When travelling to Japan, I always look for pop-up markets. Seasonal markets, in particular, are highly anticipated – the experiencing of seeing made all the more instinctive and pleasurable by the language barrier. I also like using mobile translation apps, filling up the space lost in translation and broken syntax with imagination.
I found these pants in Tokyo’s Setagaya Boro-ichi, a biannual, four-day flea market. Each stall comprises partitions overflowing with treasure. It’s so busy, it’s impossible for traders to tend to every visitor. As night falls, stalls either light up or bathe in the atmospheric streetlights.
A patch of white almost glowed in the expanse of the dark. It was a stall selling cotton threads, linen and clothes.
The wide-leg pants were dramatic – almost twice the width I was used to. As I was putting them back where I found them, the vendor looked on calmy, as though to reassure me that it’s alright whilst he demonstrated how to do the waistband. Out of nowhere he produced a portable stall mat, placed it on the ground, and gestured for me to take off my shoes and try the pants on the mat. “How spontaneous are the Japanese!” I thought to myself. We communicated in simple English. He helped me do the belt around my waist.
From our conversation I learned that he’s the founder of the pants’ label, Taketo Ogura. The tag on the pants read “Og handicrafts”. “We trade all of our pieces here and in exhibitions. We don’t have a shop.” I was glad I didn’t miss the serendipity of us crossing paths.
According to Ogura-san, all of the label’s garments were handcrafted in Southeast Asia by the locals. It was sixteen years ago when Ogura-san first visited the Karen tribe in Northern Thailand, about a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai. The Karen harvest their own organic cotton and hand-spin the threads, producing textiles with the use of natural dyes.
Since then, Ogura-san has been travelling between Japan and Thailand regularly. He takes care of the design, which he then brings to the Karen women, many of whom are micro-entrepreneurs and weaves textiles for a living. Every time he travels over, he would stay for quite a while in the company of his spontaneous and enthusiastic business partners. The neighbours would chime in over fruits and refreshment, before going back to weaving. Ogura-san believes that, to be amazed, one has to experience Karen culture and textiles – to live among the people.
At the heart of Og handicrafts’ style is a love of tribal fashion and the airy silhouette of Southeast Asian textiles – swathed in gauze in a unisex fashion, flattering bodies of all shapes and sizes. Come to think of it, that’s clothes in their most functional state.
“Clothes are a product of everyday life, their material, texture and shape a response to the weather in flux. They’re full of history as a staple of civilisation – an extension of the human body.”