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Takashi Tateno: Interview With a Workwear Legend

Takashi Tateno has always been into workwear in a big way, years before the trend took hold in Europe and the U.S. in recent years. His love of all things archival and durable started in 1999 while still at university, and he gradually devoted more and more of his time and energy to the craft.

If you are a purist denimhead you are probably well aware of the Workers website he set up. We’ve been delving into this awesome resource since early 2008 but the website was set up in 2004 as a one-stop archive to American Workwear – it looks like we were a little late to the party!  Tateno extensively researched the subject and uploaded a fantastic collection of historical materials and archival photos and the site has gained a cult following all over the world.

After designing a bag and publishing it on his site, he was encouraged by his readers to make them available to the public. Since then, he has designed and created a number of garments and accessories, painstakingly replicating the stitching and detailing of the originals. Most recently he opened K+TH in Kurashiki, a beautiful but tiny store that sells all his wears and accessories.

We were thrilled to come across this great interview and set of photos by The Scout, showing Tateno in his store discussing his passion and life story. It really is a great read. Thanks to The Scout for the info and images, and please hop over to their website to read the whole thing! For now here’s an except from the man himself:

“I grew up in Saitama Prefecture and graduated from the University with a degree from the department of economics, and eventually went on to Bunka Fashion School to study basic skills in garment construction. After graduation I moved to Okayama Prefecture where I found a job at a sewing factory. My duties included cleaning the cutting floor, cutting fabrics, sewing parts, driving, calculating cost, quality control, factory management, and sales. But it was a great learning experience. The factory was small, so I was doing it all from accepting the orders to making the clothes.

During the evenings, I would work on my own designs, drawing the patterns, cutting the fabrics, and sewing them. I made jeans, sack coats, and work shirts. I was in search of a particular shape and silhouette and gradually was able to make the patterns that I wanted. But it was a challenge because work clothes were sewn by special sewing machines that used various attachments.

I paid particular attention to the details in the clothes. For instance, the front placket of almost all old work shirts are chain stitched. Some were two, while others were four stitches. The width of the plackets are similar. I asked a lot of people as I researched. Everyone from factory workers, sewing machine specialist, to my boss. One by one, I gradually understood which sewing machines and attachments were needed. As I further researched I began to fall in love with old work clothes. Not only the clothes themselves, but the manufactures, the history, and the ads.

However, during the middle of the last decade, people were not as interested about work clothes, like chambray shirts or railroad jackets. So in 2005, I started a website called “WORKERS,” to show the beauty in vintage clothes, its history, and the ads as a way to share my research. Initially, I didn’t imagine I would be selling clothes from my website. But at the end of 2006, I made a newspaper bag and showed it on WORKERS. I recieved e-mails from people telling me to sell it. I was shocked. I didn’t think people would be interested in it. By 2007, I started taking orders for the bag and was shocked again by the number of people who wanted to buy it. It was more than I had anticipated.

So that’s when I decided to start making clothes. I thought about it carefully, and chose to make a work shirt referencing shirts and jackets from Reliance MFG, Railroad Jackets, and ads from HEADLIGHT.

I didn’t know how to make the Wabash fabric. So [in] September, I traveled to the U.S. for the first time. Went to West Virginia and the archive of J.L. Stifel and Sons. I found some reports from the 1940s and I was able to understand the basic method of making that kind of fabric. I brought that information back to Japan and asked a fabric manufacturer replicate it.”

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