“I find making any type of textile interesting,” says Makiko Minagawa, the creative director of Haat, a textile-focused brand of Issey Miyake Inc. “But when I think of myself wearing a fabric, I think natural fibers are better.”
As the former textile director of the Miyake Design Studio, a position she held for almost 30 years, Minagawa is surprisingly candid about the potential of eco-friendly practices in the clothing industry. There are, she explains, challenges to sustainable textiles that will take time to overcome, such as modern machinery’s inability to cope with fragile natural fibers and the instability of some recycled materials.
“Issey Miyake has always been low-key about promoting its involvement in eco-friendly practices, but the company has been researching sustainability projects for a long time,” she says. “For example, it first started using a biodegradable polyester over 10 years ago, but back then, we found that the fabric would deteriorate after only a year of being worn. It’s one of those things that can’t be easily used without investing time in experimentation and testing.”
Unlike many of the Issey Miyake Inc. brands, which often use synthetic fibers, Haat brings together cottons, wool, linen and environmentally friendly regenerated cellulose textiles with decorative artisanal techniques of Japan and India. From a rack prepared in a meeting room at the Issey Miyake headquarters in Tokyo, Minagawa pulls out a colorful selection of garments as she introduces some of her designs, which feature hand-spun and woven organic khadi cloth, Indian embroidery, woodblock printing, shibori (tie) dyeing, sashiko stitching and complex jacquard weaves.
“In the beginning, Haat wasn’t necessarily about sustainability, but about focusing on natural materials,” Minagawa says as she holds out a hand-quilted, indigo Indian khadi jacket, a piece from the brand’s launch in 2000. “I also wanted to incorporate Japanese traditional techniques, which I’ve always done in my work.
“We often talk about ‘organic’ or ‘non-organic’ textiles,” she adds, “but we should remember that before the industrial revolution, there were no chemicals and no mordant (dye fixative). Everything was originally organic.”
Born in Kyoto, Minagawa grew up in a community where natural textiles and home-dyeing yarn was a norm. “I knew a lot more about the subject than most people my age,” she says, explaining that it was likely her background that inspired Issey Miyake to ask her to join his company in 1971.
As the textile director, she oversaw both Japanese and overseas fabric production and design, including the research and development of Indian fabrics, which she started in the 1980s.
“Almost all traditional Japanese textiles were inspired by India or South Asia. The origins of shibori dyeing, rōketsu (wax-resist) dyeing, and a lot of stripes and checks are from Southeast Asia,” she says. “Today, Indian artisans not only have very similar working styles to those in Kyoto, but they are also very conscious of preserving their environment and lifestyle while still rapidly modernizing. A lot can be learned from that skillful balance of such polar ideas.”
Since its launch, Haat has produced garments in both India and Japan, depending on the textile and craftsmanship required. Some fabrics are hand-spun and woven in India, others produced in Japan use Indian cotton. Vegetable dyeing takes place in Japan, some block printing and embroidery in India, and items are sewn in both countries.
“Recently, India has been developing its organic cotton industry, something I’ve always been interested in,” she says. “But in terms of quality assurance, its thinner organic textiles, though beautiful, couldn’t pass our tests. So we brought the material to Japan to be spun.”
Minagawa is quick to point out that, currently, Haat can’t use sustainable practices for everything — some of its shibori textured pieces, for example, need a little polyester to help set its shape. But in addition to using predominantly natural fabrics, she says, “We are always doing lots of other things during the textile development process,” mentioning the use of eco-polyester and practices to minimize textile waste and pollution.
The new spring-summer 2021 Untamed Flora collection, for example, includes pastel sweaters with strips of recycled discarded fabric woven into loose knits, an unbleached brown organic cotton dress, floral patterned recycled polyester-blend textiles, the use of naturally derived dyes and floaty garments in silky soft cupro.
“Cupro (known by the brand name Bemberg) is created from cotton linter, the fiber around seeds that is usually thrown away,” explains Minagawa. “It’s actually a textile only made in Japan.”
In the past, she has repurposed fabric offcuts for trimming, incorporated extra threads into flawed kurume kasuri woven textiles to make them usable and even salvaged old Indian print blocks to produce unusual designs on cotton.
“I like the imperfection and texture of the patterns broken blocks make,” she says. “And how new kinds of patterns can be made from something that normally would be thrown away.”
“You can’t tell if something is organic cotton just by touching or looking at it,” she says. “Visual things, like patterns, are distinguishable, but organic cotton alone isn’t, so promoting the benefits of something like that really takes time. Whether it’s researching specialized techniques to embroider patterns over the seams of panels of fabric offcuts, or using a collection of vintage sewing machines to create geometric designs on cotton, there’s a fascinating story behind every detail of Minagawa’s designs that make the textiles all the more intriguing.
“Things that have become ‘tradition’ did so because there was constant innovation and transformation that led to the creation of new ideas,” she adds. “It’s what endures to the end of that process that lasts the longest.”
For more information about Haat, visit isseymiyake.com/en/brands/haat.
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