An age diversity is required for living
What has the Coronavirus crisis brought to your mind?
“I wasn’t too shocked or upset. Of course, I had never expected this, but the repeated calamities over the past several years –including things like the “Lehman Shock”– had made me think that something uncontrollable could happen. Having said that, I thought it would be rare for such a thing to happen simultaneously all over the world like this.”
Do you feel like you were mentally prepared for this?
“For instance, Hokkaido had been hit by several earthquakes, and Chiba was also experiencing quakes repeatedly. So, I thought I should be ready for any happenings, that they were not irrelevant to me at all. I was also conscious that we live on a land where disasters are more likely to happen. That was one of the reasons I set up multiple bases, like my home in Hokkaido and the atelier in Tokyo.”
So you can keep working on creations whatever happens in Tokyo?
“Yes. The coronavirus crisis has made me realize that you have to have a core in all that you do, and that you just need one core, but it wouldn’t work if you only have one way of communication. You cannot survive without diversity anymore. You know that living creatures cannot survive without diversity in the changing environment, right? I was always very conscious of this and I was probably feeling this even without thinking.
For instance, if my company had only worked on clothing brands, it might have been impossible to recover from the shock of the sales decline. Although our brands are our main thing, we have worked in various genres related to fabrics and clothing, such as costume creations, wedding dresses and ‘circo de sastre (Circus of Tailors).’ I think this was good. It would probably be difficult to survive in the future if you only depend on what you believe to be your only thing.”
I think you are right.
“But it doesn’t make sense if you become unsure of what you want to do. Mere diversification will not solve anything. It doesn’t make sense if the core is lost. But then, is it right to focus only on clothes making? Of course, not. I will always need to think about how I can communicate and deliver the clothes I have created.”
* Circo de sastre: A contemporary circus group centering around musician Daiho Soga and Suzuki Takayuki. https://www.circodesastre.com/
The world is made to be irrational and tough and challenging
Have your ways of communication changed?
“I have been distributing videos, using SNS, and focusing on the Web shop since several years ago, and these are functioning pretty well. Like clothes, I believe that the impression and the atmosphere are critical, especially for our brands. Being a part of ‘circo de sastre’ was actually an experiment to communicate “clothes” and “fundamental impression of clothes” separately.
Thanks to the advancement of the Internet, there is more and more freedom in communication. On the other hand, non-digital media, such as paper, are becoming more valuable, although they are not common as in the past. Some people value paper because they feel like they are receiving something special if it is made of paper. So, it’s not like paper is simply obsolete. I think it is rather raised to another level of value proposition in relation to this age.
Relationship to the time also matters in clothing. There was a temporary trend of fast fashion, and people said it was a problem. I was also often asked questions on this in interviews, but I don’t think they are good or bad, because they were created from the need of the age. How you live in relationship to your time is important. If your aspiration is not related to your time, you should just co-live with something else.”
In terms of “relationship to the age,” what do you think of this age and the clothing?
“As I said earlier, we have more freedom thanks to new tools these days, but this has shed a spotlight on “what really matters” even more. In other words, things that are meaningless or of less messages will disappear quickly. In short, the increasing burden on the society due to the coronavirus crisis is making it impossible to carry on what we have kept forcefully. In a sense, I think society is turning into a natural form without being forced.
People were saying that clothes sales were dropping even before the coronavirus crisis, but I think the consumption balance is rather settling at a right balance. There are indeed clothes that are selling now. So, I think society is improving in the long run. Of course, we see a lot of problems, but they were already there, weren’t they?”
Do you think that the Coronavirus crisis is optimizing the society?
“The coronavirus crisis may not be the only reason, but I do think there is such an aspect. I believe it is a great time for clothes creators. It is a tough time, but if you make good products, they still sell. There are various tools to communicate directly to those who appreciate them, and there are a lot of horizontal networks. I think the times when poor products are selling are even more awful. Of course, things may depend on lucks and timings, but the situation has been moving towards the one in which things sell for reasons. This is an incredibly positive thing for the apparel industry. When I was asked in some interview for advice to those who are starting in this industry, I said, “Now is the best time ever if you really love clothing and if you really want to do it. But if you want to make money with fashion or think of it as an object of investment, it is far from the right time.” The same change is happening in various genres like cooking or music, and there is more possibility for great things to be created. If this happens in all areas, I think our society will be wonderful, full of great creations. I believe now is the best time ever in our history, also in sense that the tools are increasing.”
It is working as a filter in a sense so that only quality products will survive.
“Yes. It might sound tough, but society is made to be tough to begin with. I never expected that somebody would come to help me. Of course, I am helped a lot by my friends and customers, and people are nice in that sense, and I have depended on their kindness in a way. But I am also aware that society is made to be irrational, tough and challenging. You might say easy times are better times, but I don’t think so.
Of course, I am not saying that the coronavirus crisis is a good thing. But the stress it is posing to society may have good aspects. I mean, I am trying to enjoy such a situation. There is no use in complaining. For my company, it is extremely difficult to get walk-in customers these days. But if you look at the other side of the situation, there are good things, like people are getting more familiar with the Internet. This will widen possibilities, and new things will be created.”
For sure. I heard that a posh restaurant with a Michelin star shared their recipe online for free and started lunch and take-away menus at lower prices during the emergency status. And they successfully gained new customers as a result.
“This has been an opportunity for us to reflect on what we have been doing. In your example, the question was whether they had been approaching the right customers in line with their aspirations and if it was good for society. I also thought of this for myself. I think it is extremely important to ask yourself again whether your messages and works are making the people around you happy.”
Even so, if the second and the third waves of the virus hit us and prompt requests for staying home again, people would lose opportunities to try on and experience clothes at the stores or at “circo de sastre.” Wouldn’t that be quite painful for expressing your works?
“I think it will be quite tough for a while. But it is also an opportunity to pursue different ways to feel the clothes other than wearing them physically. Of course, it would be impossible to communicate the exact same thing as “the actual experience” over the Internet. Feeling the clothes on your skin or seeing them at “circo de sastre” are different from what you see on the Internet, however well we try to explain through the web.
Having said that, I think people can feel them in other forms. For instance, you may be able to communicate the message through fusions with other genres, be it music, videos, pictures, or photographs. I am thinking of such ideas.”
How well you can imagine people in different environment
Are there problems in society that you noticed under the Coronavirus crisis?
“I thought of a problem of imagination. The damage from the pandemic was relatively small for my company, but some people around me were hit hard. It was partly because of luck. I held an exhibit in March, and I was able to do this because it was before the request to “stay home,” and people came. If I had planned it in April, maybe nobody would have seen my works. The only difference was the timing. In other words, the timing was bad for some people, and some people failed even after a hard work, and we should think about them at the same time. There is always a possibility that we ourselves would be in such a situation. The question is how well you can imagine people in different situation. I want to be able to do this. I think creators should take the initiative in doing this more.”
I think people like myself who work for the media should also feel the responsibility.
“This is our responsibility, and people who have created society are all responsible for this, including myself. Education is also responsible. We need to reconsider it, and we should think what education is.”
Has there been a moment when you realized the lack of imagination recently?
“I think cyberbullying on SNSs is due to the lack of imagination. Maybe those people never imagine that they could be in the same situation. It never occurs to them that they could be the ones who would be bullied. I don’t know how to put this, but I hope we have a caring society. Toughness is also kindness, so I am not looking for a fluffy society. People often say that Japan does not give second chances to people who failed once. I think that is also a question of imagination, how well you can put yourself in the other people’s shoes.
Many people assume that they would never commit a crime, and I do, too. But if you are forced into a situation where you cannot avoid some uncertainties, can you be confident that you would never commit a crime whatsoever? There are reasons behind any malicious doings, and I think we need to have views from different angles. It could have been right from other perspectives. So, we need to look at things on a premise that “there is nothing absolutely right.”
This will not end unless I stop making clothes
Has your message through clothes making changed under the situation?
“No. I want my clothes to be a mental support, a source of help, or a little trigger for a change in the lives of those who wear them. This belief has not changed.
On the other hand, I guess that my willingness to express what I value and cherish with confidence has become stronger. If it is something unnecessary or questionable, I wonder if there is truly need for me to spend time on it now. So, my ideas have not changed dramatically, regardless of the coronavirus or the great earthquake.
As I mentioned at the beginning, there can be happenings any time. What matters is how you cope with the happenings and enjoy the situation. So, I don’t get upset or depressed whatever happens.
And that is because this will not end unless I stop making clothes. If it ends, I can restart, and it will go on. Even if the brand is gone, it will not end my journey of clothes making. Even if the company goes bankrupt, it will not end everything either. It will not end unless I believe it is the end. I need to work on it every day with a clear will to continue this properly. I think I am more conscious of this these days.”
You said now is the best time ever. What do you want to achieve from now?
“I have distributed my clothes only at several shops overseas, but I want to deliver my works to many more different countries. It could be at physical stores or it could on the Internet, or maybe it doesn’t matter either way. What I was thrilled to learn is that I have been to 20 countries and talked with many people there, and I realized that there are always people who love the philosophy and values of my clothes (laughter). I am aware that my works are not for the majority, but there are fans even in countries you might think, “No, there can’t be.” If you add them up, there are quite a few people, and this can be quite an energy. So, one of my goals is to deliver my works to those who love them all over the world.”
Suzuki Takayuki was born in Aichi in 1975. While attending Tokyo Zokei University, he acquired skills for clothes designing on his own and started to create costumes for stage performances such as theatrical dramas and dances. In 2002, he started his own brand “suzuki takayuki.” Along with his collection line and the wedding line, he actively creates artistic costumes for musicians, dancers, and stage performers, as well as stage designs. He also appears in live performances as a member of “circo de sastre.”
Interviewed by Joe Yokomizo on 24th June, 2020