Craftmanship and sustainability: these are key ingredients in the creations of Shuzo Matsuhashi, a 26-year-old Japanese fashion designer based in Vienna. His work will soon be cast into the global spotlight, as one of nine creatives between the ages of 18 and 25 — selected from 400 applicants worldwide — taking part in the inaugural Creatives for Our Future initiative, set up by the Swarovski Foundation to identify and nurture young talent.
1. What creative influences did you experience as a child in Tokyo? My parents don’t work in creative industries: My father is a dental technician, and my mother works in a hospital. But my mother likes handicrafts and used to make bags for me when I was a child. So I guess they are both good with their hands. I was also good at drawing and origami — although I preferred playing outside to staying at home.
2. What inspired you to become a fashion designer? Since I loved creating things, I studied textile design at Tama Art University in Tokyo. I chose that department as I noticed textiles are everywhere in our lives. When I was in my second year, I had to choose between interior design, art and fashion — I chose fashion, but without giving it much thought. I just liked fashion. I was 20 at the time.
3. Who were your biggest creative influences growing up? My family. If my mother and sister were not so much into creating, knitting or sewing, I might have not ended up at an art university.
4. What was the first item of clothing you made? It was a poncho for a fashion competition in Japan. I had just started my fashion course and had no idea how to make complicated patterns, so I picked a poncho. I made hand-woven fabric using selvage, which is usually thrown away at weaving factories. The idea is still absolutely connected to what I make now. I won second prize.
5. Do you have a signature philosophy? Craft. When I studied textiles, I mastered traditional skills such as weaving, dyeing, printing and knitting. Through learning those techniques with my own hands, I developed a thorough understanding not only of fashion, but also about textile materials and craft. I respect traditional methods that are inherited and have evolved over centuries.
6. Are your creations influenced by Japan? I was very much influenced by my upbringing in Japan. A lot of traditional craft remains there. But in Vienna too, you often find flea markets selling old fabrics, clothes, buttons and so on, which makes it easy to get old materials.
7. Is sustainability important? I’ve always been fascinated by old materials and fabrics made by hand. They may be considered as having imperfections, but they have outstanding individuality and stories. For my ongoing project, the “Mending, Re-craft” series, I use worn-out clothes and secondhand materials. I’m also inspired by the idea of (using) traditional mending techniques to create a more sustainable society.
8. How did you end up in Austria? I’ve been studying fashion design at Angewandte — the University of Applied Arts Vienna — since October 2019. I wanted to take time to develop my own collection rather than work for fashion brands in Tokyo.
9. Did your life change during the pandemic? An exhibition in Tokyo I was supposed to take part in was canceled in March 2020. Since then, I’ve looked forward to showing my works and seeing my family and friends and going to cherry blossom viewings. I’ve also missed Japanese food. But I realized I was very lucky to be able to keep creating. I’ve had time to research, think and design. I often remember a quote from Lucie and Luke Meier, former professors of mine: “When given new circumstances, get creative!”
10. How did you hear about the Swarovski Creatives for Our Futures initiative? I found out through my university and immediately decided to apply. It took time to prepare some texts and my portfolio but I applied a week before the deadline, at the beginning of April. It was the first time I’d applied for an international competition.
11. What motivated you to apply? I believed this grant would give me a chance to explore Europe, broaden my perspective and enhance my creative expression, while also getting priceless advice from mentors. I believed I was a suitable candidate due to my expertise, aesthetics and commitment to bringing more sustainable solutions to society.
12. How did you win over the judges? I submitted some text and a portfolio explaining previous works and my “Re-craft” series. I started this project after picking up a tailored suit at a flea market for research and finding a business card in one of the pockets. That made me wonder about the identity of its previous owner and the story of that suit.
13. What was your reaction when you found out you’d been selected as one of the nine final grantees? I was notified by email in mid-April. To celebrate, I ordered my favorite pizza alongside tiramisu for dinner and drank with a friend online. I hope I make the most of this opportunity and finally start selling my own collection.
14. What happens now? My personal mentor will be Shaway Yeh, the founder of yehyehyeh. I will have a few one-to-one sessions with her. We will also have monthly master classes every month from June with internationally renowned professionals — all leaders in architecture, sustainable practices, design, academia, philanthropy and creative industries.
15. Any plans for the $15,000 grant? I’d like to develop a studio space that allows me to concentrate on researching and creating with sewing machines and proper materials. I’d also like to visit craftsmen and factories in Europe.
16. Why the interest in craftsmen? I’m curious about how products are produced. It’s essential for me to understand how products are made and to honor them. In our current culture, you only wear clothes for one season. Mentally, this makes us value clothes less than we should. I feel I could contribute to change by showing the importance of craftsmanship in the fashion industry and help shift it toward a more sustainable approach.
17. And is there a chance that wine may play a role? During the summer, I’ll visit craftsmen in the south of France. A French artist told me that wine farmers there dispose of a lot of waste each year — I’d like to research a way to use that waste in my work.
18. In September, you will present your work at the U.N. General Assembly as part of the Swarovski initiative. What’s that about? I’ll present my ongoing “Re-craft” project, but I am not yet 100% sure what I will make. I hope I will show the respect and responsibility I put into each one of my pieces, while also attempting to create a production cycle that is different from the dominant mass production of items.
19. What does the creative process look like for you? It’s like creating a story. I start researching widely, finding interesting aspects and connecting some elements with my own perspective, then sketching and doing some trials. I get to the final version gradually — you need to narrow down the way. I like this process very much. The most challenging part is shaping clothing.
20. Finally, how does the future look to you? In the future, designers will have more options for creation, product development and ways to display their work. It’s important to have clear aesthetics and tailored production solutions. In 10 years’ time, I hope I will continue to challenge myself. I may be based in Vienna, the south of France, Tokyo or in some other beautiful city — it will be hard to choose.
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