More than a commitment to sustainability, Katsukawa’s Tokyo based brand is about respecting nature. His relationship with leather is inspiring & humble, as he chooses certain types of skin that would otherwise be discarded.
The art behind his designs goes much deeper than what scratches the surface: the clean lines, killer aesthetics & impeccable craft become even more remarkable as we learn that, to bring his concept to life, the shoe designer still respects the animals lifetime — incorporating only mature cattle leather into his pieces.
To celebrate these philosophy Katsukawa keeps it simple & rustic, highlighting the natural aspects of his leather of choice & acknowledging the material as the core of his designs. And as Katsukawa roll all these concepts into one, his shoe brand accomplishes its goal: to give men more options when it comes to footwear, escaping the authoritative & traditional aesthetics seen over & over again from the industry.
Talk about an authentic perspective, huh? 🗼
This new way of looking at fashion, nature & art has taken Katsukawa designs from luxury boutiques to museums, stealing a few spotlights along the way.
We got a piece of his daydream philosophy & positive outlook in an exclusive interview. Scroll down & get inspired. 👇
U are a shoe lover & a leather enthusiast, so we have a lot in common. How did this passion of yours begin? And when did u decide to transform that passion into a business?
Yes, I love shoes and leather. I was a salesperson for a shoemaker after graduating university and before that, I worked in retail at a clothing store. During that period, I made up my mind that I would learn how to make shoes and apply my creative philosophy to adding more variety to men’s footwear. That was the moment I decided to attend the Northampton Shoe training course when I was 29 years old.
Ur history in the industry is also very interesting. Tell us a little bit about ur journey around England and then back to Japan. How did these different cultures make you the designer you are today?
Thank you very much for your interest. I’ve loved clothing and accessories since I was young, and I thought it was essential to deeply understand England’s history if I wanted to engage in the fashion scene, since it’s a significant source of menswear.
I started learning about that world from clothing stores and books in Tokyo. I became inspired with the idea to mix Tokyo original menswear, vintage clothing and military leftovers with my own creative identity. This combination became the defining concept of my own creative style. As my career continued, I realized that I needed to study Northampton — the home of men’s footwear — to truly drive deep into the field. I decided to travel there to further my education of men’s footwear.
After graduating school, I interned at Paul Harnden, a designer and cornerstone of UK menswear known for his own unique outlook and craftsmanship. This experience left a profound impact on me from a creative perspective, but it was difficult for a young Japanese man to get a working visa. After considering my financial situation and family, I decided to go back to Japan. At that point, I felt that I had reached the goals I sought to accomplish when I made the decision to study fashion in the UK.
Now, let’s talk about leather. What does it mean for u to work with this material? Why leather?
Like I said, I’ve loved clothing and accessories since I was a kid. The materials used have always been an important element in that dynamic, and I remember holding products & appreciating their unique textures all the time. Different from most of materials, natural leather has singularities and functions that are impossible to reproduce artificially, it has the perfect function just like the human skin.
Understanding leather’s natural origin is to understand nature’s wisdom, and I believe that realizing leather’s organic use is important for humanity.
We should seek to learn more about the natural origin of leather since most of us live in modern & urban spaces, detached from nature. I gained knowledge of its importance from studying products and fashion, and I want my leather products to make people to feel like they’re apart of something larger than their own individual self.
And how do u add leather to ur production process in a sustainable way?
First, we use discarded natural leather, which eliminates waste coming from the meat industry. Second, we use the natural tanning, which enables the environment-friendly product dispose because burning these natural tanned products won’t release as much detrimental waste. These two factors facilitate the circulation.
We loved The Shoe of Life stores. It’s not a sale-driven space, it’s a service shop for people to repair their leather accessories, right? There’s a great sustainability message behind it, but it’s also a way to respect the sentimental value behind each piece. How does this space relate to ur brand’s ideals?
Yes, it’s a shop to repair leather products. I believe the maker is responsible for both producing and repairing. That’s how it worked before the evolution of mass production. I believe the maker is responsible for repairing. Nowadays, it seems innovative to associate a repair shop to new products, but that’s part of my brand’s concept: that it’s no longer a surprise when these two aspects work together.
One of the most iconic moments for ur brand was the Nibe Leather collection, in which you used raw natural rustic leather in amazingly dope designs. How did you create this mix? And why did u use leather in such a rustic way?
I learned about men’s footwear by studying menswear as a whole. Historically, menswear has been attached to authority, and most influential shoe designs come from British Royal Family style.
However, my Japanese heritage influenced me to eliminate the authoritative side of the story, so I could focus specifically on footwear design. Through my craftmanship and process, I can express the artful side of my designs.
Authoritative style luxury brands use calf leather in the manufacturing of their products because it’s considered beautiful & traditional, but traditional menswear can be so opposed to new ideas. I presented unprecedented aesthetics inspired by concepts never seen in the mainstream before.
My brand works with leather originated from mature cattle backside, which is usually thrown away as material waste, resulting in a unique rustic appearance. I turned the leather process upside down, along with the authoritative concept behind men’s fashion history and looks. It was just as symbolically important as it was beautiful.
Now, ur designs & choice of material always had that artsy vibe. Tell us about the Return to the Soil collection. How did it feel to see ur designs at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery like the masterpieces they are?
The reason I like British culture is that it is not only authoritative but also acceptable of diversity. I created a shoe design that had a completely different point of view from Britain’s classic aesthetically authoritative shoes. So, it was such an honor that a museum located in the heart of Britain, still very traditional, would be so open-minded in not only accepting my creations but displaying them as meaningful art.
Ur latest release was the Honesty White collection, which is about bringing the urban back to life, adding some sensibility to our daily routine in the city. How does leather represent that concept?
I portray the truth through use of white. The concept behind this color is what urban society needs: white as a color is authentic and endless. You immediately recognize true white — since we’re so used to seeing popularized off-white and grayish color schemes. Truth requires honesty and significant effort to materialize it. The white pig leather that I work with requires five times more effort than usual to eliminate the fat from the skin, the first step of the leather making process. The secret to making white leather is unwavering determination and dedication to truth. Society needs to apply that kind of effort in order to build a truly honest community.
On ur website, there’s a great definition about ur brand: it’s a combination of fashion design + natural science + art. What’s the message u would like to send to the world with this combo? And how do you use it in your pieces?
To work miracles in improving the global environment, and with that, change urban life. Build a more positive history and new possibilities. Accept every kind of love. These are the messages I would like to send through my natural leather products, my design-art-culture combinations and these figurative expressions.
CAN YOU FEEL THAT? IT’S KATSUKAWA CHANGING THE WORLD, ONE SHOE AT A TIME.
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