VPL's Response to Covid-19: Q&A with CEO Kikka Hanazawa
How are you and your business coping at the moment?
We are making our factory busy with making masks instead of our main products because masks are what people need the most right now. It’s not about us, but it’s about people, community and front line medical workers.
What compelled you to join forces and collaborate with Fashion Girls For Humanity?
I am a co-founder of Fashion Girls fro Humanity, and I started collecting mask patterns for our site. I have tested a few mask designs but initially did not intend to make any masks under VPL. This all changed when CDC reversed their decision about the public wearing masks. As being Japanese, I believed in wearing masks when you are ill, but I am glad to know that the practice has been now scientifically proven to be beneficial for Covid-19. See the New York Times article here about Japan and masks.
Is there a particular inspiration or reference behind VPL masks?
Vintage Yukata Fabric Masks
Yukata (indigo-dyed summer kimono) developed as a type of Kimono to be primarily worn after bathing, it is not formal wear but requires elegance and a sense of humor. This is because Edo (Tokyo) people have an Iki (smart) character. Yukata became room wear/nightwear in the 19th century and is now worn for summer festivals, including En-nichi (festival days), other festive occasions, and fireworks displays. Its thin cotton fabric breathes well, and is less likely to stick to sweaty skin. Yukata gives off a cool-looking impression as a common feature of Japanese summertime.
One-Of-A-Kind VPL Obi Masks
VPL has produced a limited quantity of one-of-a-kind masks in silk brocade Maru Obi kimono fabric. The obi is a sash for kimono, traditional Japanese dress, and the Maru Obi is the most luxurious and expensive obi of all, reserved for brides and maiko. Each obi is often worth more than the kimono itself. The beautiful silk brocade comes in pale orange, gold, cream and black colors with classic Japanese motifs such as chrysanthemums (kiku), Japanese maple (momiji) and cranes to name a few. We hope these fabrics enjoy their after life as face masks.
Boro masks are made from Japanese antique indigo-dye print or ikat materials used to make farmer’s clothes. Boro means “tattered” or “old” in Japanese.The more the fabric is worn, the softer it gets with its original indigo color faded like aged jeans. Then farmers took apart old kimono to repurpose as a bed cover. The fabric was meant to be used for many years by repurposing over and over. This explains why they invested on technique of prints, called “katazome” or “kasuri” (ikat). I wondered why farmers needed to make everyday kimono in textiles that required such en elaborate process of making. I think that they wanted to wear something beautiful during hard times, and perhaps similar to mask wearing today, I feel people want to wear something special especially because it’s hard and they need to stay strong... Fashion can give strength and confidence to those who are fighting every day, and the spirit of boro carries on outside Japan for a good reason!
What are other smaller but no less impactful ways you're staying connected to community right now?
I created patterns for various medical gowns and masks and uploaded YouTube tutorials from home. They are on Fashion Girls website, and now our viral reach has grown to 155 countries over 100,000 people. I received many feedbacks and pictures of PPE gowns made around the world, and I am humbled by this. All thanks to technology, and just a small thing we can do from home can be a solution to a global problem instantly. I am hopeful that this pandemic and PPE shortage will make many of us to re-think of the preservation of the art of sewing in each community. Like many other culture, food and architecture, making clothes should be kept local nor global. Global manufacturers, whether medical or fashion, can still connect with maker communities in each country they serve, but their role may not be take away the tradition just because of price but how to harness them so that we don’t have this kind of problem again.