Interview SB
Photography Keisuke Iwama

Wind in his sails

Japanese director Eiichiro Homma is a passionate sailor who has been creating marine sportswear since 1982. He founded nanamica in 2003, a label whose pioneering blend of traditional workwear, contemporary fashion and performance wear quickly proved successful. Homma also directs The North Face Purple Label, an exclusive, Japan-only collection. 

(This piece was featured in our SS16 magazine - september 2015)
Hello Eiichiro. Could you tell us a bit about who you are, what you do and where you come from?

My name is Eiichiro Homma, founder and brand director of nanamica. I grew up and still live in Tokyo. 

You spent 18 years designing marine wear for Goldwin, a premium sports apparel and retailer that carries brands such as The North Face, Helly Hansen and Champion in Japan. Could you tell us more about this experience?

Goldwin was established as a manufacturer of underwear and socks in 1950, then expanded into sportswear during the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. I joined Goldwin in 1982 and my first role was marketing and making an outdoorwear business plan. When Goldwin launched Helly Hansen
in Japan in 1983, I was appointed as a designer. Now Goldwin is brand holder of The North Face, ellesse, Canterbury and Danskin, in addition to its original brand of Goldwin and C3fit. Goldwin
is also licensee and distributor of Champion, Speed, Icebreaker and Alite, and recently extended its business model to retailing. It now has more than 130 stores nationwide. During my 18 years at Goldwin I enjoyed doing not only design work, but also marketing and retail. 

How did that lead to creating nanamica back in 2003? What made you want to bring more style to utilitarian technical garments?

If all garments are designed by computers then once computers reach a certain level, all brands will look the same. In other words, if a future fabric has the perfect functions of being comfortable, lightweight, shock-absorbing, and reactive to body heat and moisture, then the ultimate sportswear will be a skinny jumpsuit. Like a Star Trek uniform. But people have emotional taste, so they might be embarrassed to put on a skinny jumpsuit in their daily lives. All my team love American classic sportswear, but at the same time we would also like to have more of a modern fit and the latest functions. During my over 30 years in the garment business, I have seen very few people who can create a high-level mix of fashion and function, but I believe my team can. 

Nanamica means “houses of the seven seas.” Could you tell us more about the choice of this name and the brand’s philosophy?

I enjoyed surfing when I was young and now I enjoy sailing. I love marine sports and a view of the sea. Takashi, who is my partner and the co-founder of nanamica, also loves the sea. He lives by the beach in Hayama and spends more than three hours a day on the train commuting to and from the office. So when we brainstormed about a possible name for the brand, we knew it had to be somehow inspired by the sea. The “seven seas” are the oceans of the world, once sailed by pirates. We hope that we will be able to have seven houses through which we could communicate with people around the world. 

How would you define nanamica? What makes it different from any other brand out there?

Nanamica is a high-level mix of fashion and function; nanamica takes “utility” and “sports” as key words; nanamica is what we would like to wear; nanamica tends to distance itself from faddish trends; nanamica can be worn for a long time. 

Incorporating technical, waterproof and breathable fabrics, such as Gore-Tex, into a casual lifestyle menswear brand brings this technology to a broader audience. How is that important to you?

It’s the so-called “mature society.” People want to have two things in one product, like a phone and a camera combined together. People desire a high-performance car that also has good gas mileage. Since nanamica’s definition is a high-level mix of fashion and function, we are always looking for the best functional fabrics for our collection. 

How do you balance the technical side of your fabrics with the classic shapes of the finished clothing? Are both these elements equally important in your designs?

Not everybody is a super athlete, so we don’t need the ultimate level of function. We try to find the perfect balance of functional fabrics and fashion. 

How is your brand clearly Japanese? Is it important to you to always bring a Japanese touch to your creations?

As nanamica is a Japanese brand, I think our overseas customers must want something Japanese in our products. Our delicate sensibilities often make it possible to replicate vintage garments much better than the originals, but we also use that sensibility to combine fashion and function in one garment.
In addition, we try to add modern adjustments to each garment. Don’t just look at the fabrics, please, have a look at every small detail and the finish. 

The main nanamica store is located in the quiet Tokyo neighborhood of Daikanyama, one subway station from Shibuya, which allows you to stay closer to your customers. Is that important to you?

We think eye contact is the most important contact human beings can have. So for us retail stores are our most important windows to our customers, although we also have a website, social-networking sites and an e-store. You can’t see a customer’s face on an e-store – and we would like to see our customers’ faces and talk to them. Tokyo is a big and busy city. There are many boutiques in Harajuku and Shibuya. If we had our store in Harajuku, it would be difficult for us to take care of our customers one by one. So we have brick and mortar stores in quieter areas, where our customers can come and talk to us at any time. 

How is the Japanese customer different from the American or French customer? In times of globalization and as high-end menswear keeps up its strong links across different international communities, do you still see differences between customers around the world?

In my experience of our overseas operations since 2010, I have seen certain differences in each continent. European customers have individual taste by country and might be a bit conservative in general. American customers are more information conscious; for them, you have to showcase not only products, but also information. Japanese customers may be more fashion conscious. Since
we have only 150 years’ experience of wearing Western clothes, most Japanese still don’t understand the story behind each historical cloth, what authentic means and the social manner of wearing them. This less historical background allows Japanese design to have more freedom from the common sense of Western clothes. 

You also design The North Face Purple Label collection, which is only available in Japan. How is the line different from nanamica? How do you separate the two and choose which garment goes where?

The North Face Purple Label is a collaboration with The North Face brand in Japan, which is owned by Goldwin. The head of The North Face business in Japan is my best friend, which is why we started The North Face Purple Label, and the reason why we are not allowed to export it. The definitions of The North Face Purple are that it should be The North Face looking; have an outdoor inspiration (in other words feel “mountain-y”); try to use The North Face’s design heritage and fabrics developed by The North Face; and feel perfectly modern to Japanese customers. 

How do you manage all of your different tasks? Which part of your job do you prefer?

My dream-team members always work hard and help me a lot, even if I still need a robot so that I can have more time for sailing. Recently I have been enjoying creating nanamica’s archives. 

What do you feel when you’re out on your boat or in nature?

A sailboat is moved by the wind, so I can enjoy communicating with nature. I also feel the surge of the sea as a heartbeat of the Earth.

How can fashion become more respectful of nature? Is environmental protection important to your production process?

Sometimes our industry uses environmental protection as a marketing tool. We often see “environmentally friendly garments” or “recycled garments” that consume more energy during the production process. We think that a real environmentally friendly garment is one that can be worn for
a long time. Technical outdoor wear brands sometimes make their customers become stoical and some people like to keep a distance from stoical things. Our garments don’t look technical or stoical, but once customers put them on then they might feel something different from other sportswear. And some of them might start to be interested in technical features that are developed by outdoor sports, which have direct link with nature. 

How do you see the future of menswear? What trends do you forecast for the upcoming seasons?

We have seen a lot of designed outdoor apparel over the past 10 years. Each brand has many layers of design. And that direction has reached saturation point. People will begin looking for more minimalist and natural fashion, even for technical sportswear. 

What do you expect to find in trade shows?

Trade shows give us not only an opportunity to get new accounts, but also give us a community beyond buying and selling, which might produce the energy to create something new. 

What does a brand need to do to earn your respect or surprise you?

Whether a brand is commercial or not, it could give me a stimulus if it is created by a different sensibility than my own. I particularly enjoy looking into brands created by younger generations. 

How has the fashion market changed since you started working? What are the main differences that you noticed?

When I was young, fashion was one of the leading issues for the younger generation. But now, lifestyle is the leading issue and fashion has just become a tool for lifestyle. 

Could you give us your three must-go places in Tokyo?

– Esaki, a Japanese restaurant in Aoyama.

– Tsutaya, a book store in Daikanyama, nanamica’s neighborhood.

– Grandfather’s, a soul-music bar in Shibuya. 

What is your motto?

Create a value that could make people happy. 

What will you do next?

Go sailing somewhere in the world.

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