Originally published in SIX magazine issue 1 – INSTINCT
Global Guide to S&E* Fashion: Japan
*Sustainable & Ethical
Written by Hitomi Ito
Equipped with the knowledge of traditional dyeing techniques and expert skillsets acquired under artisan master craftsmen, Japanese ethical fashion designers are innovative in their approach to creating sustainable clothing brands. Using hand-woven textiles made of natural and organic fibres and dyes, Japanese S&E* fashion collections tend to be hand-crafted and soft – both physically and metaphorically through their silhouettes – while deftly juxtaposed with deliberate and blunt cutting techniques, offering a uniquely Japanese blend of modern and traditional.
Japanese culture has always expressed its deep appreciation for the beauty of nature through mimicking of its charm using colouring and dexterous weaving techniques: notably tsujigahana and kyo-yuzen, which reproduce the humble, modest aesthetics of small
wild flowers using the flowers themselves to extract the dye.
As a result of too much emphasis being placed on economic growth and fast fashion, these ancient techniques were being pushed aside and largely forgotten, save for a few craftsmen that were still practicing them. Rebuilding the connections between local artisans and the Japanese fashion industry at large – spurred in no small part by the consumer demand – became the natural first step towards the ethical fashion market growth in Japan.
A designer of Korean origin, Yona Kitamura creates simple and everyday casual prêt-a-porter collections with notably sophisticated and eye-catching pattern cuts. With a strong desire to express the comfort and coziness of organic cotton – Kitamura’s primary material of choice – she incorporates wool and silk fibres to further emphasise that feeling of softness. Nadell collections utilize subtle and delicate variations in colour, favouring pastel greys, subdued blues, muted pinks, and mellow yellows – all hand-dyed in the Kyoto workshop studio by local artisans using traditionally obtained natural plant dyes.
Looking at the world through the lens
of traditional Japanese aesthetics, designers Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi pursue new variations of the fusion of Western and Japanese styles.
Working alongside local craftsmen, the couple carefully studies traditional Japanese production methods across various fields – from kimono making to pottery. Matohu collections then reimagine traditional forms, blending the old and the new, while using locally sourced raw materials and textiles.
Specialising in airy, silhouette-emphasising robes and dresses that are at times poetic and at times thought-provoking, the main focus of Matohu is on preserving the beauty of natural textiles and traditional Japanese artisanal techniques.
Founding designer of Ikkuna – which translates as “window” from Finnish – Takayuki Suzuki firmly believes in using organic cotton: “Value addition [is] a vital factor. It is important to fulfil the psychological satisfaction of consumers. Organic cotton is excellent in quality because matured cotton is used, and it also provides a feeling of satisfaction by being involved in environmental issues.”
One of the best-selling fabrics in the collection comes from Showa, and is a twill woven with a 40-count irregular yarn made from Supima extra-long staple organic cotton. Ikkuna collections also utilise pure linen fabrics, which are tinted with tea dyeing techniques, as well as buttons made from shells.
Ikkuna is a cacophony of beautiful herbal-dyed pieces in dark grey, navy and sky blue, culminating in sweet and tender collections that extract the full charm of organic cotton.
“Kagure” – which derives from old Japanese and means “harmonious kinship” – was the first brand to open a ‘green’ fashion and lifestyle shop in Tokyo Omote Sando area back in 2008. “Kagure” is named in hope to draw together the spirit and wisdom we inherited from past times.
Showcasing an original collection of ethical fashion in collaboration with local designers, herbal dyed organic cotton, linen, wool and silk are used to great effect. Kagure’s main aim is to offer a sanctuary where consumers can find locally produced goods and traditional tools known as “mingu” from all over Japan.