Human-Oriented Design: A Conversation with Nanamica's Eiichiro Homma
Human-Oriented Design: A Conversation with Nanamica's Eiichiro Homma
- Words Gregory Babcock
- Date November 5, 2018
There's an unassuming quality to the work of Eiichiro Homma. Homma, the man behind cult favorites Nanamica and Japanese-exclusive The North Face Purple Label has used his over 35 years in the business to craft clothing that strikes the balance between practical and personal. While the fashion industry—and ultimately, the world at large—has shifted around Homma and his team, Nanamica (and by extension, The North Face Purple Label) has managed to remain steadfast in the pursit clothing that puts it wearer first and foremost—all without becoming overwrought or unapproachable.
Now with 15 years at the top of Nanamica, we were thrilled to speak with Homma on his creative process, what inspires his work and how his distinctly Japanese designs manage to ring out with worldwide appeal. Study up on our conversation with the designer below, and scope our lookbook—showcasing select pieces from Nanamica's Fall/Winter 2018 collection—above.
Launched in 2003, Nanamica is now 15 years old. What prompted you to start the brand?
The reason why I joined this industry back in 1982 was to establish a brand by myself. After 18 years of experience designing functional outdoor and marine clothing for Goldwin’s licensed brands, I was ready. I enjoyed not only design work during this period but experienced working on marketing and retail also. My partner Imaki, current chief designer, had the capability of designing a good mix of technical and fashion clothing. My other partner, Suga, had expertise in fashion buying and store coordinating at that time. With everything mentioned combined, we believed we could bring something unique to the market: Practical clothing and gear for people to wear every day.
How has Nanamica changed since its founding. What’s different about 2003’s Nanamica compared to the Nanamica of today? What is still the same after 15 years in business?
With our team growing after five years after we were founded and the countries to which we sell to (currently 24) doing the same, there have of course been some subtle shifts and changes. That said, the bulk of what we do and our DNA remains the same as day one. We have stuck to what we know.
If you were tasked with explaining Nanamica to someone unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe Nanamica to them? What are the brand’s design signatures?
Our official description says “Nanamica takes “utility” and “sports” as key words, brings together experts in casual and sportswear (and import items) and seeks to bring products that makes everyday lives happy, comfortable, and stylish.” However, to put it simply, Nanamica is a high-level mix of “fashion” and “function” and our cotton Gore-Tex coats have been said to be our signature pieces.
What hobbies and personal interests influence your work for Nanamica?
In my youth, I was a keen surfer and skier. Now I enjoy sailing and go as often as is possible. I love other marine sports too and being by the seaside. Imaki does too. He is living by the Pacific in Hayama and spends more than an hour and a half on the train to and from our office in Daikanyama.
In earlier interviews you’ve mentioned your personal history and interest in “technical fabrics.” Would you consider Nanamica to be an outdoorsy, technical brand; a fashion brand; or something in-between?
Nanamica was quickly recognized as a pioneer in mixing fashion and function. We were a high level in-between back then and remain one today. My background is in designing technical outdoor clothing for activities like sailing, climbing, back-packing and such. As a result, I know the reason for and why every detail of functional features. By combining this knowledge with classic looking clothing and the very latest in the technology of functionality, we are able to create the best tools for everyday life.
When you collaborate with brand partners, what do you look for from your creative partner? How do you decide which brands to work with and collaborate with?
More often than not, we are approached, which is of course flattering. Both parties should see the same value and chemistry from the outset in order to move forward. Over the years, we have enjoyed creating products and synergy with the likes of The North Face, Champion, Woolrich, Clarks and Dr. Martens—all of whom share our values. We have a further four collaborations all arriving in stores before the end of this year.
While your work with Nanamica has an international audience, the brand’s retail presence and ethos is very focused on Japan. Do you plan on expanding with more retail stores outside of Japan? What are some cities and regions that inspire your work outside of your native Japan?
Our stores enable regular face-to-face interaction with our customers here in Japan. They act as a window and we prefer this type of interaction. We are currently looking to open a brick-and-mortar store in New York City so we can do the same with our customers in the US and London looks likely to follow.
*How do you balance and differentiate your work for Nanamica with your work for The North Face Purple Label? Is there a significant amount of crossover? Or do you find that the two brands are clear, separate identities with separate types of consumers and fans? *
Our two brands should be considered separate. However, it is the same design team which means based on our values and tastes, creating both means a crossover is often inevitable.
Do you keep an archive? In an earlier video interview with Haven, we noticed you were flipping through an archive book on Goldwin—your former employer. In your opinion, how important is maintaining a design archive as an apparel brand? Do archival designs from Goldwin, and other brands, inform what you create for Nanamica today?
Unfortunately, we do not have good enough space to keep a physical archive. In fact, we published our own first archive book just last year in the run-up to our 15th year anniversary. It was a rewarding project but I had to call on many of my colleagues and friends to lend some of the classic Nanamica pieces that we wanted to feature in the book, which was not easy. I believe keeping archives, if only in book form, is very important to highlight the reality and milestones achieved.
In your mind, has Nanamica changed—either intentionally or unintentionally—since starting to work with The North Face? If so, how has it changed?
I would say Nanamica has largely remained the same.
You’ve stated in earlier interviews that you don’t actually originate from a fashion background—instead studying Sociology and Psychology. What advice do you have for those looking to start their own fashion endeavors, but don’t have a background in fashion design or marketing?
Many designers, Japanese in particular, tend to focus on product, product and more product. My approach has always been more human-oriented. I am always looking for and thinking of solutions that could make people happy, more comfortable and make society peaceful and better all around.
Photography by Christopher Fenimore