Meet the Artist: Akiyo Pham, My Dear Darling

January 27, 2014    |    By +
Pin It

We are pleased to introduce the artist behind a new line we’re carrying at the shop, My Dear Darling. Akiyo Pham is from San Mateo, Calif. Her line of adorable plush penguins, animal-themed pillows and illustrated works of art have captured hearts all over the United States, so we asked Pham if she could share some of her creative journey with our GiftRap blog readers — from starting My Dear Darling in 2008, to the origin of Niko the Penguin, to her artistic inspirations.


Tell us a bit about you. 

I’m a wife, a mother, and a penguin lover and have been making personalizable plushies of Niko Darling, my penguin mascot. I’m very thankful to be able to do what I love doing. I love designing, crafting, decorating, and eating. My usual day includes all of those activities along with caring for my family. My son, Bruce (3), has taught me to enjoy all the little moments in the day so I’m constantly inspired by him.



Where did the idea of penguins come from?

For as long as I could remember, I’ve had a love for penguins. It’s just so hard not to smile anytime you see them waddle around and shake their little tails.


Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on or are working on?

My most recent favorite project was for Schmancy’s Plush You! show. I made three one-of-a-kind penguins for the show. My pieces were inspired by my son’s imaginative play and curiosity while exploring each of his toys. It was a wonderful reminder of how even the most simple moments can be turned into great adventures. I wanted to incorporate that innocence and interactive element in each piece. It was my first exhibition so every part of the process was exciting for me, from the brainstorming of each penguin to attending the actual show in Seattle.


What inspired you to become an artist?

After graduating from art school, I started looking for a full time graphic design job. But in between all the applications and interviews, I started to get the crafting itch. I took out my sewing kit and hand-sewed my first penguin out of my husband’s old t-shirt. I decided I wanted to make more. I pitched the idea to my husband, Brandon, and My Dear Darling was born.

What do you do besides creating things?

I race toy cars, play with puzzles, skip, dance, and sing with my son, Bruce. On weekend mornings, we take long walks with our dog, Katsu, and try to explore our city.



What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

When I was in elementary school, every summer I would visit my relatives in Japan; sometimes traveling alone. My parents gave me a gold heart locket necklace that had a tiny piece of paper with my name and address written in my mother’s handwriting in case of an emergency. I still have this locket, and although bent and old, every time I come across it, it brings back a ton of wonderful childhood memories. I think the best gifts are ones that hold meaning or take you back to earlier times.

Pick one gift on our site, and tell us why you love it.

I’ve got a major sweet tooth, so I’ve been eyeing the Sugarfina Faves Bento Box! Maybe I should grab one for Valentine’s Day!


Visit to shop the Valentine Penguin and see the rest of the My Dear Darling collection. For more Valentine’s Day gift ideas, check out our top gift picks for men and women.

You May Also Like:


Follow Me on Pinterest

Meet the Gurus

Kathryn D.W.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is the senior manager of content at She was formerly the executive editor at Honolulu Magazine, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Shopping on Oahu. Her career has included staff positions at Country Living Gardener and Power & Motoryacht. Her latest book is "Hawaii's Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!"

Gwen P.
Gwen is the Editorial Curator at In addition to writing blogs, she creates gift guides, curates the site, and produces content for our social media channels. As a freelance writer, she created blogs on fashion, art, travel, health and lifestyle. A talented jewelry designer, she's also a yogi and a hospital volunteer with her therapy dog, Lilo, a Pomeranian.