Making the Heracles, a.k.a. to Sendai we go

chambray heracles heritage japan john lofgren made in japan sendai style the rite stuff travel workshirt workwear

After designing an initial shirt, I decided against becoming a one-man brand and believed it best to instead have my products made, but only to the highest standards in the industry. Go big and go West or go home, right? The next question was whether to have the Heracles shirt made in the USA or Japan. The former proved fairly simple at first, with factories responding readily and willing to work. But still, I hesitated over concerns that the construction quality wouldn't be up to par, and the shipping from there to me in Taiwan would be too high. A popular American retailer had posted online recently saying they ordered jeans and shirts from a big Japanese brand that has a run of items made in the US; the jeans were fine, but apparently the quality of the shirts was less than stellar. The last thing I wanted to be saddled with was a ton of shirts that weren't up to par.

Japan was trickier. In fact, not a single factory replied to a request. I didn't yet know that the system in Japan is quite complex, and I had given up on the idea of dealing with it and mulled the US again. I remembered, though, that John Lofgren collaborated with some people on products, such as Bandanna Almanac, ELMC, and Papa Nui. It was worth a shot, I thought, and sent John a message. I waited patiently and he did reply, saying it could be done. Before long I was off to Sendai, Japan, in early February 2017 to meet him and his staff to start planning the first phase of The Rite Stuff.

First things first, I had to go to the airport and hop on a flight, which lo and behold, was none other than the Hello Kitty plane.

A short flight to Japan (luxury!) and I was in Sendai, walking the streets with my relatively large suitcase, looking for the swanky hotel I was to stay in. I got there and waited, letting John know I was at reception. After a short wait he came down, wearing samples of some new lace-up, cap-toe brown Chromexcel boots, walking over the plexiglass bridge that separated the reception area from the elevators, which sounded like it wasn't made for having serious boots step on it. Time to be honest too: seeing John walk up in that moment, I thought, "What have I gotten myself into now?" I was nervous and felt like I had gone from nowhere and jumped up to the most dizzying heights of this business. Would I let everyone down? Anyway, "don't think too much" as they say around these parts. 

A birds-eye view of Sendai on a crisp February day. I wasn't used to actual winter weather anymore.

After dropping off my suitcase, John and I headed for his office down the road, above Speedway and the Nigel Cabourn store. I met his gracious staff, we all talked and got to know each other a bit, and then we sat down to talk about my idea. It's a relatively complex pattern, John said, but that didn't faze me as I wanted to make a bit of a statement with my first product. We looked over fabric, finally settling on a relatively dark, 5 oz. chambray, and then off-white stitching and tonal stitching for the vent holes and bartacks that would match the color of the buttons I had sourced before arriving (but had absentmindedly forgotten to bring). There were plenty of measurements to do to make sure the proportions were just right, and we compared the design against vintage shirts in the office to come up with the final working design. I decided against a chinstrap for the time being, inspired in part by a Powr-House shirt I liked, and a vintage photo that had been making the rounds of a guy wearing an unknown chambray. I also eliminated the pen holder in the front chest pocket, because I, and nobody I've seen, really uses it. Before long it was dark, though, and we were all off to dinner for some Indian curry.

Powr-House inspiration from the 1950s.

Undated photo of a man wearing an unknown scalloped yoke chambray shirt, which served as inspiration. Note the pocket placement, size, and open top, which I sought to emulate.

The next day we picked up where we left off in the office, talking about labels and showing them my logo design. I decided on a printed tag as it has a somewhat old-world feeling, being the de facto tag style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The swing tag was to be simple, and slide under a button. Of course, none of this precludes me from trying other styles in the future! We breaked for ramen lunch and some coffee, and then went back, but by this time the heavy lifting was mostly done and it was time for me to be on my way. 

The next day I spent time by taking the train up to Matsushima, checking out the very-old Zuigan-ji temple, and then riding a boat around the bay and viewing its roughly 260 pine-clad islets. Before long, though, I was off back to my happy home in Taipei, and the waiting game began for the first sample of the Heracles, which we'll explore next time!

Matsushima Bay

Around Sendai and Matsushima, including the massive Kannon statue (upper left), and Zuigan-ji temple, founded in 828 AD.

Daruma figures and a monk who didn't seem to want his photo taken. I gave him spare change first.


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