Reinventing the Classics: The Balance of Hender Scheme
Reinventing the Classics: The Balance of Hender Scheme
- Words Gunner Park
- Date April 25, 2018
In stark opposition to fast fashion and mass production, there are designers who chose to combat these practices through an artisanal and analogue design approach—Carol Christian Poell and Maurizio Altier are two prime examples. These designers continuously challenge the landscape of mainstream fashion, adamantly refusing to conform to the normative behavior of their industry. Straddling the line between mainstream consumerism and monastic artistry is Ryo Kashiwazaki. The leather obsessive behind cult label Hender Scheme, Kashiwazaki aims to obscure the borders of classic footwear through a playful commentary on both mass-market success and artisanal production.
Hender Scheme presents modern designs created through traditional craftsmanship and devoid of any branding. Each item is stripped-down to it most elementary form. As the eponymous footwear line has grown, Hender Scheme has expanded its offering with pencil cases, hats, and various other mundane items. While this may all seem ostensibly run of the mill, what separates Hender Scheme from competitors is its near ubiquitous use of rarified vegetable-tanned leather. Although each offering may appear to resemble a mass-market counterpart, the luxe materials and hand-construction provide a unique distinction, blurring the line between everyday goods and hand-crafted masterpiece While most well-known know for its’ “Hommage Collection”—classic sneakers like Air Force 1s or Vans Authentics reproduced in vegetable-tanned leather—Hender Scheme’s additional products and unique brand philosphy are often overlooked.
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Prior to founding Hender Scheme in 2010, Kashiwazaki led a similar life to most Japanese kids born in the ‘90s. Through a childhood spent playing soccer, surrounded by studded cleats and matching uniforms, he developed an interest in clothing. As a teenager in Machida (West Tokyo) he listened to grunge music and shopped at thrift stores, and found a love for vintage clothing. His grandmother (a suit tailor) and mother (employee at luxury department store Isetan) only encouraged his budding passion, and both would occasionally shell out five or ten thousand yen and tell him to buy whatever garment he wanted.
Several years later, while studying psychology at Mejiro University, Kashiwazaki began working at a footwear atelier on the outskirts of Tokyo in Asakusa. Located in East Tokyo, Asakusa was considered one of the premier leather exporters in Tokyo during the Edo period. Located on the banks of the Sumida River, leather culture—which requires significant water due to the tanning process—became extremely prominent. At 19, Kashwazaki split his time between his job at the atelier and occasionally shadowing the various shokunin (Japanese master craftsmen) who continued the Asakusa legacy. Taking a quick liking to leather, Kashiwaki preferred the skin in its most raw and unkempt state. In 2010, he left the atelier and founded Hender Scheme in hopes of communicating with people through his designs and providing additional work for the craftsmen and factories in Asakusa where he had developed his craft.
Hender Scheme was initially a small offering of boots, derbies, and accessories, largely inspired by the centuries-old discourse in Japanese aesthetics. One such theme, wabi-sabi, is grounded in the principles of Shinto-Buddhism. Translating into “perfect imperfection,” wabi-sabi is dissected into two ideals: wabi is rustic, raw beauty, while sabi is the exalted story of an object’s life that unfurls over time. In conjunction, they achieve an idyllic balance. In the case of Hender Scheme, wabi is clearly the natural raw cow-hide, whereas sabi is the shoe’s natural patina. The pinnacle of this relationship is clearly Hender Scheme’s MIP (Manual Industrial Product) line, as the leather is considered far more one it ages. Another principle, [shibui](http://mercury.lcs.mit.edu/~jnc/nontech/wabisabi.html—elegant, unobtrusive simplicity—similarly guides much of Kashiwazaki’s work. Each product released by Hender Scheme is a meditation on an “industrial product,” but by stripping away all color, ornamentation, and branding, Kashiwazaki eliminates all industrialized attributes, presenting the item in its purest form.
A fondness for psychology, at least “subconsciously”, plays a large role at Hender Scheme. Borrowing the name from psychologist Sandra Bem’s pivotal gender schema theory—a cognitive explanation for how people become gendered in society—Kashiwazaki replaced the “G” with an “H” to represent whatever is, “beyond [the] gender scheme.” Believing it is time to do away with the social conventions and gender gaps that are evident when designing clothing, Kashiwazaki’s designs reflect the absence of gender and the separation between male and female. Hender Scheme builds on Bem’s theory through eclectic reinterpretations of soccer balls, traditional uchiwa fans, bike locks and even setta sandals all of which are marketed as unisex despite their cultural or political connotations. His shoes come in both men’s and women's sizing, with each silhouette subtly modified but not to the extent where the design is compromised.
In conjunction with the array of conceptual design philosophies, Kashiwazaki utilizes a series of artisanal and unorthodox design techniques. Before construction, Kashiwazaki begins drawing pictures and forming a word based on the images he produces. Then he writes down other related keywords and starts producing images based on them. Once Kashiwazaki has a collection of images, he sketches the forms into patterns which are then cut into swatches of leather. Following this arduous process, construction begins. There’s kigata (the wooden mockup of the shoe), katagami (the pattern-making), and the final construction of the shoe. In addition to his Japanese training, Kashiwazaki utilizes Italian shoe-crafting techniques such as Opanka (the entire shoe is hand sewn and manufactured by double needle stitching in which the sock lining, sole, and the upper are all attached to each other in one process) and McKay (the sole is joined directly with the shoe’s upper through a large, strong stitch) construction. By merging traditional Japanese and European techniques Kashiwazaki provides each item the constructional integrity to toe the line between mass-produced and one of a kind.
While both his design philosophies and techniques are nuanced and vetted, Kashiwazaki’s ideas are often overshadowed by his “Hommage Collection.” The Hommage Collection consists of reproductions of existing and popular sneaker models in raw undyed vegetable-tanned leather. It was introduced as part of Hender Scheme’s Spring/Summer 2011 “Manual Industry” collection, and included the eponymous MIP-01—a reproduction of the Nike Air Force 1 Hi in raw, unfinished leather with a wooden/rubber sole. The “sneaker” garnered immediate attention from both the Japanese streetwear and sneakerhead community for its’ minimalist design and unique interpretation of a wardrobe staple.
Since, Hender Scheme has introduced 11 other “Hommage” models including renditions of the Adidas Superstar, Vans Era, Adidas Samba, Reebok Alien Stompers, Nike Cortez, New Balance 574, Adidas MicroPacer, Air Jordan 4, Nike Presto, Reebok Insta Pump Fury, and Vans OG Classic Slip-on. After knocking off so many iconic silhouettes, there’s clearly an overarching goal of the seasonal offering. In an interview with SSENSE the designer explained that “what’s important is choosing the most typical ones [sneakers]...so people can compare what we make with existing models.” The purpose of these reproductions, then, is to compel the consumer to examine and reflect on often overlooked design attributes of classic sneakers, and reconsider the common manufacturing process of everyday objects.
In the last two years, the label has expanded to include a wide range of home goods and accessories from bowls and candles to backpacks and clipboards. Kashiwazaki even went as far as to reproduce the classic six-inch Timberland work boot and the Croc clog. Even outside of the Hommage collection, the core design ethos still holds true. For Kashiwazaki, it is not about what he is making, but rather why he is making it. Each object is an expression that you can take something mass-produced and through material, design, and production transform it into something entirely different. In an interview with Intelligence Magazine, the young designer expresses his wish that people would take more notice of the concept, instead of just admiring the aesthetic. Regardless of commercial response, Kashiwazaki continues to design for no one but himself, an attitude that has earned the respect and admiration of stockists and industry peers alike.
Considering many artisans fiercely independent nature, it is rare to see one collaborate with contemporaries. However, Kashiwazaki has few concerns sharing his design ethos with others—as long as they are willing respect his manufacturing process. In 2016, Kashiwaki collaborated with Chistoe Abe’s sacai on a small offering of sophisticated leather boots. The collaboration proved so succesful the two opted to work together again for the Spring/Summer 2016 season, on a footwear capsule comprised of custom-made, modish lace-back oxfords and boots wrapped in jacquard cloth. In December of the same year, Hender Scheme partnered with Casio’s G-SHOCK watch division to produce a luxe, minimalist version of the brand’s [DW-5600[(https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/hender-scheme-g-shock/) model with a hand-sewn vegetable-tanned leather band. Both collaborations signify an evolution and effort to streamline the brand, however, none do so more effectively than the upcoming Adidas collaboration.
Announced September 2nd, 2017, the capsule is a timely balance of both authentic and contemporary models. The Superstar, MicroPacer, and NMD sneakers are entirely handcrafted in Asakusa and feature Adidas’ signature branding. The collaboration marks a significant milestone for Hender Scheme as its derivative tributes are finally receiving recognition form the exact companies they are inspired by. “To be officially Adidas approved is a symbolic and progressive occurrence for us, I think it is very modern,” said Kashiwazaki. Released March 16th, the joint project is bound to launch Hender Scheme further into the public eye.
With many Shokunin craftsman dying of old age and factories in Asakusa closing as a result, analogue design techniques are slowly dissapearing. Luckily, designers like Kashiwazaki continue to introduce these artisanal methods to a streamlined audience, allowing the tradition of shokunin to thrive in an increasingly technology-dependent society. Yet, the zeitgeist is beginning to change and people seem more accepting towards difficult or unorthodox design techniques. Kashiwazaki hosts various workshops on certain objects he creates in lieu of having a physical store or public space, hoping to reinforce the connection between consumer and products. He wants people, particularly his customers, to develop an intimate connection with the objects they come into contact with. Through such personal interactions, each one of every habit and characteristic take a physical toll on the product, and in doing so, allows the product to take on a new form.