The collaboration between hand-dyeing Yuzen specialist “Tomihiro Senko” of Kyoto and made-in-Japan bag brand “BARCOS J LINE” makes the best of craftsmanship unique to Japan. We interviewed Tomoko Fujii of Tomihiro Senko and Ryuji Otani, designer for BARCOS J LINE.

- What brought on the collaboration?

Fujii: Last year, I heard from president Ohnishi of Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings that the company was starting a new project involving quality products made in Japan. He introduced us to many designers and makers including BARCOS, and that is how things started.

Otani: I first heard about this from Takashi Yamamoto, the president of the BARCOS group. He wanted me to be a part of a new project to design BARCOS J LINE bags using the techniques of hand-dyed Yuzen.

- Which parts of the design process were difficult?

Otani: Adjusting the sizes of my base sketches to perfectly fit with the bags’ forms. I started designing after having visited Tomihiro Senko’s factory and learning how Yuzen is made.

Fujii: Mr. Otani’s illustrations introduce many nuances of colors so I made a special effort to accurately reproduce this. It took me two or three more times the amount of work than usual to produce the exquisite details and color gradations. The expertise of skilled artisans is required to bring out the subtle gradations. I was nervous until completion, but the nature of our company is to create custom-made products so it was also an opportunity to bring out our strengths.

- What is included in the lineup from the “tomihiro” brand?

Fujii: We want the skills of the artisans to be continued into the next generation. So we thought it wise to expand our lineup from just kimonos to a variety of other things. We want to preserve the tradition of hand-dyed Yuzen, and so we have been working on this since 2013.

It’s not always evident that Yuzen is being used in our new products, but many people find the colors and designs beautiful.

- How does BARCOS J LINE work with artisans?

Otani: I create the base design for the bags and then work with the artisans on the creation process and details. As a result, we’ve been able to create new types of bags based on my design sketches. The artisans will try out different methods and develop new techniques to perfect a bag.

- What are your thoughts on the diminishing of traditional businesses?

Fujii: We are very aware of this and have the urge to do something about it. This is why we are introducing Yuzen into items such as corsages and bags, which are used on a daily basis. We want the media and many people to see the charms of Yuzen.

- How do you plan on preserving techniques and cultures of today into the future?

Fujii: We are a company specializing in hand-dyed Yuzen, and sell kimonos is not the primary goal. We want to keep the artisans employed and happy by keeping our techniques alive. There are many processes involved when creating Yuzen; including gluing and dyeing. Using these processes, we’d like to make something new other than kimono. That said kimono remains an integral part of our business so we want to continue designing them.

Otani: If my design sketches continue to challenge the artisans to create new techniques, then I feel that I am contributing to preserving their skills in one way or another. I think that by introducing new elements into traditions to adapt to the current, we will be able to maintain them way into the long future.