62. United Arrows
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