Woman to Watch: Gabriela Masuda of Sueko Sage
You might’ve spotted her work on Etsy. Or maybe seen her mega-watt smile and effortless style modeling indie brands. The woman both in front of and behind the camera is Gabriela Masuda, a Southern California native who has built a livelihood around quality design and the values of an independent business.
Today we get to know how she launched into the world of calligraphy, owning her identity, tricks for getting comfortable in front of the camera, and more.
Name: Gabriela Masuda
Job title: Calligrapher and Designer
Hometown: Pasadena, CA
Current city: San Diego, CA
How did you get interested in lettering and calligraphy and why turn it into a business?
Ever since I can remember I’ve been surrounded by art and creativity. My mom was a graphic designer, so growing up I thought it was completely normal to have access to a closet full of art supplies. I was usually the kid doing DIY projects or doodling in class. Different fonts have always intrigued me and how you can create emotion and feeling just by changing the way letters look. Yet, it wasn’t until I was in college where I discovered modern calligraphy.
I was specifically drawn to the elegance and minimalist feel that modern calligraphy has. At first, it just started as a therapeutic process for me. Then I began to put it on my journal covers, wall prints, and wood pieces and that’s when people started to ask me about it. I realized that creating each of these pieces gave me life and joy, and I wanted to be able to share that and encourage others with my art. So from my sophomore college dorm room, I started an Etsy shop and called it Joy Creates Co.
Fast forward three years later, my lettering and art began to evolve and I wanted to rebrand. I began developing my own lettering style and I began experimenting with incorporating abstract and geometric shapes into my art. This new style felt more authentic to who I am today and the modern style and organic shapes that inspire me. This is when I decided to change my brand to Sueko Sage, a combination of my Japanese and middle name.
What’s been your favorite piece you’ve designed so far?
The design on my Sueko Sage Daily Tote. Even though I cannot speak Japanese, when I was younger I learned how to write out Sueko in Hiragana. On the tote, I wrote with both Japanese and English lettering which represents my Japanese-American background. The tote also had a larger circle shape integrated with a twisted line. These abstract shapes represent my journey of becoming proud of my ethnic heritage.
Growing up I felt ashamed of my Japanese culture. I’m fourth-generation Japanese American and have always been in between the space of not being American enough but also not being Japanese enough. It wasn’t until I got into college where I truly stepped into owning my ethic heritage and became proud of who I am. I love this tote because it reminds me of the process that I’ve gone through and how far I’ve come in loving every part of me.
You also model on the side. How did you start? Do you have any advice for women who get shy in front of the lens, whether it’s for modeling or a seemingly simple headshot?
A little over a year ago, one of my friends and I had an online shop selling vintage and thrifted goods. I’m normally the one behind the camera, but I would model some of our clothes that we were selling. This made me a lot more comfortable in front of the camera and enabled me to practice modeling more frequently. Then through the power of Instagram, some brands and other friends with businesses started reaching out to me. I’m really passionate about supporting other small businesses, and it’s been a huge blessing to model for a handful of them.
My advice is to be confident in yourself because who you are is unique and no one can take that away from you! On a more practical note, practice in front of the mirror what kind of poses you’ll have to do for your shoot so that you can see what you look like and get your body comfortable.
You just got married—congrats! During this time you took a well-deserved break from your Etsy shop. How important is taking time off to recharge? And how do you make peace with it since a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with disconnecting?
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take time to rest and recharge. I’m definitely the type of person that is always on the go. So I’ve learned through my fair share of burnout seasons how unhealthy it is to work from your tank being on empty. I still struggle a ton with disconnecting. However, I’ve seen how hard it is on me physically, mentally, and emotionally when I’m not resting. This enables me to prioritize taking breaks, because I know in the long run I’ll be grateful for it.
What are your favorite career-centric resources?
I’m an avid podcast listener and my favorite business podcasts are: How I Built This, The Modern Creative Podcast, Goal Digger, Girlboss Radio with Sophia Amoruso, and The Creative Muscle.
What’s one tip you’d give to any woman who wants to launch her own business?
Just go for it! You might feel some imposter syndrome in the beginning, but you know your worth so don’t hold yourself back from your own success!