San Jose Japantown’s Sak N’ Sak — Saving the Earth One Bag at a Time

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SAN JOSE — Kathy Sakamoto’s trip to the Guggenheim Museum in New York last year was a turning point in her life — it inspired her to start her own business.

After viewing a display of tote bags recycled from old city banners at the museum store, Sakamoto teamed with business partner Lydia Uchida-Sakai to create a line of eco-friendly bags under the name Sak n’ Sak. They opened their San Jose Japantown business inside Uchida Travel last July.

The pair sells colorful, floral tote bags recycled from old Japantown street banners that would otherwise be headed to the landfills. Because most of the banners are made out of sturdy, vinyl fabrics, they are not biodegradable and cannot be recycled.

“The city was going to take the banners to the landfill, and I said we should wait. We paid money for these,” said Sakamoto, who is the executive director of the Japantown Business Association.

“We wanted to create something beautiful with a focus on recycling,” Sakamoto said, adding that the store opened after the Japantown Business Association board of directors gave the women approval to use the banners.

Uchida-Sakai, who owns Uchida Travel and Tengu Sushi, added, “We wanted to create something fashionable that will last.”

The water-proof bags can easily fit under the seat of an airplane. They can be used as gym bags, beach bags or diaper bags. The duo has also expanded their line to include wallets and lunch bags.

Sakamoto and Uchida-Sakai said the tote bags range in price from $75 to $150. They said some of the materials, such as vinyl, are more challenging to work with than others.

“We work within the limitations of the banner materials,” Sakamoto said.

They do much of the sewing on their own and also work with City Canvas, using the San Jose awning company’s industrial sewing machines.

“We took out our old sewing machines. We’re getting used to sewing again,” Sakamoto said.

Sakamoto said after the banners are taken down and given to them, she and Uchida-Sakai wash them with a push broom.

“We hand-scrub them with all-natural, biodegradable cleaners then leave them to dry. Then we cut the banners into fabric pieces,” she said.

Sakamoto said that she and Uchida-Sakai try to incorporate such details as grommets and zippers into the bags.

The pair said that they have been pleased with how the business has grown and that they see many male customers.

“Guys are buying them for their girlfriends,” Sakamoto said of the tote bags.

Uchida-Sakai added, “A lot of the purchases have been as gifts because they are unique.”

Sakamoto and Uchida-Sakai said that, in the future, they may expand their line to include such items as flower pot covers, and motorcycle and bicycle covers. They’ve also received many requests to add adjustable straps to their bags.

Sakamoto and Uchida-Sakai said that one satisfying aspect of their business is being able to give back to the community. They’ve donated their bags to Yu-Ai Kai and the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin Golf Tournament.

To Sakamoto, the business is an extension of her longtime interest in the environment.

“I’ve known since I was in college in the ’70s that we need to recycle and be aware of what’s happening ecologically,” she said.

Sakamoto said that the business has been rewarding on both a professional and personal level.

“Working with Lydia has been a lot of fun. And it has been satisfying to be a part of the green movement,” she said.

For more information, call (408) 293-3399, visit www.saknsak.com or visit the store at 198 Jackson St. in San Jose’s Japantown.



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