62. United Ar­rows

The Hand of Fashion - - CONTENTS - Com­ment

In Ja­pan, and now also Tai­wan, United Ar­rows rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant re­tail em­pire that is built on qual­ity fash­ion. An early cham­pion of Comme des Garçons, United Ar­rows now stocks a vast se­lec­tion of high-end de­sign­ers and also has a sta­ble of its own prod­ucts, in­clud­ing Tégê, the la­bel formed to dis­trib­ute ar­ti­sanal fash­ion goods. Grant Fell out­lines that part­ner­ship and United Ar­rows founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor Mr Hiro­fumi Kurino pro­vides his own unique in­sight into trav­el­ing to Kenya to work with our ar­ti­sans on the Tégê project.

In posit­ing the strapline to this mag­a­zine “Post-Lux­ury” United Ar­rows founder Mr Hiro­fumi Kurino un­veils his vi­sion for a world where hand-made-by-ar­ti­sans be­comes the new quest for pur­vey­ors of qual­ity fash­ion. United Ar­rows’ ethos is sim­ple; a tire­less pas­sion for qual­ity; the best shoe­mak­ers, the best leathers, the soft­est cash­mere, beau­ti­ful things well made for dis­cern­ing buy­ers; those who want a “rich and high-qual­ity life­style,” or “fash­ion-savvy men and women who en­joy el­e­gant qual­ity prod­ucts.” Yet United Ar­rows is not just another Asian re­tail chain stock­ing wall-to-wall lux­ury items. A scan through the list of the sev­eral hun­dred brands stocked - from Acne to Zweisel - tells a com­pelling story of qual­ity and crafts­man­ship, ar­ti­sanal flair and a classy, ef­fort­less sense of style. In part­ner­ing with the EFI on their Tégê col­lec­tion, United Ar­rows are mak­ing some­thing of a state­ment within Ja­panese fash­ion, an avant-garde de­tour that links a Ja­panese company which val­ues crafts­man­ship with African ar­ti­sans . In a re­cent in­ter­view with Kaikari.com Mr Kurino talks of his search for cre­ativ­ity in cloth­ing but also his search for ‘the spirit of true crafts­man­ship’ and by trav­el­ing to Kenya and also Burk­ina Faso to work di­rectly with the ar­ti­sans on the Tégê col­lec­tion - a va­ri­ety of prod­ucts from jack­ets and trousers to neck­laces and bags - he re­flects not only the pi­o­neer­ing spirit in­trin­sic to the company but also an ex­am­ple of the new fron­tiers that are emerg­ing for fash­ion de­sign and pro­duc­tion. Be­sides be­ing con­sid­ered one of Business of Fash­ion’s top 500 most im­por­tant fash­ion peo­ple, Mr Kurino is him­self some­thing of a style icon, ap­pear­ing sev­eral times on The Sar­to­ri­al­ist and a num­ber of other street style blogs who recog­nise his time­less chic and sar­to­rial panache. He cred­its much of his per­sonal style ori­gins to The Bea­tles and Bri­tish rock band style of that era, yet he is also a big fan of Fela Kuti and Nige­rian de­signer Duro Olowu. Mr Kurino, ever the cul­tural ad­ven­turer is once again steer­ing United Ar­rows, straight and true, into a new ‘post-lux­ury’ world.

Re­versible can­vas men’s pouch with Maa­sai bead­ing, made in Kenya for Tégê United Ar­rows. Photo: United Ar­rows

Re­pro­duc­tion of Mr Hiro­fumi Kurino’s im­pres­sions of his first trip to Kenya (first pub­lished in Fi­garo Japon, Au­gust, 2013): “What I saw in Africa, was a place where the beau­ti­ful fash­ion is born, I met the most beau­ti­ful peo­ple in the world in Kenya! I trav­elled there to re­search the col­lab­o­ra­tive project be­tween the ITC EFI and United Ar­rows, called Tégê. I’ve long been at­tracted by Kenya and Western Africa’s var­i­ous tribes and cul­tures so I was very ex­cited to go there, both per­son­ally and for business rea­sons. I have been friends for more than 10 years with the fa­mous Nige­rian de­signer Duro Olowu and of course Nige­ria is the place where the great mu­si­cian Fela Kuti was born as well. The bead craft and nee­dle work of Kenya and the tex­tile fab­rics of Burk­ina Faso are both amaz­ing and United Ar­rows were ex­cited about work­ing with the lo­cal peo­ple, peo­ple who work with their hands. When I re­ceived the of­fer to col­lab­o­rate on this project with the ITC EFI, I im­me­di­ately talked to UA head­quar­ters and we ac­cepted the of­fer to col­lab­o­rate with them. We knew that in do­ing so we would be help­ing the ar­ti­sans of Africa but we also knew that th­ese peo­ple make fab­u­lous prod­ucts. I like the slo­gan of the ITC EFI, “Not Char­ity, Just Work”. The Koro­go­cho slum near Nairobi is sit­u­ated next to a gi­ant garbage tip. About 60% of the lo­cal peo­ple make a liv­ing by pick­ing up things which can be re­cy­cled. It is un­hy­genic and dan­ger­ous but for many of them there is no choice. It is great the ITC EFI are try­ing to of­fer another source of in­come. Kib­era, the largest slum in Africa is also in Nairobi. Here there is another com­mu­nity that the ITC EFI sup­ports as well. There is also a com­mu­nity that sup­ports or­phans in Gil­gil. There, mostly women ar­ti­sans do bead work, cre­ate tex­tile fab­rics and prints. The work they get gives them the op­por­tu­nity to be able to af­ford food and ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren, once the works are pro­duced and de­vel­oped. The kids we met were very friendly, greeted us with a smile and never asked for money, all they ask is: “How are you?” I don’t see that in Asian mar­kets. Even though peo­ple live in poverty, they are still very pos­i­tive. I didn’t feel any fear, stress or suf­fer any prob­lems dur­ing my stay. When I met the women of the Maa­sai tribe, I dis­cov­ered the rea­son why I have been so at­tracted to the cul­ture there. They have a nat­u­ral abil­ity to be a stylist!! I was so ashamed that I had made a se­lec­tion of out­fits for my trip to Africa based upon the con­cept of “good to be dirty”. Yes, fash­ion is for all, tran­scend­ing cul­tures and en­vi­ron­ments...

Above: United Ar­rows Se­nior Cre­ative Di­rec­tor Hiro­fumi Kurino and Men’s Buyer Shoji Uchiyama on a sourc­ing mis­sion in Burk­ina Faso, search­ing for the spirit of true crafts­man­ship. Op­po­site:Tégê United Ar­rows jack­ets and trousers: tai­lored in Ja­pan from cot­ton made in Burk­ina Faso & bas­ket from Kenya

Watch the film: United Ar­rows x ITC EFI by Mark Tint­ner

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