How KOZAI Design is fighting burnout culture

After Edmond Dang graduated from Western University at the start of COVID-19, his plans to travel and experience different cities and cultures came to a halt. So he switched gears and injected his love of culture and deep meaning into his debut brand, KOZAI Design.

What made you want to start KOZAI Design?

Originally, my company’s name was “Karoshi Design” and my goal was to combine something I was really passionate about which was jewellery, with a social issue I really wanted to support and raise awareness for. Karoshi means “death from overwork” in Japanese. In Asia and in this example, Japan specifically, you will see a lot of Salarymen and office workers sleeping on the floor of subway stations due to sleep deprivation, trying to get 10 minutes of rest before having to do it once again. In North America, we refer to this as being “burnt out”. We recently decided to change the name because we believed that we should be able to raise awareness for Karoshi without using the term itself as our brand name. 

Tell us a bit about the meaning behind the new name.

I understood that when I use the name “Karoshi Design” to promote our products, although it is to raise awareness, it might feel as if we are making light of the social issue in itself. I also did not feel right capitalizing and just selling my business having that name in mind. For that reason, we changed it to Kozai while keeping “Karoshi” as the name for our first capsule. 

The word “Kozai” is a combination of two things: 1) “Koz” which is a unit of measurement for gold in a thousand ounces and 2) “ai,” which embodies who I am as a person—a Chinese-born Canadian with an appreciation and love for Japanese culture. The word “ai” means “love” in both respective languages—Chinese & Japanese. Hence the name, “Kozai”, which to me means “love in thousands of gold.”

A man with two gold rings touching his cheek.
What is your mission with your brand?

While we still want to raise awareness for “Karoshi,” we want to really build a brand where each of our designs has a deeper meaning and a life lesson from myself or my team. We express our stories through the creation of jewellery and share them with those who can relate, and want to learn.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

“Slow and steady wins the race.” I think in this day and age, everyone is trying their hardest to do something for themselves. Every day we have people creating content on YouTube and Instagram and really trying to grow their own individual brands. We have people starting their own podcast and small businesses. When you do something like this, you are always looking at your numbers, worrying about whether you are growing or not. We get caught up in this fast-paced world and we drive ourselves crazy sometimes. I have to constantly remind myself that I just launched my brand in 2020. Some people are overnight sensations and that is a huge expectation to put on myself. 

I also think it’s important to remember that not everyone knows what they are doing, but it’s the process of learning and growing that makes you go from 10% to Elon Musk status. Just keep learning and growing.

Tell us in more detail how COVID-19 has changed your business.

Luckily, COVID-19 has not affected my business much as we are an e-commerce based company. Outside of shipping delays, we are fortunate to have been able to grow during this time that has affected so many. 

Tell us how you’re growing your business in light of COVID.

For us, it’s about really growing our online presence. This means reaching out and building relationships with influencers. Working on brand deals aligned with our mission, and really looking for creative ways to get our name out there in the digital space.

How are you staying inspired, motivated and positive during this time?

Our goal is to take the brand international, which is really exciting to me. Being able to travel and see the world, as I had planned to before COVID-19 hit, and really absorb new stories from unique individuals and then turning that into jewellery. Making the pieces themselves is much more personal but it will teach me and my future team a lot of life lessons. I believe the world is truly beautiful, and I can’t wait to see where Kozai Design brings us.

What has been the best surprise in how people have shown up for you or your business during this time?

If I could give a shout out to everyone who has helped me make this possible so far, I would. I have had friends show up for me in so many incredible ways. From helping me sketch my designs to creating 3D models and providing me constructive feedback. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by all these talented and amazing people. All of our clients mean the world to us, especially with the current climate. We recently had our very first purchase from the United States and Japan, and I am absolutely over the moon.

What have you learned about connecting with your community during this time?

Right now, community is more important than ever. With a decrease in seeing your friends in person, it’s so important to stay connected and support each other. Some people are being affected much more than others, and a simple message from a brand you love, acquaintance or long time friend might be all it takes to cheer someone up. 

What is the easiest thing people can do to support your business right now?

If you have the means to, buy our jewellery! I put a lot of love and work behind these designs and hearing people’s feedback, and how customers enjoy their jewellery is really important to me. Even if you don’t have the resources to purchase a piece right now, we are so grateful for anyone who can support us by liking and following us on Instagram and Facebook.

Currently, we have a collaboration with a local Toronto brand called 90sKids for a giveaway. Stay tuned for that on our social channels! We also have another giveaway in partnership with my university’s Chinese Student Association. They do amazing things for the Chinese community in London, Ontario and that is set for February 13th, 2021.

You can follow KOZAI on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok @Kozaidesign and at their website.