Japanese designer Ikuko Yamamoto says one of the most surprising things about her plush cushion brand is how it has impacted so many lives.
The 32-year-old founder of Craftholic says fans often write to her and tell her how much they love the label's huggable, colourful animal characters, which have distinctive skinny arms and legs.
Speaking to The Straits Times, she says: "One of the most unexpected letters I received was from a mother of a kindergarten boy with a developmental disorder."
The mother said her son would not communicate with others and refused to go to school because he found it difficult to be away from her. She shared that when he received a hug cushion from Craftholic, things changed.
"He got a large Sloth Bear cushion and the soft toy helped him. He could eat alone and started communicating with his peers."
Ms Yamamoto, who is single, says she never thought her designs would be able to change someone's life so drastically. "Without me knowing it, my characters managed to help somebody. It made me very happy," she says.
The designer graduated from Bunka Fashion College in Japan in 2005. She started her career as an interior goods designer at lifestyle company Accent Corporation, creating designs for products such as cushions and rugs.
After three years in the company, she wanted to hone her design skills by creating her own characters.
"The company already had a line of blankets with different prints. I created the new characters and they were used as a print on a blanket," she says.
The blanket, with prints of the four animal characters that now make up the Craftholic brand, was the most popular print of the blanket range. The company went on to create other lifestyle products featuring the characters. The four characters are a cat, a monkey, a rabbit and a bear.
"First, they made the 1m-long hug cushion. When that was popular as well, the line just expanded into its own brand."
In 2008, Craftholic was created. The brand, still under Accent Corporation, has since grown beyond a simple printed blanket to include items such as sling pouches ($26), memory-foam neck cushions ($45) and hooded blankets ($50).
Craftholic has also gone beyond Japan, with 42 stores around the world including places such as Hong Kong, Indonesia, France, the Czech Republic and Singapore.
Besides creating cute and cuddly items for the label, Ms Yamamoto also uses the brand to promote Japanese culture.
In this year's Autumn/Winter collection, she created crockery featuring prints inspired by aritayaki, the traditional craft style of Japanese pottery. She imitated the iconic elegant blue and white print and incorporated them into Craftholic characters.
ON HER BAG
This is from a Japanese brand called Young and Olsen. I like it because it is the right size for my laptop and files. I also like its soft leather texture.
"It is a signature Japanese style of pottery, so through incorporating them into my designs, I hope to expose more people to traditional Japanese culture," she says.
Ms Yamamoto has already started planning for the label's 10th anniversary, although it is two years away. She plans to create either a picture book or an animated short film to celebrate the milestone.
"I want to do something that celebrates the brand and also exposes the label to new audiences."
Things in her bag
I have this pouch in multiple designs and colours and swop them around, depending on my mood. I keep my make-up in it.
LIPSTICK FROM YSL BEAUTE
I've been using this for about half a year. I chose this colour to use in Singapore as it is a light and refreshing shade that is suitable for the warm weather.
SOLID PERFUME FROM DIPTIQUE
I prefer solid perfumes as I feel liquid ones are too heavy for hot weather. This smells like fig and it is a balanced scent.
WALLET FROM SAINT LAURENT
I bought this in Paris. I use it when I travel as I usually carry fewer things in my wallet then.
I have them in various nib sizes for signing on different objects during autograph sessions.
I have my schedule in here and also use it to take down notes.