June 12, 2017
By Maria Kwong
Being recognized by MSA for product development this year is indeed a great honor and I wanted to share our process with other members hoping to achieve future recognition. MSA not only provided me with access to tools and vendors that fit my very modest product development budget, it provided me with an environment where I could learn from my peers.
Being the director of a museum store with our particular mission statement–to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience—has always made product development…well, challenging. Contrary to what many vendors and buyers imagine, Japanese products are not what makes up our store. We are a museum that explores the Japanese American culture, history and community; past, present and future. In fact, during the early days of the museum store, the rule was not to buy any products that were perceived as “too Japanese”. This rule served two purposes: first, it put the emphasis on the hybrid culture of Japanese Americans; and secondly, since the museum was conceived as a community-supported organization in a historically ethnic area of Los Angeles, the museum did not want to appear to be an economic threat or competitor to the merchants and businesses in Little Tokyo.