“I was taught by a very special Balinese artisan that when you are making your art – or in my case, jewellery – you need to tap into your feelings,” she tells us. “Are you happy? Are you peaceful? How are you feeling when you are making your pieces? That will shine through and is what will make your art special.”

Satomi Yamano Shimizu

“I was taught by a very special Balinese artisan that when you are making your art – or in my case, jewellery – you need to tap into your feelings,” Satomi Yamano Shimizu tells us. “Are you happy? Are you peaceful? How are you feeling when you are making your pieces? That will shine through and is what will make your art special.”

The beauty of art, culture and the simple things in life is something that seems to be in Satomi’s DNA. Born and raised in the southern part of Japan, she spent her youth running around with her brothers, climbing trees and enjoying a warm and relaxed upbringing. At age 26, she came to Sydney to study, never intending to migrate for good. “I had been working as an executive assistant and decided I wanted to see the world,” Satomi says. “So I came to Australia to study to be an English teacher. I expected to complete my course, return to Japan, get married, and live around the corner from my family! Needless to say, that did not happen!”

Soon after graduating, Satomi was offered a job from the education agency who had placed her in the course, and she is still here years later. “Life had a different plan for me!” she laughs.

Part of that different plan was the somewhat unexpected (but unsurprising for the rest of us!) success of her “side hustle”, Tomi Art. “I started the business as I had been a housewife here in Australia, and I wanted a chance to connect with people in a way that didn’t disturb my day-to-day,” Satomi says. “I was always fascinated about both language and design, so it was time for me to try design. I wondered if I could introduce something new to the community who had welcomed me so openly.” 

This side hustle was also a step toward independence and meaning, after going through a divorce. “My passion for my work became very important, to keep seeing the positive side of daily life,” Satomi says. “ t was not easy to be by myself in a foreign country without family nearby, however, it kept me going and I realised that I didn’t want to leave.” Coupled with the restrictions of COVID-19, Tomi Art has been a lifeline in a time of great uncertainty. “It made me stronger and gave me time to focus on my business. I also realised I could give back to the Australian community by making and supplying face masks, which was rewarding. I didn’t sleep and made over 2000 face masks by hand! It was crazy, but I was happy that I could do something for someone else.”

And aren’t we glad she did. As well as those face masks, Tomi Art’s signature range is the collection of hand-knotted earrings, which are not only beautiful, but meaningful. “The knots are representative of connection, and that’s so important to me,” Satomi says. She has also introduced hand dyed scarves into her range, which use the spectacular blues that play an important role in Japanese culture. “I want to blend Japanese artform with ancient techniques, to promote balance between beauty and harmony,” Satomi says.

That beauty and harmony are sentiments in action with Tomi Art, which will soon have its own shopfront in South Melbourne Market, SO:ME space, graduating from pop-up stores. “I am excited to lock the door at the end of the day and go home!” Satomi laughs. More importantly, however, is the opportunity for the storefront to be a place of connection. “I would like to have a personal connection with my customers,” she says. “For example, my scarves can fade over time because they are hand dyed and have no chemicals used in them. This is normal and beautiful. But the customer can bring their scarf back in, and I can hand dye it again. It is a slow fashion connection that I am very excited about.”

Satomi is also committed to developing cultural collaborations, so customers and makers can connect with points of beauty. “Every business – small or large – goes somewhere, because you’re creating something that someone will appreciate. So with tiny steps, we can work together to create more beauty in the world.”

It’s beauty we can’t wait to see more of.

Published by Amy Malpass-Hahn, Freelance writer