On her next trip to Japan, she paid a visit to Hagoromo Bungu, the small factory that had produced the chalk since 1965 (an earlier incarnation of the business was destroyed in WWII). There she met with the company president, Takayasu Watanabe, who showed her how the chalk was made. “It’s complete craftsmanship,” she says. “They change the portion of ingredients constantly, like they were experimenting with it. It is a good product.” Watanabe told her that Hagoromo Bungu had never extended its market beyond Japan and Korea, in part because he was uncomfortable doing business in English. Lee left with more than sixty cases of Hagoromo chalk, poised to become the only source for the precious stuff in the United States.
Her first customer was Eisenbud. The rest were mathematicians he sent her way. In America, chalk is cheap. Lee’s went for around $18 a box. Nonetheless, when she kicked off her small operation in 2012, grad students, post docs, and professors from all over the country flocked to her because they had nowhere else to turn to get their fix.