jojo and jerome

Deep in the Yangon community of Yankin, down an assuming alley and a sweaty climb up to the sixth floor in an apartment block only filled with Myanmar script, you will find the home that Jojo and Jerome built.  And I couldn’t have been more lucky to have done that climb one night when friends invited me to a small get together that Jojo and Jerome were hosting.  I knew I had to come and hear the story behind their beautiful home filled with equal parts elbow grease, a keen eye for beautiful old things and the good sense that walls should get knocked down.

Looking for a change, and a place that wouldn’t make too much trouble about the paperwork involving a bi-national relationship, Jojo, an American, and Jerome, who is from France, were attracted to Myanmar by friends who described the place as a “blank canvas.”  Both left their lucrative finance and consulting gigs in London and made their way over to Yangon in 2014 and have since built careers and reputations as serial entrepreneurs.  And what a little empire they are building with Jojo opening Yangon Yoga House and designing the interior of downtown bespoke bar, Hummingbird and Jerome providing key business development and marketing services local firms.  But this wasn’t necessarily a huge leap from what they were doing before. Before moving to Yangon, Jojo helped to develop, design and build wine crate shelving solutions at Le Petit Monster, and the pair grew a huge collection of collectibles and pretty things throughout all of their homes around the world. Art history, economics and some knowhow around a toolbox goes a long way.

When they first arrived in Yangon, Jojo and Jerome knew they didn’t want to blow all of their money on an expensive condominium or indulge in the upswing of real estate values since Myanmar has slowly opened up to the world. Instead, they chose to invest in a place they could call home, a respite from the chaos of emerging Yangon.  To do that, they had to knock down a literally legally binding wall, strip off the unfortunate lime green laquer adorning their doorways, rearrange some electrical outlets, and endure the pains of DIY in a place where tools of the trade are still scarce and local tastes may conflict.  Nearly one year after moving into their Yankin sixth floor walk-up, the hard work has paid off.  Jojo and Jerome wanted a vintage meets industrial Brooklyn chic apartment in the heart of Yangon and that is exactly what they got.

With Jojo’s hustling skills (as Jerome describes), the pair also quickly made fast friends with Htet, the owner of Rangoon Tea House.  Through Htet, they met the man who is now their most trusted antiques dealer in Yangon.  That hustle has resulted in one of the most gorgeous homes cum showrooms in the least likely of places.  And as a result, Jojo and Jerome have a constantly evolving home.  Every few months, they acquire a trove of new treasures their new friend keeps an eye out for, immediately contacting them when a new piece arrives that he knows they will like. And after some of their own refurbishment and a short stay with them, the collection of benches, chests, side tables and other coterie originating from Myanmar’s colonial era, make it onto the web for the fastest bid.  Though they do experience some seller’s remorse after the money is handed over.

However, there is one piece the pair will absolutely not handover.  Unless you’re willing to finance their acquisition of several new Chesterfields.  Knowing the difficulty of finding high quality pieces in southeast Asia, Jojo and Jerome searched high and low in the UK for the perfect vintage Chesterfield sofa with the perfect spread of patina from a history of warmed bums. This precious item was subsequently driven 400km around the UK before being stowed away in a shipping container bound for Myanmar.

Jojo and Jerome’s home is filled with similar prizes collected from sheer will to serendipity. Like the 25kg antique sewing machine they found in Bordeaux, which was hauled by bicycle (and Jerome), plane and train to London and now sits as the legs for their dining room table.  There’s a sketch of Jojo by auteur Michel Gondry which sits proudly framed on a bookshelf.  Another piece for conversation fodder is the antique and genuine Chagall that Jojo acquired when Bernie Madoff’s estate was auctioned away.

Likewise, there are the gems they have collected here. Jerome proudly shared an antique lock box they recently found. And then there’s their equally pre-loved bed, which was fashioned by the historic colonial era Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and bear’s the company’s well known fan-shaped logo.

So having given this home some skin that’s been burned by paint solvents, the anxious heart palpitations of hauling antique pieces up twelve flights of stairs and the joys of sourcing DIY tools, and all that jazz, Jojo and Jerome have built themselves a most beautiful home that is so perfect for being shown off during dinner parties, game nights, or tiny little design blogs.  I hope you find their home as inspiring as I did.

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.


When my eye first caught these beautifully woven flats on The Reed, two thoughts came to my mind: 1) where can I get these? and 2) what is the story behind these hand woven beauties?  An email inquiry lead to a great conversation with founder and shoe peddler Michael Paratore and on Thanksgiving Day, a pair of mohinders Women’s Flats found their way from India to California to Phnom Penh.  Since then, I’ve found a favourite pair of high quality, ethically sourced,  hand made leather flats, which have moulded themselves to my feet. They are now my go-to-every-day-shoe and pair with any outfit among my uniforms of shorts and shirt dresses.  This morning, I decided to take the shoes out for a little shoe-t (flexing my pun muscles there) to help share the story behind mohinders and Michael Paratore’s efforts to bring together sustainability, style and comfort for our feet.

Michael Paratore’s departure from the corporate world and pivot to the sustainable fashion scene was a sound investment. Based on a curiosity behind a phenomenally designed shoe he bought in Mumbai, India, Paratore left his career as a corporate lawyer in Silicon Valley.  From 2012, he would find the source of that original shoe, and help to improve its design with the assistance of friends and family.  Hearing murmurs from the artisan cooperative scene, he even wound up hopping on a 16-hour train ride to Bangalore, India to locate an NGO to help him support the ethical and sustainable production of these shoes. One thing ties together Paratore’s journey from discovering the original shoe’s producer, the partnership with artisan cooperatives in Karnataka, to the meteoric rise of his new brand across social media: word of mouth.  And this all culminated with the realization that this journey would be more fun and exciting than his daily lawyering.

What initially attracted Paratore to the original shoe was its ease of wear.  Slip-on, slip-off.  And on top of that, multiple people were complimenting him about them every day. One more thing: the shoes didn’t smell after daily wear.  With all those positives in line, he added a natural crepe rubber sole and cushioned foot-bed with insole lining leather to make it more comfortable and durable.  The finishing touch of turquoise and red stripes are Paratore’s own too.  This was a product that mohinders could use as their flagship.

The partnership with a well established, decade-old, artisans cooperative in Karnataka, India, has also made the work rewarding.  While Paratore is unsure to what extent mohinders has played in improvements that have taken place in the village, he is aware that the cooperative itself has improved the standard of living among artisans in the community, reduced their reliance on money-lending and has altogether improved the perception and social standing of highly skilled artisans making top quality products.

These durable and beautifully designed products have caught on fast in mohinders’ markets in North America.  Mentions by strategic and potent individuals on social media (Brit+Co and Huffington Post to name a couple) and a successful Kickstarter campaign have helped to propel the mohinders brand across coasts and in our case, continents.  As a result, mohinders’ list of stockists was able to grow organically, starting with friends of friends, outside interests, and stores that were good fits for the shoes.

Building on the competitive advantage that mohinders’ offers compared to his previous line of work, Paratore intends to keep making decisions based on what sounds fun in order to open more amazing opportunities for mohinders.  This might even include some colour play on their City Slippers.

Oh and the name? Paratore thinks its a little embarrassing, but I think it’s absolutely charming. He first heard the name on NBC’s Heroes. Specifically on the super hero defender, Dr. Mohinder Suresh.  It turns out that the name was particularly sticky, because when he quit his job and needed to name his new venture, it was an easy choice: mohinders.

Thanks so much to Michael Paratore for the interview and shipping these incredible flats all the way to Cambodia!  If you’re interested in getting a pair for yourself, you can order them online, or check them out in person at any of their stockists


Earlier this year, a new brand based in Southeast Asia landed in our focus, and I couldn’t wait to get all over it.  Our buddy Linwas a big fan of a new treasure she had just found in Bangkok: a high quality and water resistant canvas bag with leather handles and great detailing.  Immediately I was all over their social media and trying to locate their closest supplier.  A few months later, I found myself in Bangkok, finally got a bag of my own and a chance to hang out with the wonderful ladies behind Tathata.  Not only that – I got to visit their studio in the Suttisan neighbourhood, and learn all about their beginnings and craft.

In 2012, Vipavat Darapongsatapom (more commonly known by her nickname Potae), was working as a graphic designer at a major Bangkok firm.  But at home, she was actually crafting by hand, high quality leather bags, and selling them each month at the Aree Garden Green Market.  Right next to her, Kavita Srisan (who prefers to be called Kivi) was working at the same firm and crafting her own textiles for bags and watches.  It was only a matter of time (about eighteen months) and many conversations about textiles before the two joined forces to launch Tathata, a brand devoted to high quality leather work and timeless products.

The name, Tathata, originates from Buddhist script and means a maintenance of “real.”  And this defines many of the elements that Potae and Kivi craft into all of their products.  With technical backgrounds in textiles, three dimensional design and leather work, Potae has carefully worked out the combination of flowers, careful timing and temperature needed to dye sun-bleached leather into the magnificent and tender hues that now colour their line of third collection of timepieces, called Bloom. You can watch the entire process here.

To create their new line of high quality canvas bags fit for use in every day life and accessibly priced, the pair focused on their own desire for functionality and clean design. Bags that were neither “nerdy” nor specific to the “IT crowd” that they were seeing in Bangkok department stores.  Potae described the influences behind this collection’s design as being fit for her own life and needs and this explains why the bags have been so successful.

The pair work together on each new piece of all of their lines of products together.  From concept to prototype and testing, to colour matching, graphic design and costings, Potae and Kivi have clearly outlined their areas of collaboration and expertise.  And since their bags and watches are selling out in Bangkok and abroad, they have turned to working with factories in Thailand, who make their bags, and Taiwan who produce the mechanical bodies of their watches.  The careful production of their organic hand-dyed leather watch bands, the leather handles of their collection of canvas bags, and assembly of their gorgeous watches, remains in their studio and in their own hands.

Potae and Kivi do not come from a line multiple generations of creatives and makers.  Potae did learn how to sew from her dad, and Kivi inherited the skills behind bag making from a grandmother who loved textiles. However, they have built this brand and craft, literally with their own two hands. The duo have also turned their growing business into a family affair with Potae’s father, a retired engineer, assisting with leather work at their studio at Potae’s family home (which also warehouses the lot of their watches, and bags).

And as for world domination? Potae and Kivi would prefer to keep their operation small in order to grow their brand. They have expanded the distribution of their products from Thailand eastwards to Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and as far west as Barcelona and Switzerland. However, they wish for their relationships with stockists to continue to be as high quality as their products. This calls for smaller operations.  Kivi describes all of their stockists as friendships and keeps in close contact with all of them, inquiring on customer preferences, improvements that can be made, and ensuring that the people using their bags and wearing the watches are always happy.

This strategy is clearly taking off.  This year, Tathata launched their Live Serie collection of ultra-functional multi-wear canvas bags.  All of these originated when Australian bag brand, Crumpler invited Tathata to take part in a workshop they were hosting in Bangkok.  These bags are beyond sturdy and I’m looking forward to take mine all over the world as my new carry-on.  I’ll be talking a lot more about these amazing bags soon.

And now for the important facts:

You can find Tathata products for sale on their website (with free shipping internationally).  If you are in Bangkok, you can also find them every Saturday at Chatuchak Market, where you’ll also get to meet Kivi and Potae.  They also have a number of stockists in Thailand and selected cities in Asia and Europe which you can find here

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