Timeless Functionality and Dedication
Functional wear, American Vintage and outdoor fashion, Japan and a Japanese designer living in California – Battenwear is a perfect blend of quite a number of references and details which make this brand one of the most interesting insider tips on the current market. The fact that the brand has been »Made In North America « since 2011, and that each piece of clothing created by Shinya Hasegawa withstands every trend and every quality test, is remarkable.
Growing up in Japan, Shinya discovered his love and detail obsession for functional and fashionable clothing during the American Casual boom. His studies in New York and his move to California completed the whole course of inspiration that the designer and his brand had taken.
Shinya Hasegawa’s eye for the essence of American Vintage and classic outdoor fashion can be found in each of his designs. Battenwear items are full of design references that deal with the history and evolution of functional wear in the US and Japan. What sounds like moving back in time is actually Hasegawa‘s pursuit of a modern and contemporary design approach and philosophy. Each parka has just the right number of pockets, the design is never restricted by over dimensional branding – Battenwear defines timeless functionality. Comparable to a classic 1970s-1980s Porsche 911 driving down a coastal road in California, Battenwear items are ageless and on point, moving forward with elegance and power.
In order to find out more about Shinya’s creation process, his inspirations and answers to earth-shattering questions like »How many pockets does a jacket really need?«, we were lucky enough to have a conversation with the designer himself.
Adrian Bianco: Can you please give us a short (or long) introduction to Battenwear and the story and vision behind it?
Shinya Hasegawa: For the first season making Battenwear, Spring/Summer 2012, my goal was simple: I was going to make the clothing that I had always wanted to wear. At the time, I had a long-accumulated closet full of vintage mountain parkas, climbing pants, hiking bags, surf trunks, and basics like old American tees and sweats. I had been collecting this stuff since I was in high school and each piece that I kept with me through my move from Tokyo to New York, from apartments in Brooklyn to Manhattan and back, had something special about it – a pocket or detail or sewing technique that stood out to me as unique or particularly clever.
My idea was to take all of my favorite aspects of the traditional American outdoor gear and sportswear and mash them together in a way that felt contemporary and fresh so that I had items that I could wear whether I was going to the office or on a hike, or heading to the beach to surf, or to meet my wife for dinner at a nice restaurant. I wanted everything I made to be well-constructed, very comfortable, and easy to coordinate with a variety of other garments.
The Travel Shell Parka was the first thing I made. I wanted it to look like a classic American mountain parka, but fit better and look nicer so that when I’m traveling I can cut down on the amount of outerwear I have to bring. I added things like pleats at the elbow for better arm articulation – little details like that make the fit superior. The TSP works great for a hike because it’s water- and wind-resistant, but it also is of a cut and fabrication to fit in well with crowds at a restaurant or bar. It has great pockets, so it’s useful for travel: Easy access for my passport, ticket, wallet, notebooks, etc.
To this day, all Battenwear items I make start with the idea of something I have long wanted to wear or been curious about. I feel lucky that so many other people have the same instincts as me for their wardrobes and gear, or else Battenwear wouldn’t have gotten very far after that first season. I’m also lucky that there’s still so much left that I want to make for myself and the people who have discovered Battenwear. American outdoor is a big playground and I feel like I’m only just getting started.
AB: If you could describe the essence of a good outdoor and urban product, how would it look like? What does it need to be capable of and most importantly – how many pockets are too many pockets?
SH: I think utility and comfort should always be top priorities, even when making clothing that needs to be stylish for urban wear. No one wants to navigate their daily commute of subway transfers and crowded city blocks wearing pants that feel constrictive or a jacket that isn’t designed to move well with you. I love gussets – armpit, crotch, etc – and extra panels. Basically, whatever it takes to make a pair of pants, a sweatshirt, or a jacket bend or expand or contract in the right places.
But of course, if it doesn’t also end up looking good, the discerning city dweller, including myself, isn’t going to want to wear it, no matter how comfortable it is. So, it all has to be cleverly done to meet that balance of form and function. When I work with sewers in my factories, I often feel like I’m teaching them how to do origami – a fold here, a tuck there, then sew.
As for pockets, I definitely believe there IS such a thing as too many. If I don’t see myself using a pocket for a particular use, I try to subtract it from the design. Sometimes, I’ll add a pocket to something and then if, after wearing for a season, I’m not using the pocket as much as I envisioned, I’ll remove it from that item for the next collection. I’ve also taken customer advice on pockets – that’s helpful because they have real life experience that I want to take into consideration. I also put a lot of thought into pocket openings – zip, snap flap, or velcro; width and angle of opening, depth and dimension. Pockets are something I nerd out on.
AB: Your company is run by a hand of lovely people, but at the same time, it is available at many stores worldwide. How do you balance between the charm of a small crew and the monster that the global fashion business has become over the last years?
SH: Haha, »charm« is a nice way to put it, thanks. We are a very, very small team and we keep our operations simple and low tech. I’m not sure how intentional or advisable this is – I think it’s just more a reflection of my personality and my early interest in being involved in every aspect of the company. At some point, I should step back and let a bigger team step in and run things. That seems like the key to growth. And I’ll enjoy it because then I’ll have more time to work on design. But for now, I’m involved in everything from design to production to sales to social media and photo shoots.
AB: There are a lot of influences and references that beautifully clash together in your designs. From classic outdoor wear, American vintage clothing, the Californian way of life and surf as well as your time at Woolrich Woolen Mills were you worked closely with Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments and Mark McNairy, a master of the Ivy League style. Could you please give us a short explanation into your design vision by decodinge your various influences?
SH: Let’s see… I grew up in Tokyo in the 1980’s during the »Ame-kaji« or American Casual boom. Think Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, Brooks Brothers, Patagonia, The North Face etc. The idea for my friends and me was to take the rugged, casual simplicity of American sportswear and mix it up with high fashion. My generation was fascinated by opposites and weird juxtapositions. It was an innovative time, and I have always been curious and willing to do research. I have so many old paper catalogs of my favorite brands, going back to the 1960s and 1970s. I also really like photography books that document trends in sports and fashion.
When I moved to New York in 2002, I studied fashion marketing and sales and started working at a company called What Comes Around Goes Around, where I had access to a huge, really remarkable archive of vintage clothing from all over the world. So, I was able to continue my research. Around that time, Daiki Suzuki was looking for an assistant to help him with the Woolrich Woolen Mills project and someone suggested me. That was a big opportunity, and I was really lucky to spend four years learning how to design from Daiki. When Mark McNairy took over the project after Daiki’s contract finished, it was great because he had a totally different style and approach. I learned a lot.
When I started Battenwear, I began by making everything in New York’s Garment District. I think there’s no other place in the world quite like the Manhattan Garment District. It made starting the brand very easy because all of my factories were within a few blocks of my office, so I walked around on the streets, studying fashion through people-watching, picking up fabric and trim from local vendors, and then assembling everything collected in my head and hands once I got into the factories.
In 2017, my family was growing and we decided to take a step back from the bustle of New York and open a design studio in Topanga, CA where my wife grew up. Suddenly, I was as surrounded by nature as I had been by city in New York. Topanga Canyon has amazing hikes and views, and the beach is so close. In our office in Manhattan, it’s all sirens and honking horns and people pushing giant racks of clothing across intersections. In Topanga, it’s all owls hooting and crickets chirping and people driving vintage cars with surfboards strapped to the roofs. It’s a helpful contrast to have ready access to both worlds. I spend a lot of time in New York at our office there, and I go to Tokyo at least two or three times a year. So, the three cities are very much a part of my experience.
AB: A lot of your products and look books refer to a specific year or era. There always is a context behind your products and a story to tell. How important are these memories and references for your products and your communication?
SH: This may seem like a non sequitur way to start my answer, but I’m a big Olympics fan. So much so that I tend to divide my memories up by 4 year chunks. So, when I’m trying to remember when something happened in my life, I think back to the nearest chronological Olympics in order to figure out what year I’m trying to remember. I am a sports fan, but more than that, I feel like the Olympic Games are great cultural touch stones. I am interested in the art and posters created for the Olympics. I’m interested in the key television moments from Olympics which bond people from across the world into a single experience.
When I reference different eras or historical periods while designing Battenwear, I feel like I’m reaching back into the shared cultural experience from that time. Change is good. Progress is good. But what’s even more important is WHY shifts in style and fashion happen. That’s the interesting stuff.
I’m not opposed to it but I’m also not fan of how technical fashion has gotten lately. I don’t really vibe with all the high-tech fabrics, etc. I like to use old-fashioned fabrics like 60/40 or 65/35, both of which use thread blends to promote water resistance rather than chemical coating. But it’s important to remember that mixing cotton and nylon/polyester threads to achieve water resistance was once considered relatively high tech. It gives context to the fabric and builds reference for Battenwear’s ideology when we use those kinds of low-tech fabrics.
On an even more nerdy note, I like to construct jacket pockets with the zipper zipping vertically up to open, down to close. This is a nod to a specific period in American outdoor when that detail was popular. It’s a small thing and would be easy to overlook, but I have customers who write to me to ask about this aspect of design, sometimes to compliment us on the detail and sometimes to complain. So, people do notice and once they’re aware of the history, can see that it’s one of many touchpoints in the detail to 1980’s outdoor gear.
AB: Another impressive feature of your brand is your branding – there isn’t that much. In this time of logomania and brand names all over the place, what made you choose to keep things rather low-key and let the products speak for themselves?
SH: That’s funny. I sometimes think we use our logo too much on our products. I designed the mountains/ocean simple logo when I started the brand, and I really like it and have been happy that other people do too. It’s good to hear you think we keep it low-key. I use it where I think it looks good and fits well. And then I try not to use it more than that. I don’t like being hit over the head with a logo, and I assume our customers don’t either.
AB: Battenwear seems to have a clear vision, design language and vibe. A rare talent in a world of fast trends and everybody else trying to jump on them. How important is it for you to stay true to your initial ideas and values?
SH: Since I design what I want to make and wear, and our company is small and family owned and operated, I don’t really have anyone telling me what to do. I really enjoy and appreciate feedback from our customers, and we’re fortunate to have a great group of people who buy Battenwear and tell us what they like about what we do and what they wish we did differently. I also regularly ask my friends for their input. I listen to all the advice I hear and really feel it, but when it comes time to design, I have to stop listening so that I can focus on what’s developing in my head. Every season, I want to create a collection that’s both new in the sense that it tells a new story but also fundamentally related to the core values of the brand.
AB: Let’s talk about Corduroy, a staple fabric at Battenwear and a fabric that hits the hearts of many outdoor gear enthusiasts but also streetwear and urban wear fans worldwide. If you could write a love letter to Corduroy, what would you write?
SH: The surfer slang for a series of many waves rolling toward the shore is »Corduroy«. I’ve always liked that little tie-in between my passion for surfing and my love of corduroy fabric. Corduroy is durable and warm which makes it a staple for outdoor clothing. I also really like how it changes with each wear and wash. The nap shifts in unique ways and the eventual texture of corduroy always depends on how you use it.
AB: The European market – except the rainy UK – seems to just have fully discovered their love for outdoor wear and the many features and benefits of it. How exciting is it for you to tap into this market, and what are the challenges of it?
SH: Yes, we are fortunate to have had really great British stores carrying Battenwear from our very first season. A lot of the UK buyers we met with that first season we made the brand really understood our designs in a way that was satisfying. In the years since, it’s been great to meet more store reps from all across Europe. They’re such interesting people with fascinating perspectives on how Battenwear fits in with other brands in their stores. It’s cool to get to talk to everyone during our wholesale markets. I always learn a lot.
I guess the obvious challenge is that there is a lot of funky stuff going on with tariffs and international trade right now. I’m not an expert and I don’t want to become one. So that’s something we’ll need to figure out at some point. Making sure that there is access to Battenwear to meet demand is key.
AB: If you could describe a perfect life circle of one of our jackets, how would it look like? What should the wearer of the jacket do with it, where would he or she go, what kinds of sports or activities would he or she do and what kind of places would the jacket be able to see and pass by? Imagine a picture-perfect life for one of your beautiful jackets, please!
SH: My main goal is that our customers are able to wear their Battenwear jackets all day, every day regardless of where they are and what they’re doing. Furthermore, I want Battenwear jackets to change as customers continue to wear them. I choose fabrics that will age well and grow a patina of use that only makes the jackets better as time goes on. If a snap or strap falls off after a lot of use, we’ll provide a replacement and/or help facilitate repair. We want this to be a jacket that your kids keep stealing from your closet years from now, not only because it’s a great jacket but because it reminds them of you. And then we look forward to the time when you’ll buy them their own Battenwear jackets for them to wear hard until they look uniquely used in their own way, and the tradition will continue on.
AB: Since 2011 your products are »Made in USA« – a time where no one really thought about fast and slow fashion, the quality of products, conscious production and fair payment of labour. What motivated you back then, and how do you feel about the awareness of these kinds of moves now in 2019?
SH: When I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY for my degree, it was actually in marketing and sales. I never studied design until I was Daiki’s assistant for the Woolrich Woolen Mills project. So, I had a crash course in design by doing, and that was all in the microcosm of Manhattan’s Garment District. So, that’s the most practical reason for why we started making everything in the USA: It’s the way I knew how to design and produce. It’s a very hands-on, satisfying process.
Over the years since, I’ve tested out a few other ways of designing and manufacturing. For example, we have worked with a couple Canadian factories, and for Spring/Summer 2020 we are doing a madras collection made in Chennai, India. I suppose at some point, I will need to explore making things internationally in earnest. After all, American garment factories, particularly in places like Manhattan, are in sharp decline and there is very little infrastructure set up to support the industry. But as long as I can continue to make things the way I most enjoy, I will.
AB: Many people that buy lovely jackets get the very same reactions every damn time: »How can you spend so much money on only one jacket?« It seems like your brand and your production might have an excellent answer to that, right?
SH: Yes, we see many people saying things like »too expensive!« about Battenwear on social media. But my feeling is, that if somebody doesn’t understand why quality items are expensive, then they’ll probably not be truly interested in Battenwear anyhow.
In essence, our jackets are expensive to buy because they are expensive to make. We bring the best fabric and trim in from all over the world, and then make our garments in small batches at small local factories where the sewers are paid decently. We make ourselves available, via email or phone, to answer your questions about your purchase and make sure you have what you need to really enjoy your Battenwear items and get the most out of them.
To some people, including people I really like and respect, a jacket is just a jacket. They can get something cheap at a chain store and not even think about where it was made or even whether it fits particularly well. These people are not interested in clothing or the story it tells – they would go around naked if they could get away with it. Other people, they believe in quantity over quality. They don’t want one expensive jacket; they want five cheap ones, because they believe fashion is disposable and they expect to switch to a new trend the next season. I don’t respect that attitude as much, but I know it is common today.
But if you’re the kind of person who is interested in details and history and trends and quality, then you’ll intuitively get why Battenwear is not cheap. And it’s our job to keep making items that you’ll want to keep wearing from day 1 to day 1000, which makes it well worth the cost.
AB: We mentioned many pockets before. There is, maybe even was, a massive trend of over-technical jackets. »The more pockets, the more useful the jacket« was a common misinterpretation of utility – at least I spent way too much time on searching for one key in more than 15 different pockets in and around my outfit. Could you please tell us a little bit about your own vision of utility that seems to work quite well with simplicity?
SH: If I don’t see a clear purpose for a pocket or any other detail, I don’t include it. I do have some pockets that might seem whimsical on Battenwear items. For example, the Travel Shell Parka has a »map pocket« on the back – a type of pocket traditionally used by hikers to store their paper maps during an ascent up a mountain or across the plains. No one uses paper maps anymore, but I have used that pocket on my TSP to store a newspaper that I was reading on the subway. My wife put a magazine in hers so she doesn’t have to carry a bag. And the pocket, even without anything in it, serves the purpose of reminding us of the history of the garment we’re using. Same with the »game pocket« on the back of our Scout Anoraks. Even though most people I know use that pocket more often to sneak beer into a movie theater than to store small game they’ve hunted, it’s a useful pocket in a cross-generational sense.
AB: We mentioned a couple of exciting features of your brand: Quality, context, references, originality, less branding and good people. With all honesty, are you aware that you are definitely one of »The Good Guys« out there?
SH: I don’t know how good a guy I am, but I can tell you that I feel like I’m in good company. I’ve been fortunate to make friends with designers and leaders at other small brands in NY, LA, and Tokyo, and I really admire them. Everyone has their own challenges and strategies, and we’re all different in various ways, but at the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat, and I’m glad for the company.
AB: After asking you a lot of nerdy and word-heavy questions lets keep it simple at the end: What’s next, Battenwear?
SH: Infinity and beyond! But no, basically I hope for a continued growth, which means continuing to spread the word about Battenwear. I plan to continue pulling new tricks out of my hat to keep our current customers interested and engaged. I hope more and more new people will continue to learn about Battenwear every day. I’m patient and I don’t want to hurry things. As long as I get to keep making things I’m excited to wear, I’ll be happy.
AB: Thank you a lot for your time!
Discover Battenwear at HHV: www.hhv.de/shop/en/battenwear