Quality and Bags

A Conversation with master-piece Japan


Words / Interview: Adrian Bianco 

Japan and fashion are a special mix. For one thing, the Land of the Rising Sun is known for its many design legends, brands and the Japanese love for worldwide and, above all, American streetwear. Secondly, Japanese masters therein achieve a level of quality unparalleled around the world. From brands like Bape, Neighbourhood, WTAPS and names such as Nigo and Hiroshi Fujiwara to Japanese craftmanship that always raise fashion and design to a new level. A denim from Japan is, just like a knife from Japan, of the highest calibre. The eye for detail that one finds in Japanese craftmanship runs through the country and all cultural and social goods as a common thread.

What is simply a noodle soup in central Europe, the Japanese cook and refine on a level that has more to do with art than merely cooking. When a Japanese master embraces a task, then he or she takes it seriously. Quality, consistent quality and improvement are the focus of this way of thinking and profit is usually just an afterthought. Something must first be good before a Shokunin – that is what the Japanese call the most accomplished of all masters – places his or her product on the market – filled in a soup bowl, arranged on clothing racks or lovingly pressed in a chef’s hand. A Shokunin can ultimately do anything from fashion to food – what counts is the quality and process.

In a fashion world dominated by fast fashion, where brand logos are poised above quality and what you wear today could be out again tomorrow, this high-quality approach seems almost out of place. Everything is fast-paced and who asks these days if something will still retain its value or function the day after tomorrow? But it is not that bleak, of course. Increasingly, people are asking themselves about the meaning and purpose, and, above all, the impact of this fast and resource intensive fashion world. Why not spend more money and keep an item for the next few years? And why not buy something straight away that has »Made-in-Japan« on the label. Yes, actually, why not?

That’s why we would like to introduce you to a special brand today, master-piece. Founded 25 years ago, the Japanese brand embodies the Shokunin spirit like almost no other. Bags and backpacks from master-piece are on another level in terms of their workmanship, attention to detail and durability. Put simply »Made-in-Japan«. Simultaneously, the brand acknowledges traditional Japanese craftmanship, but maintains an eye for contemporary design. Tradition doesn’t have to always be old and grey, at least not in Japan.

To find out more about master-piece, its approach as a brand, its own factory, and everything about what »Made-in-Tokyo« means to the people behind master-piece, we put this together in Tokyo.

Bianco: master-piece and Japan – can you please introduce the brand and its story to us?

master-piece: master-piece was launched in 1994. For our 14th year in 2008, we decided to build our own factory »BASE OSAKA« to improve our quality and the situation of lack of craftsmen in Japan.

Bianco: What makes master-piece a Japanese brand?

master-piece: We try to create a link between high-quality production and fashion. Our pride is centred around always delivering the most consistent products made in Japan.

Bianco: How much of a Shokunin spirit is inside master-piece?

master-piece: The most important reason for us to have our own factory was to preserve Japanese traditional knowledge to a new generation. Our products are a fusion of a Shokunin spirit and a new idea of sensitiveness from a young craftsman’s spirit.

Bianco: Japan is world-famous for its craftsmanship, an eye for details and homegrown quality. Where do you think that comes from and how much of it can we find in master-piece products?

master-piece: We have an eye for detail, and there are many pieces or small parts on our bags that are originally made just for this particular bag.

Bianco: Are there any products that represent the brand the best? A signature bag that you are proud of?

master-piece: POTENTIAL-V2, this bag is made with CORDURA nylon and used the fabric »MASTERTEX-07« which was developed jointly with INVISTA. For this series, apart from the main fabric, different accessories are original items.

Bianco: We are living in a very fast-fashion world right now. Trends are fast and young people find it hard to stick with products longer than just a season. The next trend is already waiting and quality often gets lost in this world. What do you think is needed to inspire this new generation to look for more quality and less quantity?

master-piece: It all depends on the products, but the products you not just »consume«. It is essential to transmit the message to have an affection to the core of a product and the will to continue to use it! This mindset is also crucial for an ecological point of view towards fashion.

Bianco: Your products combine design and functionality. A combination that just recently got a lot of attention. Your brand is now 25 years old and very experienced in this way of designing and thinking. So, what does functionality mean to you?

master-piece: The functionality for us is comfort and usability in any situation.

Bianco: In which moments of life do you think we need functionality? What moments are master-piece bags made for?

master-piece: We made a series with textile »Master Tex«, which can resist unexpected rain or sudden downpour that we witnessed many times over the last years in Japan. Until now this kind of bags are made with high-frequency welding technique and weren’t adopted in everyday life.

Bianco: What are the favourite features of your bags and the achievements you are the proudest of over the last 25 years?

master-piece: We are always responsible for our designs, and our policy is to provide a repair service so that our customers can continue carrying our products.

Bianco: Technology has changed over the last 25 years, so did our lives, too. What kind of adjustments did you have to add to your bag design to keep up with the development and technical evolution?

master-piece: Today, the functionality of the bag is not only transporting items, but even the way of using them has also become varied. We produce diversified series that can be used in different situations, always with comfort.

Bianco: What is the story behind your »Konbu« textile and what makes it so unique?

master-piece: This fabric is invented by INVISTA and KOMATU MATERE Co., LTD, and we worked on the first commercialised bag with this new material. It’s the first time in the world. The fabric goes through a special process called KONBU-N; it makes the material less shiny but at the same time offers the new sensational feeling to the cotton.

Bianco: Since 2004 you have your own factory, the »Base Osaka«, what does that mean for your products?

master-piece: Designers and craftsmen are close to each other now, and therefore it facilitates the communication between them. Thanks to this, we never give up and can give birth to convincing products.

Bianco: If you walk down memory lane, what did change over the last 25years? What did you improve, what did you learn?  

master-piece: In these 25 years, the men’s bag market has grown up. We faced price competitions and a lot of companies decided to produce overseas. Because of this situation, many domestic manufacturers were affected by decreasing work or the worst case, the bankruptcy of the company. Our objective is to produce what we really want to create, but also transmit the Japanese technical know-how, the spirit of its production to the future. That’s why we built our own factory and invest in our personal development.

Bianco: What do you expect from the next 25 years?

master-piece: In the next 25 years, we would like to develop and improve our brand and products with new technologies or new facilities, taking account of what we learned until now.

Discover master-piece at HHV: www.hhv.de/shop/en/master-piece-bags-men

Visual content: master-piece Japan