Remake Fashion: How Upcycling Started in the Toyko Fashion Industry – Teen Vogue

By on December 13, 2019

Tokyo has easily become one of the most eclectic cities for fashion, judging from street style alone. That sense of mixing and matching to create styles that seem wholly original stems from Japanese fashion enthusiasts who mix their clothing: high-end and fast fashion, new and, in particular, vintage. Street style stars wear everything, including vintage patches and old jeans, while others, like Aiba Runa, mix head-to-toe vintage with current-season Gucci. Child Instagram star Coco Pink Princess, who has nearly 700,000 followers for her wild outfits, also mixes in plenty of vintage (her parents own the vintage shop Funktique). But it’s not just the street style stars in Tokyo who love vintage; this year, during Tokyo Fashion Week, there were even more examples of this from young designers using vintage materials to create something new.

Take, for example, the upholstery-like fabrics reworked into fringed tank tops and matching pants at Children of the Discordance’s show. Or that the label Bodysong showed its entire spring 2020 collection using old materials, like denim and workwear vests, that appeared on the runway cut up and spliced together. Label Sreu turned deadstock T-shirts, sweaters, and denim into modern pieces that looked like they were collaged together. Hyke also has a history of using vintage army-surplus fabrics on the runway. Even designer Nobuyuki Matsui made something new with older fabrics. For Matsui’s spring 2020 collection, a carpet made of used jeans lined the runway, connecting back to the designer’s curated collection of denim staples.

And “remake” culture, as it’s called in Japan, is thriving in Tokyo beyond fashion week. From the tiny basements of underground Harajuku shops to bigger concept stores, such as the insanely popular Wall Japan, designers and boutiques are taking used clothes, cutting them up, splicing them together, and constructing new pieces with cutting-edge shapes and designs that have a unique aesthetic.

Remake culture in Tokyo stems from the city’s vibrant street style scene. The 1970s was the first decade when Japanese people started to embrace international fashion, especially from America. Street style was born through magazines like JJ and POPEYE, with an emphasis on a preppy Americana aesthetic. These magazines often featured editorials on American university life. Around the 1980s, designers and street style fanatics started reappropriating things such as the schoolgirl uniform and other American fashion staples. Japanese culture developed an obsession, known as furugi, with vintage clothing. During the height of Harajuku street fashion, in the 1980s, a distinct aesthetic was created by combining designer brands with vintage and secondhand clothing, which was often DIYed by street style stars who cut up pieces (often American or European vintage, as inspired by the first round of imports in the 1970s) and reassembled them as experimental remakes. Today there are a variety of brands that fully specialize in remaking clothes from vintage pieces, including Dorothy Vacance, with custom pieces for adults and children, and Tomoki Yurita, which combines knits and plaid shirts into unusual creations.

One example is the Japanese brand YEAH RIGHT!, founded in 2005, by Keita Kawamura and Michiko Imura. The duo started out making one-of-a-kind pieces from vintage clothing, and this fall had an exhibition on the official Tokyo Fashion Week schedule. The brand puts an emphasis on reworking sporty pieces, and the end results often blur aesthetics. Think: Nike tank tops and jerseys turned into loose dresses with long, asymmetrical fabrics in contrasting colors spliced together; hybrid tops that are half sweatshirt and half button-down, with strips of fabric interspersed from various vintage pieces. For this brand, in particular, remake fashion came about through an organic process. “I choose vintage clothes just as fashion designers choose fabrics,” Kawamura tells Teen Vogue. “I think this method should be natural, but it takes a little more time.”

Since the brand launched 15 years ago, YEAH RIGHT! has also started mass- producing its remake pieces through biannual collections sold at boutiques in Japan and around the world. The brand does this by sourcing batches of vintage clothing mainly from the United States and Europe in partnership with reliable Japanese used-clothing dealers. While there’s an inherent amount of sustainability in the process of using something old to create a new piece of clothing, YEAH RIGHT! insists that its choice of using remake as a process has more to do with the brand’s aesthetic than it does social significance. The brand admits that there is a bit of irony in the process: “Remake exists because of mass production,” says Kawamura. “If mass production is lost, we cannot find the material. It’s very ironic.”

Another popular remake brand is Amatunal, which has a shop in the basement of the famed Laforet store in Harajuku. Here, you’ll find everything from oversized Ralph Lauren hoodies that have been repurposed with panels of plaid and little lace collars neatly sewn on top to Adidas skirts with a collection of vintage printed fabrics patched on top.
Like YEAH RIGHT!, Amatunal specifically repurposes used clothing from the U.S. and Europe. “I wanted to remake clothes that are too small to wear and clothes that cannot be worn for some other reason and enjoy them as a new fashion,” explains the director of the shop, Chibimizu. She works with her co-director Ayami and a designer named Shio to remake clothing on a sewing machine in the back of the shop. “I see all the clothes and make them exactly as they appear,” she says. “There is a unique combination of different materials, sizes, and designs that can only be expressed in remake.”

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