On a warm fall day in Tokyo, we embark on an long subway ride towards Inari-cho station. Located on a quiet street in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, the Hender Scheme atelier unassumingly fits right into its surroundings amid the craftsmen and factories of traditional Japanese industries the area is known for. As we enter the rustic wooden door of the atelier, we are greeted warmly by Ryo and his associate. Realizing it’s noon, Ryo suggests that we all go for lunch at popular soba restaurant nearby. Over some noodles, we sit and chat for a good hour about a wide range of topics. After getting to know Ryo, one gets a sense that this soft-spoken young man has the insight, work philosophy, and integrity well beyond his years.
Whether its housewares or sneakers, a Hender Scheme product gives you the impression that it was designed with the utmost attention to detail with importance placed on longevity and high-quality craftsmanship. With a design philosophy on creating beautiful, hand crafted leather products that age with the unique character and individuality of its wearer, Ryo goes against the traditional notion of discarding items as they age. There is a certain satisfaction and appreciation derived from wearing a pair of Hender Scheme sneakers for an extended period of time, slowly observing the way they develop a life and character of their user.
H: What was the initial concept for Hender Scheme? How did it come about?
RK: We started Hender Scheme in the Fall/Winter of 2010. The idea for this brand is to surpass ‘Gender’ – social and cultural expectations about sex – in designing and making products. We respect the physical and biological differences in sex, so we have different wooden molds for men and women. However, we have the same concept on aesthetics for men and women’s products, and thus the thing or matter has a dual nature. By not being biased and emphasizing on expressing ourselves, we are able to create a good balance between both sexes. By understanding the two opposing aspects and finding a balance in concepts such as modernity vs. handcraftsmanship, or inhumanity vs. humanity, we can express ourselves through crafting shoes.
H: Hender Scheme offers a wide range of products; where do you get your inspirations?
RK: Inspirations for designs come from what I think about and what I feel subconsciously in my everyday life.
H: Many of your products have a clean aesthetic with an emphasis on craftsmanship. How did your passion to create artisan products develop?
RK: In Asakusa, Tokyo, where Hender Scheme’s atelier is located, there are historically many excellent leather craftsmen and factories as part of the traditional local industry. We make products by combining our ideas with their skilled techniques and knowledge. I actually worked at one of the factories for a few years before I started the brand in order to understand how craftsmen approach making their products. Because of this experience I have been able to smoothly transition towards my own designs.
H: Is there a reason why you chose to focus on leather as the primary material for your products instead of other textiles?
RK: Simply put, I like leather and enjoy making full use of it to make our products.
H: One of Hender Scheme’s most popular series, the Manual Industrial Products, was launched not long after the brand’s creation. How did this concept come about?
RK: Our homage line aims to focus on the production processes of recreating those designs. We perceive the meaning of sneakers as manufactured products, but Hender Scheme purposely (dares to) makes the same looking sneakers with a different production process using handmade techniques. The idea for our design is to show the differences in appearances when produced by different means.
Sneakers are originally made as manufactured products, but when crafted by means of Hender Scheme’s handmade production techniques they are given distinctiveness. The individuality of each craftsman’s engagement in different stages creates an expression in each leather product – making them unique and unlike anything produced from mass manufactured products.
With this design approach going against people’s notion of discarding sneakers when they become old, we have expressed the essence of ‘aging leather’ using tanned cowhide. By utilizing vegetable tanning on cowhide, wearing out a pair of sneakers develops its own style and is a way to enjoy the characteristics of leather. Exchanging soles is possible, so you’d be able to wear the same pair for a long while.
H: The nature of your products encourages extended wear and appreciation; is there a certain lifestyle you would like to promote within the brand or amongst your supporters?
RK: I think that a good product should be enjoyed and used for a long time. However, I also think that one’s lifestyle depends on the individual, so there is no particular lifestyle suggestion I would particularly give.
H: Is there a reason you chose these particular models of shoes to recreate and not others?
RK: In order to showcase and focus on the visual variations from different production means without difficulty, we chose well-known and popular models.
H: Each pair of Manual Industrial footwear is handmade in Japan; can you describe to us in depth the process of creating these uniquely constructed shoes?
RK: For the production of all MIP, we have specialists for each step specifically. Our role is a bridge-like mediation between craftsmen.
H: There has been an increasing interest in the market for high-end/luxury sneakers like yours; what are your thoughts on these current trends? Has this affected your approach to design?
RK: I think that the most important thing is to express what we want to make and represent that honestly, so the products that we make are not affected by the current trends.
Of course trends affect sales in the market. However, we try not to follow the trend and rather design what we feel, so there is no particular desire to change our business philosophy. I work with a small and skillful team using the minimum amount of staff necessary.
H: Hender Scheme currently consists of a small handful of members. Is there a strategy behind keeping the team small, and is it something you will continue to do in the future?
RK: My ideal is to be able to understand and grasp my team at a scale in which we can easily communicate with one another. Getting bigger is not necessarily of importance to us. We want to grow organically within.
H: One of your recent projects was the development of waterproof leather; can you tell us a little more about this? What are your plans in implementing this material?
RK: For Spring / Summer 2014, we have made a few products using pig leather with waterproof coating by 3M, integrated during the tanning process. Depending on how it’s processed, leather is excellent for either water resistance or water repellency. For this season, we’ve made rain-wear such as rain caps and ponchos. I really wanted to make a cap for a rainy day.
H: You regularly teach workshop classes and were given the opportunity to travel to the Levi’s Station to Station studio to conduct these sessions. How important is it for you to promote these artisan techniques?
RK: I did a demonstration presentation for a Levi’s project called Station to Station of Maker’s tent. In Japan, I have taught workshop classes occasionally. I just simply love to share the enjoyment of making things.
Rather than just spreading the skill, I feel that passing on this enjoyment is of greater significance and I want to continue to do so into the future.
H: What are some of your favorite places to travel for work, play, or to be inspired?
RK: I like Tokyo very much, it is the city that I reside in and it’s very exciting. It has a mixed culture with various different subcultures. The culture changes over time and even evolves, so it is messy in a good and fun way.
Asakusa has traces of Shitamachi (traditional) culture; in contrast, Shibuya and Shinjuku are chaotic, but all these areas are within Tokyo. It is very profound; I feel it is important for me to be in Tokyo.
H: The brand has been successful in producing some amazing accessories and footwear. What are your future plans for the direction of the company?
RK: What I have in mind right now is to continue doing our job the best we can. Other than that, we have many ideas that we have not done yet, so I want to give shape to these ideas.
H: Do you have any last words or anything else you would like to add?
RK: SS14 should also be interesting, so please have a look. Best regards.
Photography and Foreword
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