Historically, many leather shoe makers and factories are based in Asakusa, right?
Yes, that's right. The leather culture exists along the river because water is used when tanning leather. These manufacturers took good care of me from when I started making shoes. I was only 19 years old or so, and there were not many young people working there. The more time I spent there, the more they taught me, and I started to feel that I wanted to give back. And I found that what I could give back was ideas and design. This is how I started my brand—hoping to communicate with people through my designs and bring projects to the craftsmen and factories.
That was around when fast fashion was getting more popular in Japan, right? And you wanted to approach the opposite way? A made-by-hand brand over a mass-produced brand?
I wanted to be in the middle, to take an approach that's in between mass production and hand-manufacturing which allows making only one pair of shoes per month. I don't think either way is right or wrong.
That’s the modern age, having and making that choice. Like the name of your collection this season says, “Contemporary.”
Exactly. We use both hands and machines. We may not be able to produce 1,000 pairs, but we can make 100 pairs. That's the size that Asakusa is good at, and we use their techniques to make interesting ideas into shapes.
Is your process minimalist in spirit, stripping things until they are perfect? Do you try to make old shoes simpler to fit the modern age？The penny loafers, and other classic shoes are present here.
Using those kinds of typical models and making new expressions out of them is what I like and am good at. For example, the sneaker collection could surprise people by bringing a completely different approach to typical models that everybody has. Adding a bit of spice to something like penny loafers is our thing.
How do you select the shoes that you revisit in the “Hommage” line?
For that collection, what's important is choosing the most typical ones. That's so people can compare what we make with the existing models. I'm not saying either is good or bad. I just want to deliver the fact that there could be an approach like ours. Mass products have got many good sides, like being stable in quality and affordable.
Yes. But on the other hand, our versions can deliver some kind of new feeling or smell that the mass products wouldn’t have. That's what I think is interesting. Looking at our products could make people imagine how they are made, by whom and where. It would be amazing if I could provide not only products but also imagination.
In the beginning, you simply wanted to make shoes. How do you feel now? What’s next?
Shoes are what I love, so I want to make more shoes. Clothing has got trends that move fast, but shoes have not been changed or updated from the very classics. I want to update them as much as I can while keeping the classics as my base.
And striking that balance of contradictions is what you mean by the title “Contemporary”—you did it!
Yes, yes, exactly! I really think about it every time. I don’t want to mix everything, for example, but I also don’t want everything to be classic. What I want to offer is a great balance of classic and hybrid shoes, which I believe is my “Contemporary.”
Can you tell us which ones from the Fall/Winter 2017 collection you really put energy into or nerded out on with interesting processes?
The boots in the corner—they have details of army boots, but ironically they are not made to be functional. They’re not “army” at all. And the ones that are second from the right are called "Mutation.” They’ve got details of both dress shoes and sneakers. These kind of things are very us. I’m expressing contradictions in a pair of shoes.