Native Works puts city on fashion radar

by Tomoko Otake

Kenichi Kishimoto, 33, and Noriko Yasuda, 34, are a fashion-design duo who run an atelier-cum-shop named Native Works that’s right beside the world-renowned Todaiji Temple.

Both originally from Nara, they studied at the same design school in Osaka before landing jobs with separate fashion brands in Kobe.

When they were younger, the two confess that they did not particularly like Nara, as they felt it was way off the fashion radar. But then, while working in Kobe, they both grew skeptical of so-called “fast fashion” — that branch of the industry whose goal is to churn out trendy clothes at the lowest prices possible.

When Kishimoto learned that his company was closing the men’s apparel division he worked in due to declining sales, he decided to call it quits — and turned his attention back to Nara, which he realized would be a great place to open a more organic and ecological, yet fashionable, clothing shop.

Native Works, which dates from 2005, is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because Kishimoto and Yasuda spend the rest of the week designing and sewing clothes themselves. As they make most of the items they sell, though, that restricts their possible sales to about 20 per month — with everything fashioned from organic materials, whether cotton, linen or wool. Also due to their limited production, Native Works currently offers only M-size women’s clothes.

To minimize environmental damage, they leave most of their fabrics undyed, but when they do use dyed materials, they have them colored with plant and tree extracts. Then, if any of the colors wear off over time, customers can return them to the store and have them redyed for a fee.

In addition, the designers — who take most of their orders at shows they organize every year — have a policy of not selling online, as they put a high personal premium on direct communication with their customers.

But what is it about Nara that inspires them?

“I visited the Shosoin treasure house only after we opened our store,” Kishimoto says, referring to the Nara Period (710-784) wooden structure where more than 9,000 priceless items ranging from furniture to dinnerware to documents have been stored for 1,250 years. Shosoin’s treasures are exhibited to the public only once a year.

“I saw an elaborately decorated short knife there and was truly amazed by the fact that Nara is home to artifacts that can still be considered ‘gorgeous’ and ‘cool’ by today’s standards,” Kishimoto said.