My Eyes Tokyo has heard stories from people of various nationalities and fields for 11 years. However, we have not met people involved in the fashion industry yet. But, finally, we met a Japanese fashion designer, Mayuko Ban.
Ban started her career as an ethnic clothing designer after graduating Bunka Fashion Graduate University in 2009. In 2011, she submitted a work to Soen Prize, which is considered to be the first step up the ladder of a professional fashion designer in Japan. Her work was in the motif of “family” and won second prize. In 2015, Ban launched her own fashion brand called “BANSAN“, which has the concept of “Utopia for clothes in the middle of our everyday life”.
One day, suddenly, Ban received an offer to apply for “Japan Brand Program” from MOFA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. She already had learned about foreign fashion culture through work, she was sent to New York as a representative of a young Japanese designer through the project of Japan Foundation in 2014 and interacted with local buyers and shared the Japanese fashion scene with them. So she thought, “I want to go as soon as I can!” and accepted it immediately.
After the public offering and screening, Ban finally visited South American countries such as Peru and Chile for about 10 days in August 2016, and shared Japanese culture including Japanese fashion with local fashion people. Also, she held lectures and workshops for fashion people in those countries. BANSAN was the first young fashion brand which was sent overseas through Japan Brand Program.
My Eyes Tokyo held an open talk session with her because we wanted to know what she saw in South America and what she told local people about Japan. We also asked her about the possibility of Japanese fashion being accepted in South America.
*Interviewed at Myozenji Temple (Minato-ku, Tokyo)
*Event was supported by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
*Photos without captions: Provided by Mayuko Ban
Right before the talk session, a mini fashion show which showcases BANSAN’s latest line (Autumn/Winter collection 2017) and its previous one (Spring/Summer collection 2017) were held.
A cloth first model putting on: One of the line of BANSAN’s Spring/Summer Collection 2017 “Tropical Night”.
A cloth second model putting on: One of the lines of its Autumn/Winter Collection 2017 “Country Road”.
*Filmed by Masanori Tsuchibuchi
Autumn/Winter Collection 2017 “Country Road”
Ban reflected the inspiration drawn from a festival called “Chagu Chagu Umakko” in the collection. She got to know the festival when she went to Iwate Prefecture in the Tohoku region.
Then, we started the interview. We heard what she saw/learned/shared in Peru and Chile with her photos.
The world’s fashion center is still Europe so I didn’t associate the countries like Peru or Chile with fashion. It means there are rare opportunities to go to those areas for fashion-related projects. That’s why I wanted to go there when I received an offer to visit South America through the Japan Brand Program from MOFA. I flew to the opposite side of the earth with the desire to share Japanese culture with local people through BANSAN brand.
August 16 – 20, 2016
It took about 20 hours to get to Lima, the capital of Peru, from Tokyo via Los Angeles. A mini fashion show and a lecture were held on the following day.
In the lecture, I talked about “Manufacturing in Japan” and took BANSAN’s omikuji-shaped earrings made with Seto ware for example. People were surprised at the manufacturing process because they learned that I invested a good deal of time and effort to make the products.
Peru is famous for alpaca. The apparel company that I used to work for as a designer dealt with knit products made with alpaca’s fur. They had business with knit factories in Peru.
This is sorting the alpaca’s fur. A women in this picture is making demarcations according to rank.
A woman is weaving fabrics with alpaca’s fur. It takes six hours to weave only 10 centimeters. They haven’t designed fabrics on paper so far and the patterns are only in wearers’ heads.
I was checking yarns all day long at a yarn shop that day. The shop was located at 2,000 to 3,000 meters above sea level, so I suffered from altitude sickness. Local people always chew on coca leaves to prevent altitude sickness.
August 19 & 20, 2016
I held workshops for two days at a fashion vocational school in Lima. I brought old Japanese kimono fabrics for students to make collars. I was interested in how the collars would be designed by them with Japanese kimono fabrics. Many of the participants were women and a few men who joined the workshop had a feminine impression.
At the workshops, I lectured about the history of Japanese fashion. On the first day, I talked about the history of kimono back to Jomon Period, and, on the second day, I explained about Japanese contemporary fashion trends such as COMME des GARÇONS, Designer and Character brands (DC brands), Gyaru and Lolita.
Students in Peru knew much about Japanese fashion. Especially they seemed to like Lolita fashion the most.
Kimono fabric collars were completed. The quality varied, but students were very good at presentation. When I was a student, I thought that the work tells everything, so I did not attach importance to the presentations. On the other hand, they added tons of descriptive words to their works, so some of those looked great even though their quality was decent at best.
At the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Peru, I exhibited BANSAN’s works.
This is a building in Gamarra, Peru’s largest clothing wholesale district. Very small factories are densely packed in one building, and each factory specializes in one process, such as ironing and making binders for T-shirts. Clothes were tossed on the floor and employees were eating cup ramen in a small factory. It was very chaotic, but I was told that it is possible to finish one outfit only in this building.The area is not so safe, but mainly young designers and students who are studying fashion in North America place orders in Gamarra for their clothing products.
What I felt in Peru
I felt that people in Peru had a firm identity. I think that is because of the culture of the Incan Empire and Machu Picchu is rooted in the country. On the other hand, I felt that Peruvian young people knew Japanese culture very well. They even knew about Lolita, Gyaru and loose socks.
One night, local people took me to an interesting place. There was an area with animation goods such as Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, but on the other hand, there were Korean cosmetics shops. It was just like a mixture of Shin-okubo & Nakano. I felt that Japanese pop culture was transmitted from local young people.
But, I knew how hard business with Peru was from a long time ago. As I mentioned earlier, the company I used to work for before becoming a freelance designer dealt with Peru’s knit products. Staff in the department in charge of Peruvian products suffered from troubles like no package being delivered to them or suddenly we disappeared off the radar with a person in charge of the knitting in Peru. Also, Peruvian people work while Japanese people are sleeping, so the interactions between us and Peru were not done smoothly.
Many people in Peru wore cheap, off-brand clothes. Also, some students were from the Amazon and came to school wearing Amazon’s traditional costumes.
August 22 – 25, 2016
I had an opportunity to hold the BANSAN exhibition and workshops at a university in the capital city of Santiago.
The exhibition was held for four days. Among the exhibits, Sashiko stitching captured the local people’s attention because of its beautiful geometric patterns and contexts of being hand-knitted by Japanese farmers.
August 23 & 24, 2016
I gave students an assignment of making decorative collars with kimono fabrics. Approximately 20 students joined the workshop. Students in Chile were steadily cutting clothes in the classroom while students in Peru did not cut clothes at the workshop. They tinkered with clothes in a classroom, talked with other classmates and made collars at home.
Looking at the finished works, those were simpler than collars made by students in Peru. Also, the fashion of Chilean students were more “modern” than the fashion of Peruvian students. Chilean students didn’t look very much different from the young people in Tokyo.
I told students in Chile about the history of Japanese fashion as well as in Peru, but they seemed to be less familiar with Japanese fashion. They knew the name of KENZO, Comme des Garçons and Issey Miyake, but they didn’t know the designs of their clothing lines because those are not distributed in Chile.
Young people in Chile wear mainly fast fashion such as H & M, ZARA, FOREVER 21 etc. They buy 15 clothing items a year, but about 3,000 yen per item. I think that high-end brands would be difficult to gain widespread popularity in Chile.
What the indigenous people have left
I went to the “Chile before Chile” exhibition. The roots of current Chileans are the Spaniards who invaded Chile and the indigenous people were killed. The items made by them were displayed at the exhibition. Japanese people are not so aware of the history of the indigenous peoples being suppressed and destroyed, so I felt something I would not feel as long as I stay in Japan.
There are indigenous people in Chile called “Mapuche” who are good at making ornaments. They do not have letters, so they have learned how to make accessories by word of mouth. However, they are a tribe of low class in Chile, so they have no choice but to sell their ornaments or to reconcile themselves to work as housekeepers even if they come into the city in search of works. I really thought of the meaning of “richness”.
I became a friend with an old woman who made a living by making accessories with colored horsehairs and selling them on the roadside.
I met Ms. Hakozaki, a Japanese designer living in Chile. Ms. Hakozaki remakes kimono and leaves all sewing to this Chilean woman.
What I felt in Chile
Compared with Peruvians, I felt that Chileans were not conscious of their own identity. I think it’s because the indigenous people were abolished and Chilean roots are in faraway Spain. I’m not sure if that’s the reason, but Chileans tend to be self-deprecating and devalue themselves, or saying “We have nothing to be proud of.” Actually, manufacturing has not been developed and they import things from Peru and other places. On the other hand, the Chilean economy is propped up by resources and raw materials.
When asked about the feelings of such Chileans to Spain, “I do not have any grudges, I feel that they are present now thanks to Spain,” he seems to have emotions that are close to appreciation was.
To me, Chile is still “a distant country” in various ways. I felt that people had little idea of Japan. Most of cars in the streets are American ones and there were a few Japanese cars. Many of the goods distributed in Chile were from the United States, Brazil and Argentina. So people did not seem to associate “Made in Japan” with “High quality”.
As for fashion, I think Chile has a strong European influence . Chilean fashion was more sophisticated than the Peruvian one. However, they are still developing their own designers according to local select shops.
I was told, “You can put your clothes on our pipe hanger,” by one of local select shops in Chile, but I needed to pay money in order to do that. If the items are sold, the sales amount will be returned to the designers, but they have to bear the cost of hangers instead. It’s much disadvantageous for designers and they cannot secure enough money to make new things. Moreover, the seasons in Chile are totally opposite from Japan and the climates are totally different in the north and south, even in the same country. Also the population of Chile is about one quarter of Japan. So you would carry a quite high risk if you pay a pipe hanger fee and sell the Japanese fashion brands at a select shop in Chile. I think that it is difficult to raise a “revolution” to reverse that kind of situation unless a huge company like UNIQLO goes to the country.
The fashion scenes on the opposite side of the earth that I actually saw may be reflected in my design or materials that I would use in the future in some way.
As for me, I will work toward a greater goal, like more people wearing BANSAN clothes. Now there are all brands from high brands to fast fashion in Japan, so I think that it is very difficult to set my own brand apart. However, I would like to tell as many people as possible how to enjoy clothes that are indispensable for everyday life and you can feel happy by wearing them through BANSAN.
I will go to Europe first if I eye the global market. I hope I can introduce BANSAN to France or Italy, home of world-class fashion brands.