Bring a pot of water to boil on the burning firewood, the leaves in water would release different colors like blue, red, purple, grey, khaki, or even some unique colors that you have no idea how to call them. These are pots of vibrant colors that represent the mountains, water, wind, rain, the sun, or plants. Taiki Iai uses plants he picks up from his nearby areas to make the dyes, then he would go to the stream in front of his house to wash the textile. While he is at work, his little white goat would quietly keep him company.
Taiki Iai was born in Kyoto in 1991. During his days as a firefighter, he was sent to Sendai for a rescue mission when the powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011. Witnessing so many lives gone vanished, he could not stop imagining what would happen if it was him who had to face the adversity. Scared by the powerful impact of natural disaster, Iai could not stop thinking about his hometown. After that, he quit his job and moved back to Fukuchiyama together with his wife.
Iai’s hometown is a mountainous area two hours away from Kyoto station by train. He renovated a farmhouse that was built over a hundred years ago and turned it into his home/atelier, next to his house is farmland where he grows vegetables. After the 2011 earthquake, he has decided to focus only on the immediate future. “I also wanted to develop a career as a tailor,” said Iai, who has always been interested in making clothes ever since he was a child. He was particularly curious about women clothes when he was in primary school. He would dress himself up in his mother’s and his grandmother’s clothes in front of the mirror. He used to live in a firefighter dormitory in Shibuya. During weekends, he would put on his favorite clothes and spend his time in Harajuku; there were quite a few times where he got invited for street snaps. Although Iai has already bought his first sewing machine at the age of 19 years old for remaking his clothes, he never tried making clothes from scratch until he returned to his hometown.
In the farmland facing his house, Iai built a small wooden hut specifically for textile dyeing. After returning to the mountains, he began to explore natural plant-based dye. “Taking a stroll in the area, I can see beautiful things looking lively everywhere. The colors of the mountain, the golden wheat dancing in the terraced fields, the flowers and the sky at twilight… Everything has its unique pattern of breathing,” said Iai. One’s mood can be easily affected by what they are seeing, “The vibe of nature is enchanting, I believe it can bring more colors to clothes.” The dyes all come from natural resources. As a result, the color has numerous variations depending on the change in humidity, water quality, and other changes in the climate.
Another project of Iai is to tailor-make clothes for the villagers, so that the old farmers can wear them while working in the field. Their clothes are worn-out due to the heavy usage, but the dirt is accurately reflecting the beauty of the energetic and hardworking farmers.
“I never overthink when making or dyeing clothes. Instead of using my brain to think, I simply let my hands guide my thoughts. Therefore I never draw patterns.” Waking up in the morning, he would use his hands to feel the texture of the textile, and then he would hang the cloth on his body to get an idea of how it feels wearing them. Afterward, he would begin cutting the fabric and start sewing. It is his regular resting time at noon, then in the afternoon, he would go to the field to work together with his wife and children until sunset. Without formal training in textile, but Iai, who is a keen learner, managed to apply his everyday life experience to cloth-making. His genuine passion for life has become an invaluable skill set that he owns.
“I came to realize the similarities between life and clothes.”
The family name of Iai (also his brand name) is written as 居相 in Chinese, which means the look of one’s home. The clothes made by Iai, coincidently, are a reflection of how people look in their most homey environment.