Q&A With Kristen Kawasaki
Behind the scenes with the founder of a textile company connecting Japanese textiles with American companies
The Artesao: What's the story behind Seam USA?
Kristen Kawasaki: My business partner/husband Kenji and I have been working with Japanese garment factories and textile mills for our entire working careers. We decided to start Seam USA four years ago to provide a more transparent alternative to large trading companies that catered solely to brands who are able to buy thousands of yards of fabric, to provide a resource for smaller companies and emerging designers as well as promote more artisanal weavers in Japan who actually don’t have the capacity to produce huge amounts. Along the way we discovered some wonderful U.S. made clothing and accessory brands which we would up helping promote and wholesale in Japan.
The Artesao: What are some of your favorite projects that have come about since launching?
Kristen Kawasaki: Custom fabric developments are always my favorite; I can’t really get into specifics due to confidentiality issues but it’s fun because I get to be more hands on and involved in the design process. We also make full package garments for a really nice brand that is very vocal about humanitarian and environmental issues. It’s nice to work with brands that stand for something. Additionally, we just starting repping a really nice home goods brand from Japan called Basshu. And I’m definitely proud of our friends who still make their products in the USA, despite the growing challenges; LHN Jewelry, Lowercase, and American Trench are some of them, but if you follow our Instagram you’ll find more.
The Artesao: Is there a factory you work with that has a particularly fascinating history?
Kristen Kawasaki: Of course the denim mills I work with in Okayama; anyone who’s seen “Blue Gold” on Netflix knows the story. The garment factory I work with in Kojima specializes in washing and hand distressing denim; it is a labor intensive job that the employees put their heart and soul into. It’s so inspiring to watch. The company’s President invested in a special machine that completely purifies the water they use to wash the denim before they send it back out to sea. I’m always partial to natural fibers, but there is one mill in Ishikawa prefecture that makes incredibly light, flowy polyester and polyester silk fabrics. The thread they use is 7 denier, one fifth the thickness of a human hair. They also use some naturally dyed silk yarns, and they have collaborated with artists specializing in Kaga Yuzen dyeing. They were founded in 1956, and the original intended use was for the screen inside television sets of that time and things of that nature; over time, they shifted their focus to fashion and have supplied fabric to several couture houses. They also make finished goods such as scarves and pocket cheifs, which are available at my studio as well as a store in Soho called Waza.
ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY…
The Artesao: You travel to Japan often. How often? Do you travel to a specific part of Japan? What are some hidden gems there?
Kristen Kawasaki: Three to four times per year. We spend most of our time in Tokyo Osaka, and Okayama but we try to get out to visit mills and friends elsewhere when possible. Kyushu is my favorite, especially Miyazaki; it’s where Kenji is from and there is great surfing there! Also you can take a little ferry to Koushima, an island where only monkeys live.
The Artesao: Where are your favorite restaurants/markets/(street)food in Japan (city)?
Kristen Kawasaki: My absolute favorite restaurant in Tokyo is a place in Kanagawa that my brother-in-law took us to called Tenpura Ise. It has an open kitchen and they use seasonal ingredients; I’ll never forget their Uni tempura. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I llove the food vendors in Noge, a district near Yokohama.
The Artesao: What to pack when visiting?
Kristen Kawasaki: The weekly unlimited JR rail pass is a must. For less than $300 for an Ordinary car ticket you can take the Shinkansen anywhere in the country. Also, sneakers, because not only is that what everyone wears there these days but because you will be walking a lot.
The Artesao: Do you have a favorite Japanese craft? Tell us about it.
Kristen Kawasaki: Natural dyeing. I learned a special technique from a dye master in Kyoto who uses 100% natural, chemical free dyes that requires little dye powder and not a huge amount of water. Workshops to come soon! Also, I’ve recently discovered the art of Rakugo storytelling and am absolutely obsessed. I’m currently watching an anime about it.
The Artesao: What should someone bring home that is quintessential Japanese?
Kristen Kawasaki: A yukata. It’s like a kimono but more simple. It’s usually made of cotton so it’s nice for summer.
The Artesao: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
Kristen Kawasaki: Dive bars. Especially ones that play heavy metal. I haven’t been to a good one in Tokyo yet, that’s next trip’s mission. And also live band karaoke.
The Artesao: What IG accounts /websites do you follow/read regularly?
Kristen Kawasaki: I read Business of Fashion and WWD every day. I just discovered @accidentalicon and she is fabulous. I stalk all of my customers’ Instagram pages. I also follow Highsnobiety and Hypebeast, just to be in the loop.