Since Haraki was visiting Tuckshop & Sundry Supplies Singapore for an Iron Heart event, I took the opportunity to conduct a 1 on 1 interview with the Iron Heart Boss himself. None of this possible without his trusty and professional interpreter Sarina Matsumi. This was an amazing opportunity for me to understand the man behind the tremendously successful Iron Heart label. The following is a transcribe of this enlightening conversation.
Saintkeat = SK
Haraki = HK
SK: What was it like growing up with denim? Maybe comment about the repro era?
HK: Denim was not originally born in Japan, it started from USA. In Japan, there are many good areas dedicated to the art of making jeans. I’m happy that the denim popularity is growing in Japan. Denim has become a precious item of export to the world, so I’m proud of denim.
SK: During the reproduction era, was it very crowded with a lot of new start up denim companies?
HK: I think it’s a good thing. New brands were using the traditional Japanese technique and skill to make new products, so I think this was a great thing as it pushed the technology forward.
SK: Was it interesting growing up in that 1970s era, having all these new fabrics come up, what was your experience with it?
HK: The brands like Edwin and Big John, were born in the 70s, Before that we didn’t have any domestic brands before, so the brands had power and they sold a lot of jeans. But nowadays, their products are no longer interesting so their power has gotten weaker. Presently, Iron Heart and the rest of the new brands are getting bigger.
SK: So you’re talking about the market share?
HK: Yes market share. Big John and Edwin made a lot of the same type of jeans, but people got very tired with the same type of products.
SK: How did you start your career in the denim industry?
HK: When I was 23, I started to work at Edwin for 3 years. Then I started my own company when I was 26. When I was 46, I started Iron Heart. During the age of 26-46 years, I was taking control of many kinds of brands as a production leader. Essentially, I was helping other brands produce jeans.
SK: When you were working with Edwin, what was your role there?
HK: Making prototype patterns and designs. As an Edwin designer, I could do whatever I wanted. I was very interested in cotton, weaving and dying fabrics. I learnt a lot through the work. After a year of working at Edwin, I was a producer/director for one of the labels by Edwin. When I took the post, their sales topped 400 million yen.
SK: When you started your own company, did you work with sub culture brands or did you work with more mainstream brands?
HK: Yes it was more sub culture brands like 45rpm, Oshkosh, and many others.
SK: When you first started the Iron Heart label, did any of your contacts, influences or experiences gleamed from the time you spent working in the industry, help build the brand from the ground up?
HK: I gained 2 very precious things during the time I spent working for the other brands. One is experience and the second are the people who worked together with me. So I can plan and they can make. This made a good combination.
SK: Does that mean that when you started the Iron Heart label, you knew exactly what you wanted to do?
HK: I imagined what I wanted for Iron Heart. There were many products offered in the world. I didn’t want to make similar products. Also, I already had a good relationship with factories and I knew this was my strength. So yes, I knew exactly what I wanted to make, and I already had a unique idea for the 21oz and it’s totally different from others.
SK: Actually doesn’t that mean the other people you worked with in the past, helped shape the brand? Since they probably gave you their ideas as well?
HK: Yes they definitely did. If I said I would like to make something, they would bounce some ideas around like “how about this or that”.
SK: The mill Iron Heart uses seems to be a closely guarded secret; could you give us some insights as to why the mill was chosen and what makes them “special”?
HK: There are many mills in Japan and one of the biggest ones is Kaihara. They are famous. Thus their fabrics are sold around the world. There are also many small mills that make specifically for different brands. I chose one in the middle. Only because I wanted a mill that could do both weaving and dying in the same place. There are only 2 mills in Japan that can do this in the same place. I already had an image of what I wanted to do, and this mill allowed me to do exactly as I wanted it. Kaihara is already used by several brands, so it was not for me. I wanted something special, which is why I’ve chosen this mill. I’ve known this mill for more than 30 years and I’ve been going to them for the past 10 years to make Iron Heart products.
SK: Having Giles in your corner must have done your brand plenty of good, would you say that the two of you are close friends now as well?
HK: We are good business partners and we will continue this relationship. He’s a great friend and will always be my good friend.
SK: I see that Iron Heart has stopped using Zimbabwe cotton and have switched to USA cotton. Why the switch?
HK: There are 2 reasons. Someone in Japan is controlling Zimbabwe cotton. That someone has started adding a green tone to Zimbabwe cotton; this is not what I want. To make pure blue, it was essential to switch to USA cotton.
SK: What kind of USA cotton are you using now then?
HK: I can’t choose what kind as I can’t buy it direct. I have to buy a brand of cotton and that comes blended in a mix.
SK: So why was Zimbabwe cotton used earlier?
HK: When I started, Zimbabwe cotton was very famous in Japan. The quality was also very good, so I chose it. It has a long staple so it can be twisted tightly and it makes for good soft denim. If I wanted to make thick denim it doesn’t really matter if the cotton has a long staple to be frank.
SK: Iron Heart went from a Talon zipper to a YKK zipper, what’s the story on that?
HK: People may have a good image of Talon zipper, but I chose YKK because of the quality. I do not think that YKK has a bad image either, so I made the switch. Iron heart is not a vintage denim brand, so if I used Talon zippers, people get the misconception it’s a vintage denim brand. This is a strong motivation for my switch to the high quality YKK zippers.
SK: Where do you get the inspiration for your Iron Heart products?
HK: The 60s and 70s era gives me my greatest inspiration. It is that era that gives my products shape.
SK: You have a massive loyal following worldwide, waiting with abated breath on your next brilliant product. How does that feel? Is it tough coping with the demand?
HK: Iron Heart’s design is very simple. Like the accessories and the t-shirts, so it’s easy for someone to copy. The sewing quality however, like sewing thick jeans is very difficult so that is very hard to copy.
SK: Thank you for this enlightening conversation, any last words for your fans around the world?
HK: I wish people would wear Iron Heart for a long time. My concept is long lasting and good quality. So I would like for people to enjoy the Iron Heart brand for a long time. Tough, heavy and ready!
SK: If that’s the case then people would buy less since your products last so long!
HK: That’s my dilemma! I guess the brand just needs more new customers!
I hope you enjoyed the read. Many thanks to Ika Surjosantoso (Kayodic) for helping me with the pictures while I was conducting the interview. My thanks to Haraki and his crew for the insightful interview. I’ll see all of you again when I stop by Tokyo.
To have a look at what went down at the Iron Heart Event, view here: http://halloffade.com/travel-blog-10-iron-heart-party-at-tuckshop-and-sundry-supplies-singapore/