Slow and Steady Wins the Race –
The Origins and Journey of OrSlow
Words & Interview: Ali George Hinkins
History repeats itself, for the better. It is widely noted that Japanese labels have long derived inspiration from a multitude of sources particularly Western influences like American Ivy-style, military garb, workwear and sportswear. Maintaining this heritage-indebted approach are a number of labels that pay homage to vintage styles but the namesake we are most interested in, and coincidentally is the subject of this piece, is OrSlow.
Founded in Japan, in 2005, by Ichiro Nakatsu, OrSlow brings forth a vision that is the antithesis of efficiency in today’s industry: they do as their name suggests and take things slowly. Like the age-old saying, »Slow and steady wins the race«. Despite only being around for 16 years, OrSlow draws on centuries’ worth of Japanese craftsmanship whilst combining age-old techniques of manufacturing with modern fabrics and vintage styles. What Ichiro Nakatsu’s label does is special and a rare sight in today’s fast-paced industry where emphasis is placed upon a ruthless calendar that brands are pressured to adhere to. By doing what they want to do, at their own pace, has paid dividends.
Rather than just duplicate vintage designs, OrSlow uses these iconic garments – like 1950s Levi’s – as a template for their expertly crafted pieces that honour the past in a tasteful and unique manner. With a healthy archive of vintage military and workwear garments to dip into, Nakatsu is well-rehearsed in the intricate design nuances of specific pieces and their construction methods. But he also understood that in order to truly respect the past, he had to study it. He achieved this in a number of ways from frequently visiting America-Mura (American Village) in Osaka to collect old pieces of clothing, to meeting with factory owners in Kurashiki in the Okayama Prefecture of Japan who were using vintage Reece, Singer and Union Special sewing machines – three names that will be all too familiar with denim heads. Leaning on this mountain of knowledge he accumulated, Nakatsu was able to create a garment that honoured the past in tradition without compromising the future.
Since its inception, OrSlow has positioned its offices in Nishinomiya just outside Osaka, also where Ichiro himself lives, and the pace and attitude of the city seem to be a reflection of the brand from the colour and texture of the environment, to the spirit of its inhabitants.
In recent decades, it has become increasingly noted the detrimental effect that the fashion industry has on the welfare of our planet and its inhabitants. On its own, the sector has a larger carbon footprint than international flights and shipping combined, contributing up to 20% of industrial water waste and 35% of microplastic pollution. Particularly in the last few years, there has been a real shift towards, what we consider, more sustainable practices of design; one way in which we can reduce the strain on our ecosystem is through making more conscientious decisions when it comes to our buying habits.
A mantra that reverberates throughout the industry and echoed by many is »Buy Less, Buy Better« which, to us, seems fairly self-explanatory: stop mindlessly consuming what you don’t need, and shift your focus to investing in well-built, expertly crafted garments, such as the ones that Nakatsu’s OrSlow presents. Durability should be heralded as a token of sustainability, not just glossed over as an indicator of quality. Their tasteful approach to reinterpreting classic silhouettes has garnered a devoted following who yearn for that focus on high-quality custom fabrics, classic styling and unmatched durability.
Some of the pieces that comprise their offering boast names like »Used 60s Denim Jacket« and »40s Coverall«, it’s such a no-nonsense way of describing their products – no flash, just letting them do the talking. With these timestamps in mind, it’s a testament to the fact that Orslow garments are built to stand the test of time through proud craftsmanship. But, to label the products with these date-specific monikers opens up a narrative with consumers that allows them to dig deeper into the history of a garment, how it was made in the past and how the design may have changed. By simply giving them this title, it adds an extra element to the physical product. With such a deep appreciation for the past, you can feel the passion that goes into each garment, something that isn’t apparent in many modern labels.
HHV carries a concise array of OrSlow staples in their arsenal like the US Army Fatigue Pants, 5-Pocket Denim Jeans and »105« Standard Denim, as well as some shirting options and the New Yorker Pants – a relaxed pair of bottoms. OrSlow’s interpretation of the US Army Fatigue Pants is a real head turner that garners attention from vintage-aficionados and those in-the-know. Crafting from a 100% Japanese reverse sateen cotton twill, they tastefully mimic the original fabric used in vintage US fatigues but with a soft and supple appearance. Made in Japan, they borrow many original design touches to give them a functional edge like a four-pocket construction, button-closure waistband and tonal stitching. Championing the »slow fashion« movement as their name hints towards, OrSlow continues to marry their methodical and considered approach of timeless silhouettes but brought up to a modern specification.
As us clothing enthusiasts become more aware of the environmental challenges brought on by the fashion industry, we look for alternatives to the traditional system, which is where the likes of OrSlow come in. To dig even deeper, we were given the opportunity to catch up with the individual behind OrSlow, Ichiro Nakatsu, and get his thoughts on how the fashion industry might evolve in a post-pandemic world, vintage workwear garments and sustainability. To dig even deeper, we were given the opportunity to catch up with the individual behind Orslow, Ichiro Nakatsu, and get his thoughts on how the fashion industry might evolve in a
post-pandemic world, vintage workwear garments and sustainability.
Ali George Hinkings: This is a bit of a heavy question but what do you think Orslow’s purpose is? What do you want to achieve through the clothing and vision that lurks beneath?
Ichiro Nakatsu: I would like to share with many people what I have seen and felt about vintage clothing. Vintage clothes are different from modern mass-produced clothes in terms of material, design, and sewing. It is very difficult to make vintage-style clothes, but I believe that if I can do it, consumers will feel that there is something different about orSlow’s clothes, just like I felt when I saw vintage clothes.
AGH: You place such a strong emphasis on craftsmanship and creating long-lasting durable products and, as a result, Orslow garments last longer than most. Are you consciously aware of the sustainable nature of each item you make?
IN: I often design based on vintage pieces that I have worn myself, and I also wear the finished products on a trial basis. Since I’ve been making standard products for a long time, I’ve made many minor changes where I needed to make improvements until the finished product was ready. Seasonal items are original designs and new production processes, but we make sure there are no problems before commercializing them.
AGH: What is it about vintage workwear and military garments that are so interesting to you and act as such a focal point of inspiration? Also, do you have a favourite place to go vintage shopping?
IN: I am often inspired by vintage clothing from the early 1900s to the 1990s, and I am particularly interested in clothing from the mid-1970s. Up until the mid-1970s, the casual style was not a fashion item made specifically for the fashion world, but rather a cheap chic fashion style that coordinated well with workwear, military wear, and sports clothing. I like the style of those days, and I’m interested in the way clothes were made in those days. They were mass-produced, but they were still in their infancy compared to today’s clothes, and the fabrics and sewing had a unique atmosphere. I do a lot of vintage shopping on the Internet and also go to vintage stores in Osaka, Kobe, Tokyo, and other cities. There are a lot of vintage stores in Japan.
AGH: How do you see the fashion industry changing post-covid? Has it forced Orslow to adapt in unforeseen ways?
IN: As a result of covid, the world has fewer opportunities to go out and enjoy fashion. However, I believe that after covid, the number of people who want to eat out and enjoy fashion will increase. I hope that the fashion industry as a whole will improve after covid. I used to exhibit at shows in Paris and New York every season, but since covid, I can no longer travel overseas and I started taking more orders online. Other than that, fortunately, nothing has changed.
OrSlow is now available at HHV: OrSlow | HHV
Visual Content: Daniel Tran