An intricately strewn pearl necklace — that’s how Maiko Makito describes her arrival in Singapore in 2005 and calling it home. This is where she’s built her own family and from where she endeavours to take her family’s pearl jewellery business to the rest of the world. Pearl Falco, launched in the central Honshu city of Ise Shima by Makito’s parents in 1985, specialises in Akoya cultured pearl jewellery.
The going is less glamorous than it sounds, with the cultured pearl trade’s increasing vulnerability, in particular to global warming, which led to the death of 80 percent of Akoya oysters in 2019. And Makito wants to do what she can — from social awareness campaigns to appreciation workshops and seminars — to protect the industry.
After taking over your family business Pearl Falco in 2016, you expanded it to Singapore in 2019. What role does Singapore play in your vision?
Pearl Falco strives to showcase the beauty of cultured pearls and how they are an expression of self-adornment. I felt it was crucial to adopt a more globalised approach in order to bridge the gaps of knowledge between the world and Ise Shima. By breaking down barriers and venturing into new territories like Singapore (our first outpost outside Japan), we could explore more opportunities to promote cultured pearl appreciation to consumers in other parts of Asia. In this way, we hope to pass on our knowledge of pearls to future generations, along with the many stories of love and devotion behind our jewellery.
You have been based in Singapore for over a decade. Did that make it easier to adapt to WFH when Covid-19 hit?
Before the travel bans, I spent most of the month in Singapore and returned to Ise Shima for a work trip of about 10 days. With physical meetings replaced by virtual ones, we had to keep up with collaboration and transparency. Communication must be thoughtful while frequent. While my leadership style has definitely become more directive, it’s more supportive too as I tap the diverse skill sets of my team members. In these trying times, I want to help keep their spirits up and reassure them that “tough times don’t last, tough people do”.
Leaders now need to be stronger than ever. What’s your definition of strength?
To me, strength is the power to not give up on your dream. It has always been mine to build a business that has a positive impact on our society and culture. The decision to take over my family business was motivated by how I could have a role in someone’s memories through jewellery and how that could further influence my ability to contribute to society.
Was that why you started Pearl of Hope?
Pearl of Hope was a Kickstarter campaign I launched in 2018 — when people buy a piece of Pearl Falco jewellery, they can help improve a child’s future. Our contributions go towards educational scholarships given to underserved children all over Asia. Pearl of Hope builds on my parents’ tradition of providing educational opportunities to kids across Japan since 1987. At Pearl Falco, we don’t just want to sell luxury pearl jewellery, we also want to support our local communities and the educational aspirations of children throughout Asia.