Ito Kish on Inspiration and Creation

The furniture and interior designer talks about embracing—and conquering—challenges, the creative process behind his most iconic pieces, and constantly finding inspiration for creation

by Vicky Montenegro

In 2017, furniture and interior designer Ito Kish surprised everyone when he announced that he was closing his retail store after 15 years. “I was burnt out and was not happy with what I was doing anymore,” he now explains of the shocking decision. “And I wanted to travel more without worrying.”

Kish used the “downtime” to explore. “I traveled to Europe, went on a nine-day road trip to Andalucia with my good German friend, went to South America by myself, hiked the Machu Pichu, and walked around Ipanema,” he shares. “I took my time and just enjoyed life.”

The self-imposed sabbatical only reinforced his clear love and passion for design. What he discovered during this time, he says, was that “design, in any form, makes me happy.” Recharged and re-inspired, Kish decided to re-open his store in 2020, following a three-year hiatus.

Of course, it didn’t come as easily as he had expected. Around the same time as their grand re-opening, the ECQ and lockdowns were announced. “It was our opening party, and out of more than 70 guests, only about 20 arrived,” he laments. “That night, I thought it was just going to be for a few weeks or maybe two months at the most, but no, we are still in this situation, and now another variant is just around the corner.”

But like everyone else, he’s managed to adjust and conform to the industry’s new realities, that is: adopting a more robust digital marketing strategy. They migrated 99% of their products to their website and have been maximizing their social media presence. While the move has helped tide the business during the pandemic, Kish realized that his market still heavily relies on physical senses. “We cater to a niche market,” he explains. “Yes, people go to their computer to buy stuff now, but our market would like to see and appreciate our stuff in person. Our current retail space is a sensory experience, better than ever.”

Kish is a creative through and through, and creating, designing, and visual storytelling will always be in his nature. And like everything else he’s been through in his career of more than 20 years, he is taking everything in stride and realizing the lessons along the way. “Let us all be hopeful; learn our lessons from this pandemic, and commit to them,” he says. He also emphasizes on the importance of creating an environment that makes for a life that feels safe and secure. “Our homes should always be our sanctuaries,” he notes. “Keep it that way.”

Ito Kish’s self-imposed sabbatical only reinforced his clear love and passion for design. What he discovered during this time, he says, was that “design, in any form, makes me happy.”

TP: How are you after the last years of the pandemic? As a designer and business owner, and in your private life?
IK: It was very challenging because we re-opened our showroom after more than three years from hiatus, then they announced the lockdown. The ITO KISH brand has been around for 22 years, and from traditional marketing, we have to adopt e-com. Signs of the times.

In terms of my private life, I'd say the first year was pretty okay as no one knew the situation would last this long. I was busy with the new showroom, doing collabs and all. But by the end of 2020, it started to dawn on me that we are all stuck in the same situation. It was more challenging, and even if things have improved, we know that our movement is still limited, and so many have suffered.

How did you have to adjust business operations and processes given everything that has happened and is happening? Did you, like others, invest more heavily into digital?
IK: Two months after our re-opening last year, we went full e-com. Almost 99% of our products are online, and we do not have to open five to six days a week. Visit to our retail space is by appointment only. Now more than ever, we have to keep up with the world of digital.

How about creative work? Did the events of the last two years have an impact on your creative process?
IK: While preparing for the opening, I was also preparing to return to furniture/product and interior designs, which is integral to our retail unit. I was supposed to curate the Manila FAME of 2020 and the Dubai show, but all of that did not happen. I halted everything and still, at this point, was careful to make any move while waiting for the situation to get better.

But, thankfully, things are improving. What have you been busy with lately?
IK: Nothing much, to be honest. I am just starting to get my life back to normal, and I guess that is already the start of getting busy.

Recharged and re-inspired after a three-year hiatus, Kish has re-opened his store, but not without challenges—especially when the re-opening coincided with the pandemic. But he is taking everything in stride and realizing the lessons along the way. “Let us all be hopeful; learn our lessons from this pandemic, and commit to them.”

You just recently moved to a new space. What was that like and what can you share with us regarding your new house?
IK: I just moved back to my first apartment about three weeks ago. The Christmas tree is up, and it's the first time in five years. The interior is straightforward and minimal, and the overall feel is relaxed.

In the video, you talk about inspiration and creation. Inspiration is a tricky word at times, and some can result in imitation or even intellectual property theft. Where do you draw the line between being inspired by something and downright copying it?
IK: I think I can say it is a copy when I see one. For furniture, it is pretty straightforward to draw the line and make the distinction.

TP: How can you sustain inspiration and creation in the home and furniture design industry? What must a designer do?
IK: You need a clear point of view to know what inspiration you can use and develop. My point of view is clear: Filipino culture and tradition.

TP: What's next for Ito Kish—the designer and the brand? Any projects or plans you can share with us?
IK: I hope that we can release new pieces by the second quarter of 2022 and that Manila FAME will be back, live.

TP: What's a dream project—even a legacy project—for you?
IK: Have an exhibit of my works in a museum, and publish a book of my works.

Art Direction Kit Singson
Videography and Photography Mark Jesalva
Videographer's Assistant Emil Lansangan
Editing Mark Jesalva
Grooming Hanna Pechon
Sittings Editor Patti Sunio
Project Management Jamie Aggabao



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