Sulvam Teppei Fujita Interview – Spring Summer 2021

July 11, 2020

Teppei Fujita, designer of sulvam talks about his Spring Summer 2021 collection and production background, sustainability and new format of presentation.

Let’s start with your Spring Summer 2021 collection, is there a concept or message you want to relay? 

I don’t usually set up themes for my collections, I just make clothes with my emotions. But if I were to place a concept for this season, it wouldn’t be about values from movies or music… it would be about the past few months. With the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter, rather than thinking about fashion, people around the world are starting to seek what the priority is. It has become a year motivating us to think about the things in our everyday lives. Since I was creating clothes under these circumstances, what I want to relay is not a concept that can be explained in one word but more about the message which would most importantly be… through clothes and fashion, I want the world to keep moving forward. When this collection reaches everyone, I really hope that everyone will enjoy fashion in a joyful spirit. 

For example, this message is reflected in the classic gabardine setup which is a reversible series lined with pearl prints. Pearls are often considered an accessory so I intentionally applied a graphic version to emphasize that one can be “dressed in accessories”. Also, one of the styles I created uses camouflage which was influenced from these difficult times. During the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, when I saw people being rescued by the Self-Defense Forces in military uniform, I saw the beauty of camouflage. It looked so remarkable and camouflage seemed like the symbol for helping others. But lately, in Hong Kong and in the streets of Paris and all over the world, protests are standing out. The clashes between the people in camouflage and the protesters is making camouflage represent war or fighting again – perhaps the primary purpose. But I still wanted to share the beauty of camouflage that I experienced, so I expressed it through one of the styles. 

About the collection’s materials and the craftsmen you work with, is there anything you pay close attention to when it comes to the production or materials? 

Every season, I pretty much only use fabrics that are made in Japan. Japan has some of the best fabrics and artisanal skill so I am proud to use these. Personally, I think it’s the best quality so naturally I use domestic fabrics. On the production side of things, a noteworthy aspect is the denim which has become a standard from last season. The denim fabric I use is from Kojima which is an area located between Hiroshima and Okayama. The technique is “aizome” or indigo dyeing which uses water, so during the dyeing process, the water gets dirty. But for many decades now, they use a system that filters the water, making it possible to purify the water 100% before pouring it back into the river. This can be costly and perplex but keeping their environment clean to pass it on to succeeding generations is their mentality that exists from a cultural level. And with this denim fabric they develop, I was finally able to create my ideal denim which is why I started including it. 

About sustainability… 

Everyone has their own take on this. Some avoid the use of chemicals to protect global warming, some may be sustainable during the fabric production, some have a zero-waste policy, and some use recycled fibers like materials/cotton made from plastic bottles. So, as an end result, it’s considered sustainable. But is the entire flow and process really not polluting the air or water? It’s hard to say the whole process is 100% sustainable because during parts of the process there’s bound to be some type of pollution. All the materials I use can be returned to soil – it all returns to Earth. It’s not that I prioritize sustainability when choosing materials such as the tencel fabric I use every season – a wood-based fiber that can also return to Earth, but this is my way of sustainability. At the same time, there’s the leather issue. The faux leather, also being called eco leather, is something I have a different opinion about. Faux leather is basically using chemicals, there may be manufacturers that make it properly but that’s rare. Leather is animal skin and the animals are not bred for the purpose of leather; they are bred to be eaten. So, it’s the byproduct of the meat that is used to make leather products. Just like sheep hair becomes wool. Given the fact that Earth and fashion is interconnected, when creating materials… our mission is to “protect Earth without polluting it”. So, I don’t agree with fast fashion and how the unwanted clothes are easily thrown away. If something is good quality, people wouldn’t get rid of it. To be extreme, clothes should be passed on from you to your children or to someone else. Isn’t this the most sustainable solution? Rather than making new fiber from scratch, hold on to what you have, stop throwing away and wasting clothes. The Japanese word “mottainai” is the perfect word to encourage sustainability. 

Western and Japanese designers have a different approach on design. You mentioned earlier, how you grasp your concept and I know that you create your patterns manually every time. Can you tell us about this? 

I simply value creating the pattern manually by myself. Rather than giving my sketch to a patternmaker to make the garment or use a toile to perfect a design… the garment’s pattern itself is like the sketch for me. While making the pattern, I’d add a curve or so, because the image of the finalized garment is in my head. It’s all about the nuances and this way, there’s more freedom to “style this part like that” and “that part with more draping”. For me, the pattern = the sketch. Just like someone who creates design, I think of the pattern as a design, so I just manually create the perfect design that’s already in my head. When comparing it to the concept-driven Western approach, I’d say this is more skill based driven. But regardless of being Western or Japanese, I think there are very few designer who use this approach.. 

Let’s talk about the new digital format. What/how did you feel after showcasing your collection online? 

Up until now, we’d fly to Paris to showcase our collection and have it seen by the audience who are present at that particular time and place. With the show streaming live online, it makes it possible for people all over the world to watch simultaneously which is an advantage since the collection is exposed to more people. But at the same time, given the fact that the fabrics on a garment sways only with the persons movement and a garment is finally complete when a person wears it, it’s a disadvantage for me because I don’t have the chance to exhibit the garments physically. 

Tell us what your future vision is for overseas. 

I want to start a company in Paris. Although, I have a company and studio in Japan, all I think about every year is introducing my collection in Paris. After having taken part in PITTI UOMO and Milan Collection, I can say Paris is the place for me. So, I’d like to establish sulvam in the city of Paris. I’m obviously thinking about boutiques but first I’ll need a studio to be the base. It would also be ideal to create a situation where I can spend half my time in Paris and the other half in Japan. 

Lastly, what are your plans for after this Covid-19 pandemic. 

I’ll continue to make good clothes no matter what the situation is. Through my clothes, I hope people will gain something and feel something. It’s difficult to live in unpleasant agony, so whatever the trigger is, people should keep moving forward. And it would be amazing if fashion could be that trigger. 

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