lovable memory bears

Former restaurateur uses sentimental, personal materials to create loveable memory bears for the bereaved

Jin Kim from New Jersey handcrafts loveable memory bears out of personal fabrics that serve as precious mementos for the grieving.

Jin Kim, 64, a former successful restaurateur, worked at her eatery – Niko Niko Sushi Deli in New York City for thirty years.

Mother of two and Korean immigrant, Kim used to make raw fish and rice dishes and served them to power brokers for decades before her business 86ed.  

Her beloved restaurant had to close twice: first because of Superstorm Sandy at 80 Wall Street, and then again because of COVID after they moved to neighboring John Street.

However, as reported by New York Post, the resilient mother persisted in her efforts, picked up her sewing machine, and now makes personalized teddy bears for her clients who are grieving.

Loveable memory bears
Samples of some memory bears via their Instagram

Many people around the United States were impressed by her attempt to sew a unique and lovable memory bear.

She ends up sewing roughly 150 memory bears a week through her booming Etsy shop, turning fabrics such as blood-soaked clothing and baby blankets into beautiful custom bears, quilts, and pillows, mostly for grieving clients.

Kim is assisted by her 26-year-old daughter Grace Kim, who is also her business partner. The mother-daughter duo has recently acquired a new studio in Palisades Park, New Jersey. She explains how the clothing means a lot to them since it means a lot to their clients.

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Since the time Kim and Grace launched JinsBearsLLC, a clothing company, on Etsy, they have been flooded with orders from customers seeking sentimental memorials for their loved ones.

The company, which began with mini bears, has expanded to 12- and 15-inch creations. The bears are made from materials like old shirts, T-shirts, uniforms, and sports jerseys of lost relatives.

Sometimes, people send blood-spattered clothes that were cut off by medical crews. Kim has received a blanket from a mother whose baby had died, which she crafted into a lovable memory bear.

Loveable memory bears
Some memory bears via their Instagram

MODEST BEGINNINGS:

In 1991, Jin Kim, her husband, and their 2-year-old son made their first migration from South Korea to the US.

They opened her first deli in New Jersey after two years of saving and arduous work. Their first food endeavor was a failure and consumed all of their bank accounts, so they sold the deli to eventually raise the money for their first restaurant.

After that, she was employed full-time by a Japanese food supply firm. Later, she and a colleague opened a sushi deli in Secaucus, New Jersey, called Niko Niko.

They opened a second restaurant on Wall Street in 2000 as a result of Niko Niko’s enormous success.

Jin put in decades of grueling work to run the restaurant, rising as early as 4:30 a.m. to prepare food at her Fort Lee home before bringing it to her Manhattan restaurant.

However, the restaurant’s whole interior was flooded after Superstorm Sandy, and their lease co-incidentally came to an end at the same time.

Thus, they relocated to the neighboring 133 John Street, and that’s when the pandemic struck, leaving them completely out of business. For Jin, the lull provided a brief moment of relief from the decades-long hard work.

Loveable memory bears
Other products created by JinsBears

A NEW VENTURE:

When her grandson Lukas was three years old, she stitched her first bear as a surprise Christmas gift for him.

Until they shared a picture of Lukas’ bear on Instagram, Jin remained unconvinced despite the encouragement from her closest friend and daughter to launch an online store to sell her handcrafted mementos.

Her first legitimate orders began to come in, and in 2021 she and Grace launched JinsBearsLLC out of her bedroom.

Jin has amassed over 3,000 five-star ratings and almost 7,000 sales on Etsy. Her page features personalized necktie pillows, dapper fabric bears wearing vests and bow ties, and vibrant ornaments inspired by memory hearts.

Julia Goodyke, one of Jin’s clients, was taken aback when her daughter surprised her with a unique bear in remembrance of her late brother Mark, who passed away from colon cancer in 2022.

Jin claims that she remembers the life of the deceased person whenever she touches the clothing. She finds purpose and fulfillment in the creation of the custom teddy bears, as she understands the significance of the priceless memories.

Maya Bennett