gas and zoom on through to Wilson St. (yet another gridlock magnet). Besides, the houses and small establishments lining Mabini look like any other house and establishment in that neighborhood. Nothing to see here, right?

Well… there is one place. The MOKU Store stands out in this quiet block with its liberal use of both white and bright colors—blue, yellow, pink, purple, and green are all put together, but somehow it isn’t visually overwhelming. For that reason alone, we say you should slow down, look to your right when you reach #172, park, and come in.

MOKU 101

The brainchild of Mira Uyco, the year-old MOKU is tasked with making “everyday materials with a twist.” The concept stems from what MOKU’s Brand and Product Marketing Manager Sandra Dingal described as Uyco’s love for kawaii (Japanese word for “cute”) finds; and Uyco’s desire to combine functionality and whimsy in daily essentials. Upon her return from Korea several years ago, she had observed that most of our bookstores and supply shops sell generic-looking, utilitarian products. “You can see that [Korean and Japanese retailers] really put thought into their products, even down to the labeling and wrapping,” Uyco said. “It’s a treat on its own!”

So she set out to do the same here in the Philippines. A quick look around the MOKU Store proves her point. MOKU’s various goods are neatly lined and stocked on the store’s right side for perusal—gel crayons (with metallic and water crayon variants); electric desktop accessories such as sharpeners, staplers, and erasers; pencil cases; different types of scissors (pocket to name-tag, slingshot and animal-form); magnetic calendars; and bags—all clad in their signature vibrant colors and custom characters. The workshop table at the center holds more of MOKU’s pens and accessories for sampling, and the left side of the store showcases some paintings and doodles from the attendees of their summer art workshops.

Visitors are encouraged to sit down at the table and test MOKU’s products. The twistable gel crayons (16 pens in one pack) easily glide onto paper, with a buttery texture and rich color transfer. According to Uyco, these crayons are what their little customers really enjoy playing with. The water crayons are also fun to use; you can choose to use the crayons as is, or fill up the built-in water cartridge to dilute the vibrant color and turn the pen into a watercolor brush. The result: less mess during art attacks and minimal cleanup! The pocket scissors, which look like normal pens when folded, will also come in handy during travels and for emergencies; and the electric accessories can double as cute desk decor. These are all in line with MOKU’s mission of giving standard products their own twist (figuratively and literally), and “leveling up” their usage.

It’s for everyone

MOKU’s products are non-toxic and hygienic, and made in Chinese factories following high Korean and Japanese manufacturing standards. And while the appeal would be obvious to creative children, core products like the best-selling gel crayons are hits with any age group—which was also Uyco’s goal from the start. “It’s not just for kids. We wanted a full range [that anyone can use], even the lolas,” she said, adding that kids, moms, and grandmothers can do arts and crafts together as a way to bond.

Then there are MOKU products like the dry-erase magnetic calendars that were initially made with Uyco’s personal needs in mind, then made it onto the product line. “It basically started with our vision to make everything easier,” she explained. In her case, her own kids have varying schedules for school and extracurricular activities throughout the week, and having a calendar she can mount and edit as needed makes this parenting task much less of a logistical headache.

The personal touch

As is the norm with brands today, MOKU has made its way online. It’s fairly active on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest); and its products are being sold on Lazada and on its own e-commerce platform, One2Shop—a digital home it shares with its sibling companies Torque Mobile, Arsenal, and Carbonn. When asked about where their online visits usually come from, Dingal answered that while people from Manila, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna have stopped by, there are also regular hits coming from as far away as Lanao del Norte, Cagayan de Oro, and Zamboanga, as well as some cities in the Visayas region.

Uyco mentioned that MOKU’s online sales is starting to pick up, with the crayons and erasers selling briskly. But for her, MOKU is mainly “a touch-and-feel kind of brand… it has to be an experience. If you’re online and you see a pair of scissors, to you it’s just scissors. But you don’t get to see our nametag scissors, for example,” she said. Basically, for arts and crafts at least, having something tactile to try out and personalize is incomparable.

MOKU’s future

While the ideas for MOKU’s initial product line came from Uyco, the brand’s customers are now voicing out their opinions for future versions. Based on their feedback, MOKU is considering making refills for their gel crayons. However, it’s still studying which colors are used the most and which are used the least so it can provide the correct barrel-less refills. “It depends on the frequency; we still have to see if it’s per color, or a full range of colors,” Uyco said.

Dingal also noted that refills for their electric erasers are in the company’s near future. Customers have asked for water brush pens with finer points for more versatility, plus more tables for art workshops so each child will have extra space to move around in.

As for MOKU’s 2017 slate, expect other products to get the spotlight alongside its gel and water crayons. Uyco said she’s “really excited… about the pens, bags, hollow pencil cases, and character bags.” On the business side, MOKU’s gearing up “to do an expansion on our channels and placements… we’re focused on establishing our stores, markets, visibility, and awareness.”

Ultimately, the company will follow the same game plan it’s had since Day One: to create cute and usable basics for kids and kids at heart. “I want to put together novelty, whimsy, and usability,” Uyco emphasized. “I hope they appreciate it.”