When Kazuyo Takeda found an email in her inbox from the Michelin star chef, Grant Achatz, she first thought it was junk mail. Instead a glowing letter filled the screen letting Kazuyo know that her aprons had "changed [his] opinion on aprons forever". Kazuyo's handcrafted aprons never cuts corners–with every component of the apron hand-crafted with utmost care. Rather than the standard canvas tape straps you'll find on even luxury high-end aprons on the market today, Kazuyo prefers to construct her apron straps from the same material as the body's material. "I can see why you'd use tape that you can cut and attach because it saves a lot of time", but Kazuyo is much more thoughtful than this. Which is probably why Kazuyo's apron are not just beautiful, but a statement piece–adorned by the Kaiseki-specializing Michelen star chef, Niki Nakayama on her Masterclass series and requested by chefs like Nancy Silverman for her large culinary events at the Ojai Valley Inn. Making a statement, and taking a stand, is important to Kazuyo Takeda because the very start of G.K.P. began with one: a growing frustration with single-use plastic garbage bags. Garbage is a fact of life, but Kazuyo hated throwing plastic bags in the trash and dreamed of having an alternative. She set out to design an attractive fully compostable trash bag with no micro-plastics and somehow found a way–one apron at a time.
TGS: What made you want to start a business making aprons? Can you take us on the journey of G.K.P.?
KAZUYO: I have a background in biology and also fashion design, and worked as a designer for women’s clothing brands in New York, Milan, and Tokyo. When I had children, I became a full-time mom and found myself spending a lot of time in the kitchen. It's then I realized that certain kitchen essentials were missing and didn’t exist on the market. One of those items was the biodegradable trash bag.
Every time I used regular plastic bags in my trash bins, I didn’t feel good about it – knowing they wouldn’t biodegrade in the landfill, and much of it ended up in the oceans. There were some compostable trash bags available back then, but nothing exciting in terms of their design, and very few were backyard-compostable–meaning they required specialized industrial compost facilities not widely available in the U.S. I became obsessed with the idea of making trash bags that were truly ecological, landfill biodegradable and pleasant to look at.
It took several years to put everything in place to create the trash bag of my dreams, and it came time to procure start-up funds to launch my design. Relying on my previous experience in the fashion industry, I began making aprons on my own and selling them to friends and neighbors. Eventually I opened an online store and started G.K.P. in 2017 with the aim of creating one-of-a-kind environmentally conscious kitchen products. The aprons became a hit as they reached a larger audience, and it allowed me to finally launch our 100% landfill biodegradable, backyard compostable trash bags just last year. G.K.P. compostable trash bags are now available at Erewhon Market in L.A. and also several specialty stores in and outside of California.
TGS: Even though G.K.P. is known for high quality, unique aprons, it's interesting that your aprons were actually just a means to an end: the compostable trash bags. Tell us why your trash bags are so special?
KAZUYO: G.K.P. trash bags are the first compostable trash bags that are also attractive by design. My bags will biodegrade in a landfill, the same way as any other organic matter as it's made out of cornstarch material and printed in natural soy-based ink. It will start to decompose in 90 days, and after 180 days it will fully decompose without leaving any toxic residue behind. Some compostable bags on the market can release methane, but mine do not - mine decompose only into carbon oxygen and water. And while there are other compost bags on the market, mine have an aesthetic quality that no other bags on the market have, so you don't have to hide your trash and your trash bags look good in every room. With G.K.P, you can trash proudly and also trash beautifully.
TGS: Back to your aprons - they're coveted in the food world, and some really well-known chefs, from Nancy Silverton to Grant Achatz love your aprons. How does it feel to be designing for chefs? If you're not designing for cooks specifically, who are you designing for?
KAZUYO: High quality aprons were also one of those items I couldn’t find on the market. There were some available of course, but in terms of style, colors, fabrics, they were not very exciting. Why wouldn’t it be possible to have options for aprons that allowed you to choose depending on the day’s mood – like clothing in your wardrobe? The kitchen is a place where people spend a lot of their time everyday. I believe that putting on a nice apron can inspire you – just like when you wear nice clothing and you feel good throughout the day.
Initially, I didn’t have chefs in mind when I started making aprons. I was thinking of them more for home use. But as it happened, I was watching “Chef’s Table” on Netflix around the time I was crafting aprons, and I had the idea to send some customized aprons to a few of the talented chefs I admired on the show: Nancy Silverton, Dominique Crenn, Niki Nakayama, Dan Barber, and Grant Achatz. I didn’t expect to hear back, but to my surprise I received amazing feedback from all of them! Their social media posts helped a lot, and their support encouraged other professional chefs and restaurants to pick up my aprons and G.K.P.’s reputation spread from there. We now have a wide range of customers, and I appreciate each of them equally, from the homemaker to the Michelin star chef.
TGS: You sent a "customized apron" to these chefs. What does that even mean? How do you figure out somebody's apron personality?
KAZUYO: I actually enjoy this process of studying a person's style to make customized aprons. Thinking about their color preferences, figuring out if they have a personal style, maybe even a preference for materials. For Niki Nakayama, she's a little sober, a bit earth toned, so initially I made her our signature two toned aprons where the top was black and the bottom was tobacco brown. Later I sent her and her wife matching cross back aprons using a matcha green canvas - a bright but sober canvas. Niki liked my aprons so much she's currently wearing a G.K.P. apron for her Masterchef series. For Grant Achatz, he's very artistic and enjoys different colors. At first, because his restaurant is dark colored, mostly black and grey - I sent him our two-toned signature aprons in dark colors. But usually my dark aprons also have bright color piping on the inside so it's kind of a surprise - a secret color that only you enjoy. I knew he would like some color so I sent him dark aprons with different color piping on the inside, and he loved it. He's been wearing my aprons at his restaurant ever since.
(Courtesy of Masterclass)
TGS: G.K.P. is meant to be practical, but not just practical. What design elements of your apron are you most proud of? What makes your apron different in comparison to others on the market?
KAZUYO: It’s important that products are functional and serve their purpose. But at the same time, I believe they can also look nice and be special in a way that can inspire you when you use them.
Having both practical and aesthetic qualities is essential for our products. Customers can actually rely on their practical aspects and also enjoy their design qualities.
For my aprons I like to use high-quality natural materials such as cotton canvas and denim/twill fabrics. They’re sturdy and can be washed many times, giving them a unique depth of appearance and personality over time. G.K.P.’s two-tone apron has become our signature style, and we create a variety of combinations that are very fun! The back of the apron is actually the most fun part. We typically use bright pipings to bind the top and bottom pieces together. The waist straps are also handcrafted and hand-stitched with colors that stand out. Our attention to details is something we pride ourselves in.
It’s not possible to mass produce these features because they have to be done carefully by hand. It takes a lot of time to craft each apron and perhaps, it doesn’t make sense from a business point of view, but that’s what makes our aprons very special and one-of-a-kind.
TGS: Like the food we order in restaurants, your aprons are handcrafted and made-to-order. How important is handcrafting to you, and what’s the handcrafting/made-to-order process like at G.K.P.?
KAZUYO: Yes, all aprons are made-to-order and carefully handcrafted by our skilled team based mainly in the Santa Barbara area. It’s been great to work closely with local artisans, and I’ve learned many things from them.
For large orders, we have a reliable team in the L.A. area that can handcraft our aprons. As I mentioned before, it’s not possible to mass produce these aprons because of how they’re put together – and that’s not what we want anyways. Each apron is like a piece of practical art, it’s important for us to take the time and care required to craft them.
TGS: Sustainability is at the center of G.K.P. What do you hope for the future of G.K.P.? And what do you hope for the future of sustainability as a mother, designer and citizen?
KAZUYO: Our compostable trash bags have finally launched and that’s the singular moment G.K.P. had been working towards since the very beginning. I’m very happy and grateful for how far we’ve come. I truly hope these bags will be widely used by many because they’re a great alternative to conventional bags for the environment – plus you get to enjoy something aesthetically pleasing in your home! I believe small and daily efforts like taking out the trash with thoughtful products are the way to make a difference for sustainability and the future of our planet.