Recently introduced, 'Bonsai Collectors' is a project led by Adrien Pichon, Adam's business partner, and co-founded by Adam himself. They are working together to expand the influence of bonsai as an art and make it accessible to a broader audience including investors in search of diversification. This marks a significant advancement in the world of bonsai cultivation. Here is their discussion to share the genesis and goals of Bonsai Collectors.
How did you start working together?
Adam: Adrien, you bring a specific skill set from your experience as an entrepreneur, which I lacked. You can't handle every aspect on your own to run a successful bonsai business. I realized I was wearing too many hats and wasn't as effective in managing the business as I could have been. Plus, there just weren't enough hours in the day.
Having you come in to handle the business-focused aspects was a huge relief. I felt like I had hit my maximum capacity, but I wasn't ready to stop. I wanted to keep pushing forward. I recognized that to get where I wanted to go, I couldn't do it alone. I needed someone else to support me. It worked out well that you were willing to step in and lend a hand!
Adrien: The initial goal of us working together was for me to take the lead on the business-related aspects. This includes handling the computer-based tasks, devising the strategy, and finding ways to alleviate some of the workload that was becoming overwhelming for you.
Business-wise, your main focus has been export-oriented, reaching professionals and hobbyists in 15 countries. After a few months, we discussed broadening our reach beyond dedicated bonsai enthusiasts. Drawing on my business background, I pitched the idea that led to Bonsai Collectors.
Can you tell us more about the genesis of “Bonsai Collectors” ?
Adam: Our original discussion was: How do we expand bonsai? How do we introduce bonsai to people who are not horticultural enthusiasts? How do we take it out of this mindset that says you have to be skilled in horticulture to own a bonsai, have to know how to take care of it, want to take care of it, want to maintain it, have to have a green thumb?
Many times, people say, "Oh, I love Bonsai, they're so beautiful. But, I'm afraid to own one because I'll kill it." Well, that's okay. You don't have to worry about that. We'll take care of that. Bonsai Collectors is a fabulous opportunity to those people interested in Japanese culture, history, beauty, and art, but who recognize they may not have the expertise to care for a centuries-old tree in their backyard.
Adrien: I've had discussions with enthusiasts and hobbyists, and some take offense at the inclusion of finances in this art. However, it's evident that any form of art relies on patrons and financial resources. It's part of a system that requires funding to operate effectively.
Initially, it was challenging for us to conceptualize an idea that balances all these elements and offer it to people that might be open to the notion of investing in a unique and enjoyable way—with bonsai as the tangible, living asset, cared for by someone who knows what they're doing. Even that sentence is a mouth full!
So, in a few words, what is “Bonsai Collectors”?
Adrien: Bonsai Collectors’ flagship offer is an investment service: a financial tool designed for retail investors to diversify their portfolio by investing in bonsai. Essentially, it's a hands-free, consignment-based approach to assets that we acquire, curate, maintain, appreciate in value, and trade – leveraging our extensive experience and network within the industry.
We're providing access to individuals who want to infuse their portfolios with unique cultural assets. Additionally, Bonsai Collectors combines other services, including bespoke collections, collaborations with luxury brands, as well as partnerships with various products.
Adam: Basically, it offers the opportunity to use bonsai as tangible assets to support an investment portfolio for effective asset management. Leveraging the bonsai industry and my expertise within it.
Adrien: It's a mutually beneficial relationship. Individuals who invest their money and assets in this art and industry are actively contributing to its continuation.
How does Japan's aging population affect the bonsai industry?
Adam: Do we simply let it fade away with time? Allow it to decline without intervention? That's not a prudent approach. Given that this industry and art form have endured for centuries, it's not our place to oversee its decline. We need to find a way to reignite interest in this art form and bring in a fresh perspective.
Recognizing the previously overlooked value of bonsai and positioning it as an asset within a portfolio is a logical step. This trend aligns with fractionalized ownership (upcoming service) seen in other areas of the art world. Why not include bonsai in portfolios? They are just as exquisite, meticulously curated, and time-intensive as paintings, if not more so when considering the maintenance and care they require.
This provides an opportunity for individuals who may not be inclined towards maintenance, but can still appreciate the artistic and intrinsic value of bonsai.
Is bonsai seen as a high art form, suitable for galleries, or is it more akin to a craft or outsider art?
Adam: While it demands remarkable craftsmanship, the ultimate purpose of bonsai is to convey beauty. In essence, it is an aesthetic pursuit. The value of bonsai lies in its ability to exude beauty, that’s the point. So Art all the way.
Adrien: You can also view bonsai as having distinct categories. On one side, there are the smaller, younger bonsai, similar to a standard house plant, that people enjoy for the act of caring for a living tree, finding fulfillment and purpose in this nurturing process.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have the masterpieces. These are the truly awe-inspiring bonsai, the ones that reach a level of artistry that's nothing short of extraordinary.
Adam: Exactly, you have the pinnacle of bonsai, which enters the realm of high art. These are the one in a million trees, priceless masterpieces crafted from centuries-old material, meticulously tended by individuals for the sole purpose of achieving aesthetic perfection. These pieces represent the epitome of bonsai artistry, often developed over decades. They're the unattainable dream for most, even within the bonsai community.
This is where Bonsai Collectors comes in. By creating access to these extraordinary pieces, allowing people to appreciate and have ownership of them, they serve as patrons, contributing to the advancement of the art form.
Adrien: This endeavor is immensely important. It extends beyond those who are already deeply entrenched in this art, like the long-standing collectors in Japan. Access to such an opportunity was not readily available before. With Bonsai Collectors, we aim to open doors for those who are eager to learn, and to appreciate the essence and beauty of bonsai.
Could you explain what 'provenance' means in the context of bonsai art?
Adrien: Bonsai Collectors has made it part of its mission to delve into the history of remarkable trees, those that reach the level of Kicho or Kokufu, sifting through old magazines and print records - because in this industry, and in Japan overall, very little has been digitized.
So, we're actively working on this, striving to reconstruct the provenance of both well-known and less renowned trees. We aim to provide documentation and educate people about the rich history of these trees, as part of our broader mission to familiarize them with the art.
Adam: When you look at a painting, you can recognize what's happening easily. After all, most of us have put some color on a piece of paper before, so we understand the basics.
However, with trees, it's a bit more complex to immediately grasp what makes a tree good, let alone phenomenal. It's been a bit subjective, shrouded in a certain mystique. But when you start to document a tree's history and compile it into data sets, things change. You can look at a series of time-lapsed photos taken over the course of a tree's lifespan and observe the transformation. You can say, 'Oh, it changed from this to this, and that change happened over a decade.' Now, when you look at a majestic, large, and uniquely shaped tree, you start to understand that there's something truly special about it, because you can start to understand the basic steps involved in getting there.
With Bonsai Collectors, having this information readily accessible for clients in their portfolios, through our digital platform, is a fantastic starting point. They don't have to worry about the pressure of caring for the tree. Instead, they can fully enjoy the aesthetics and appreciate the inherent value that each tree possesses.
What is the relationship between Tree House Bonsai and Bonsai Collectors?
Adam: Ensuring proper care for these trees is absolutely essential. Even if you possess a tree of great aesthetic and spiritual value, without the knowledge to care for it, it can be damaged quickly.
This is where the collaboration with Tree House Bonsai, and hopefully other gardens in the future, comes into play. It's my duty to care for these trees and bring them to their best possible state. This sentiment is widely shared among bonsai professionals. We see it as our responsibility and calling in life to nurture these trees, appreciating their unique living essence.
Now, for the benefit of Bonsai Collectors, I can ensure that these trees are in good hands and well-taken care of. It's my commitment, my duty, and my expertise. I'm proud to take on this responsibility.
How has “Bonsai Collectors” been welcomed so far?
Adrien: It's incredibly motivating to witness the initial reaction from the people I've introduced this to. The excitement emanating from customers, and feeling that surge of forward momentum, is truly invigorating. It makes me think, "Let's see how far we can take this. Let's see how successful we can be."
This success I'm aiming for isn't just about the business, it's about elevating bonsai as an art form. It's about presenting it in a way that pulls it out of the shadows, out of that closed-off, secretive community. We need to open it up to people. So, I'm genuinely thrilled about the prospect of doing that.
Bonsai Collectors represents a new approach to the world of bonsai, aiming to bridge gaps and redefine its accessibility. By offering a range of services, from a club to investment opportunities, we are fostering the preservation of bonsai as a cultural heritage. Feel free to reach out to Adrien if you want to become a collector or investor: book a call or visit his LinkedIn.