REVIEW: On The Mend with Shunji Ohashi

by - Saturday, October 27, 2018

On October 25, 2018, Shunji Ohashi delivered his lecture "On The Mend: Traditional and Contemporary Japanese Boro." Shunji had just finished teaching the last day of his 4 day workshop and he claimed to be down to "1% of my power - very tired." Yet he still seemed to have much more power and energy than most of us have at 100%. In fact,  "high energy" was probably the only way to describe the sold-out evening.

Shunji led the audience through traditional Japanese Boro textiles and explained the history and conditions that led to their development. He then showed how the technique of remaking, patching, quilting, and stitching is being used in contemporary fashion and design. Throughout his lecture Shunji's humour, energy, and passion for textiles were inescapable.

Shunji Ohashi was introduced by Amber Joy Muenz:

At Tim Mclaughlin’s lecture last week, he talked about the Maiwa Family and just how special it is. I’m newer to this family, but not to the concept of finding that deep connection.  Living in Tokyo in my 20s, I too experienced what would become my “Tokyo family”  -  with people of like minds and ideas, people I felt privileged to be amongst. This week I am over the moon to be bringing my Tokyo family together with my Maiwa family.  It’s almost like bringing the boyfriend home to meet the parents. But a lot less pressure!

I first met Shunji Ohashi when I was living in Japan. I met him through my good friend Sophie, now his wife  -  she first saw him tap-dancing on stage in Japanese Geta - wooden platform flip flop sandals at a little club we frequented in Tokyo.

The minute you meet Shunji, there's a warmth and brightness about him that makes you want to know more about where this excitement for life comes from. When Shunji would travel to Tokyo by train from Okayama, we shared conversations about creativity, expression and making. We would exchange the names of vintage clothing stores and antique markets in Tokyo and Okayama, the Denim Capital of Japan.

As a young man Shunji registered to study fashion at London College of Fashion. But just before he left he saw a tap dancer on the street in Shibuya. Shunji was floored. He approached the man and asked if he could learn. The performer told Shunji “Buy tap shoes!” So that day Shunji went out and did just that. And the next day he returned for his first lesson. He was inspired by the dance but also by the shoes. He considered how they were made and … he changed his major from fashion to shoe design.

Living in London, Shunji would pay his £400 rent with his tap dancing.

When he arrived back in Japan, Shunji started work at the revolutionary design house: Kapital. Just this week we learned that his persistence got him that job, after spending the night in a sleeping bag on the doorstep the head office - he burned in their minds the image of a young man determined to join their team.

He stayed 7 years at Kaptial - Where he learned the intricate craftsmanship Kapital is famous for. For 3 years Shunji spearheaded Kaptial’s Kountry line, which has a strong focus on intricate/labour-intensive design and hand craft.

Kapital never works with photoshop or any other digital design tools: so Shunji would hand-stitch every sample he designed. Because the factory was just round the corner from the design studio, he would walk the samples over himself when he went for meetings, often bringing sweets to the craftspeople whom he has enormous respect for.
But his deep connection to cloth and style he inherited from his family.

Shunji's grandfather owned a factory that made kimono fabric. His paternal grandmother is passionate about kimonos and has an enormous collection, some of which we worked with this week in his Boro workshop. His maternal grandfather was so passionate about fashion that he would travel to Tokyo — an eight-hour round trip in those days — just to buy a hat. That Grandfather used to buy clothes for Shunji. It was his grandfather’s style of extreme over-layering (so much so that his shoulders would ache) that influenced Shunji’s love of over-layering.

Shunji’s style motto became: kyabetsu no you ni nanmai kiru  - ‘dress like a cabbage’.

After being sought out by the denim innovator G-star, Shunji moved from Tokyo to Amsterdam where he currently resides. At G-star, Shunji is responsible for creating the concepts that drive whole collections, as well as making labour-intensive one-off pieces for celebrities such as Pharrell Williams and Jaden Smith. He frequently visits factories to oversee production and is deeply involved with G-star’s sustainability efforts. Shunji’s personal drive is to make products of the highest quality that are as timeless as possible, so that people will continue wearing them for a very long time.

Shunji has a strong connection to Japanese tradition, Japanese Buddhist philosophy, craft and textiles. He understands the patience it takes to learn a craft. Shunji embodies a reverence for knowledge and a hunger to learn from others. He is a teacher and a student: a man of depth, generosity, creative thought and great curiosity.

I am thrilled to introduce you to my good friend Shunji Ohashi.

See all REVIEWS on the Maiwa Blog.

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