Though sponsored Instagram posts suggest otherwise, everyday objects don’t tend to elicit happiness. That’s where Poketo, the red-hot Los Angeles–based lifestyle brand, strays from the pack. With its upbeat colorways, pared-down patterns, and thoughtful designs, the brand transforms ordinary items into parcels of joy. From stationery and wallets to bike helmets and yoga pants, Poketo brings intentionality to everything it creates.
“Everything we do isn’t about slapping a logo on,” says Poketo’s cofounder and chief creative officer Angie Myung, who started the company with her husband, Ted Vadakan, in 2003. “[Our designs] are very artful and considered.They have to check all the boxes of accessibility, beauty, considered, and functionality.”
In fact, Poketo was originally meant to be a wallet, not a business. Back in the early aughts, Vadakan and Myung were living in San Francisco, and struggling to find an affordable way to support their artist friends. They came up with the idea to sell limited-edition wallets under the moniker Poketo (borrowed from Myung’s grandmother’s mispronunciation of “pocket”) with their friends’ artwork on the cover at a self-organized show. Myung, a graphic design student at the time, used her art school’s facilities to produce the wallets for the weekend-long event. Their friends loved that they could carry a piece of art with them while contributing to the creator, and the wallets almost sold out the first night.
“We knew we were onto something,” says Vadakan, who relocated with Myung to Los Angeles in 2004 to pursue Poketo full-time. “We loved that we could have art in our everyday lives, and that it was accessible. But we didn’t want to be pigeonholed into a wallet manufacturer—it could be so much more.”
Today, Poketo still sells wallets, but the covers are now printed with sleek vegan leather and patterned canvas. Poketo has also expanded beyond wallets to include items such as graphic t-shirts, linen tote bags, and colorful glass straws. Inspired by the collaborative process that kick-started its business, Poketo still works with artists and designers, but has now added commercial brands to the fold, bringing its colorful touch to Thousand bike helmets, Breda watches, and Casetify phone cases. Poketo’s products are also featured in 500 stores across the globe, and have appeared in Target and Nordstrom. “[I love] having the ability to straddle niche and mainstream markets,” Vadakan says. “Having our roots tap into the creative culture, but also being accepted in mainstream.”
In 2012, Vadakan and Myung opened their first brick-and-mortar store in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District. (They were bursting out of their home, which served as their office and inventory space.) Poketo now operates in four locations across Los Angeles. The original Arts District storefront not only serves as the brand’s headquarters, but also a retail and events space where it hosts community gatherings and workshops for visitors to showcase their skills in Instagram marketing, heat-transfer printing, and braided rug weaving.
As Poketo approaches its seventeenth year, Myung and Vadakan show no signs of slowing down. If anything, they’re finding more ways to unlock the beauty in everyday. This month, they’re launching a photography book with Design Milk’s Gregory Han called Creative Spaces, which captures interior spaces that inspire designers and shares stories about the artists’ creative journeys. Poketo’s fall 2019 Bauhaus-inspired color theme was also released this past week. In celebration of the German art school’s 100-year anniversary, Myung redesigned Poketo’s signature items with mustard yellow, cobalt, black, and red colorways. In November, Poketo will appear in Nordstrom stores as part of its annual holiday pop-up.
Poketo may be inching toward the end of its adolescence, but its founders’ natural ambition keeps the brand youthful, playful, and unpredictable.
“[People always ask] ‘Why?,’ and often, there’s a reason,” Vadakan says. “But sometimes the reason is, ‘Why not?’ That’s really a driving force for us. It’s important for aesthetics. It’s also curious and surprising because you have real people behind it saying, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Ted Vakadan and Angie Myung are judges for the 2019 GRAY Awards. To get your tickets to the event, taking place on November 20 at Seattle’s Nordic Museum, visit grayawards.com. To enter your project before the August 16 deadline, and learn about entry categories, go to grayawards.com/submit.