RYO & HIRO of OOE YOFUKUTEN
Joined: 12 Jan 2012
Posted: 20 Jul 2016 at 6:22pm
Ryo & Hiro Ooe of OOE Yofukuten
Ryo (left), Mr. Matsuoka (center) and Hiro (right).
Based in Ichinomiya City in Aichi prefecture, Japan, husband and wife team Ryo & Hiro Ooe have been crafting soulful versions of mid-20th century American denim and workwear since Ryo's early interest in vintage jeans connected with Hiro's desire to teach herself to sew on her recently acquired hobby sewing machine.
Ten years later, Hiro & Ryo, with the aid of sewing machine guru Mr. Matsuoko, now run a 2 person factory filled with vintage and modern sewing machines and are held in high regard by denim aficionados for their range of meticulously crafted, vintage inspired jeans.
Now OOE are about to embark on a new project and a deeper collaboration with Mr. Matsuoka- which will be revealed at Standard & Strange for Denimbruin 2016 on July 31st.
MR: I often hear western people mangling your name- how is it pronounced?
O.A: When you read OOE, you say it O A. For shorthand, we write our name as O.A.
MR: Where do the two of you live now, and where did you grow up?
O.A: We now live in Ichinomiya-City in the Aichi countryside. Ichinomiya literally means "the first shrine" of the province.
Ichinomiya is famous for having produced textiles from the Yayoi period (dated 300 BC to AD 300), and is still Japan's top region of textile production, with a special emphasis on wool.
There are several textile mills next to our house, and every day we can hear the sound of the power looms weaving cloth.
Masumida Shrine and the main street of Ichinomiya City.
We grew up in Aichi prefecture, which is located near the center of the Japanese main island of Honshu.
This area is home of the Samurai spirit and famous as the hometown of the Samurai kings (Nobunaga Oda, Ieyasu Tokugawa, Hideyoshi Toyotomi). Therefore, people used to say, "those who command this area would reign over the whole country of Japan.”
MR: Can you describe your studio to me? Where is it?
O.A: Our factory is in a place within five minutes ride from our home.
We borrow a workspace from a textile company which was founded in the 1890s.
This is a historic factory, and many visitors are interested in the traditional construction style and the ancient, non-fucnctional electric wiring.
It's a splendid place with a very deep history.
Scenes from the O.A factory.
MR: What is the neighborhood of your studio like?
O.A: Near our space, there are many other factories (spinners, dye works, textile mills) necessary for textile production.
This area is not purely an industrial area, but mixed in with residential use.
We are proud to be able to make our clothes in this great environment.
MR: Ryo, you have said before that you became interested in denim first as a teenager, due to a big interest in vintage American clothing in Japan. What types of clothing, aside from jeans, were you interested in?
Ryo: When I was a teenager, most of my interest was in denim, but I also appreciated military wear, sweats, sneakers and so on.
In Japan in the 1990s vintage American clothing was very popular.
MR: How did you learn to pattern and sew clothing, and what were some of your biggest challenges?
O.A: We are self taught. At first, we had no knowledge at all about making clothes, so everything was a really big challenge.
There was almost no readily available information in those days in comparison with now, and there were few people who made clothes themselves. It was very difficult to obtain the materials and sewing machines for a small private business.
The biggest challenge, though, might have been to gain people's understanding about what we wanted to try to do.
We used a process of trial and error, over and over again. However, we feel that everything which we experienced in learning the process, technique and technical aspects on our own has added to our special characteristics.
MR: You use vintage machines for your work- where do you buy them?
O.A: Most of the sewing machines we use are vintage, but we do have some new sewing machine too.
There are a very wide range of sewing machine types, and even though many look almost the same, they are totally different according to use.
We think the most important (but difficult) thing about using sewing machines is to have the correct knowledge of use for each one.
We always carefully select only vintage sewing machine in good condition. If we could only find the vintage machine we need in bad condition, we will choose to use a new one.
MR: How have you developed your sewing techniques?
O.A: We like to explore and understand the stitching types used in old clothes, and replicate those we like. We use whatever machine can best replicate the effect we want. Sometimes we even alter a new machine to better reproduce the stitching of an old one with the help of our mechanic, Mr. Matsuoka. We buy all of our vintage machines from his company- Matsuoka Sewing Machine Co.
The vintage sewing machine is not a collector's item for us. It is an important work tool.
MR: Do you do any repair work on your machines yourselves?
O.A: We do only simple maintenance, as we do not want to take time from production for the repair of our sewing machines. Our job is making the clothes, not to repair the machine.
Mr. Matsuoka does all of our machine repair- we have known each other for ten years and he understands everything about us.
He is a certified engineer and can repair and calibrate all types of sewing machines, not only vintage.
Anything he repairs works very smoothly and the stitch is always perfect, even if it is an old machine.
MR: What is your favorite machine to use?
O.A: That would be our Union Special 12100B. This machine is special for us.
Many episodes are contained in that machine, and it especially channels our deep feeling with Mr. Matsuoka.
MR: What are your favorite time periods in American work wear? For example, the 1930s or 1950s or 1900s.
Ryo: It is difficult to choose because there are good points for each generation of production. But if pressed I would say that I am interested recently in the 1910s-1920s.
This time is the transition period when industrialization began to advance very rapidly with the number of different kinds of sewing machines increasing drastically, and chain stitch beginning to be commonly used for work wear.
One particularly fascinating aspect of workwear manufacture in this period is the wide variety of unique designs for pocket construction and reinforcement.
Something often overlooked in workwear history are the many Japanese people who went over to the United States in the 1900s-1920s and returned home in the later ‘30s to begin manufacturing businesses, many producing clothes similar to American workwear.
The origin of the interest in American clothes in Japan hides in this time.
Japanese clothing catalog from 1935 in the O.A library.
MR: Can you tell us a little about how you source fabric and hardware?
O.A: Most of the material that we use is made in Japan.
In some case, we use imported materials from American factories or vintage materials.
We have had partnerships with a specific fabric mill and hardware factory for ten years, and many of our materials come from those relationships.
For example, our main denim, O.A-XX, is made specifically for us in Okayama, Japan. We used a deadstock denim sample of the 1940-1950s as a reference to design our denim. We have used many denims so far, and learning from each one, we put a favorite aspect of each one together and made this new denim.
Our O.A logo button is also a special custom-made product from nearby. We love this button particularly, as it always reminds us of Ryo's grandfather, as he used our family name for his tailor shop in the 1930s.
Ryo's grandfather and grandmother. She stands beside an old OOE signboard.
MR: The clothing you make seems very much to be true reproductions of American workwear from the early to mid 20th century. Have you ever made anything that is not historically influenced? I mean something that is modern and is not like a historical garment.
O.A: Yes, when we did all custom work we made some jeans that were slim, low rise, skinny fitting and so on, at customer’s requests.
Over the years our customers have given us orders for a huge variety of items. We have made a lot of miscellaneous goods and bags. We had many orders for functional, modern fitting work pants and non-denim pants, which was an wonderful experience for us.
We were able to better understand some of the older techniques by studying the design and cut of some of the more modern garments we were asked to reference in our production.
MR: You used to do only custom work, but recently have been selling only through retailers. How has this transition been for you?
O.A: The reason why we changed the business style is very simple- when we received so many orders for custom makes, we could not take the time to pursue our own designs.
Our recent goal is to make many different kinds of clothing, all designed by us.
Our retailers help to tell our story to western audiences too- we always perform a lot of research on the historical background, manufacturing method, and materials used in the original garments and infuse our garments with this knowledge. There is a limit in conveying all of this only with a website or photograph and with a language barrier, so we rely on our retailers to help us in this- they tell the stories of our products to their customers in their stores in a way that we cannot.
MR: Could you describe some of the projects that you have waiting to be done?
O.A: More than just new individual projects, we are about to start a whole new brand- “M & O mfg co.”! This name refers to Matsuoka Sewing Machine and OOE YOFUKUTEN, as Mr. Yasunori Matsuoka is our business partner in this new venture.
We have learned a lot in the last few years about the history of garment manufacture and its technical progress through time, and feel that we have developed a new understanding and outlook on our work. Mr. Matsuoka has been a huge part of this, so we are collaborating with him for this new project, which we will debut at Denimbruin 2016.
Woolen weaving factory in Ichinomiya involved with M & O MFG Co. production.
A M & O Mfg. co. project for Deniumbruin 2016.
MR: Do you ever intend to have a larger operation with additional sewers or staff?
O.A: Yes, several times we explored this possibility. But we know that it is difficult to maintain the same quality of production in a larger operation.
If we could find some good staff, we might aim to have a larger operation. However, for the moment, we do not have those intentions.
MR: You traveled to the states last year and attended Inspiration LA- how was the trip?
O.A: It was our first trip to US. Everything was awesome!
We had a generous welcome, met peaceful people, and loved the mild climate, nice food and excellent beer.
We came in contact with new people and landscapes, and were very inspired.
We are excited to visit the US again this July! And we hope to visit to other countries soon to see our customers abroad.
MR: Did you meet any other artisans or designers at Inspiration that you found particularly interesting?
O.A: One that stands out is Roy Slaper. We visited Roy's studio in Oakland and enjoyed it very much!
The time he started making jeans is almost the same as us, so the meeting with him was very interesting. We are excited to see him again next week!
Edited by mr randal - 20 Jul 2016 at 10:01pm
Joined: 16 Jan 2012
Location: United States
Excited to meet them .
compulsive thrifting of course
no pepsi whatsoever
Joined: 09 Feb 2014
Thank you for the write up and photos, Ryo and Hiro make some of my all time favorite jeans.
I have been wearing my contest 1702XX jeans daily and they get better every day.
Got some goosebumps reading all that, very cool! Wish I could make it out there and meet them.
They should work on a project with Roy sometime.
Joined: 26 Feb 2013
Location: Long Beach
Great interview! I remember meeting them at Inspiration with Mr.Randal and they were super nice. Can't wait to see their knitwear.
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