Craftmanshp 1

Shoichi Inose / Leather craftman

Calling the shots while embracing the law of nature.

"Most of the leather goes to China now". Today, when only 10% of leather is available, compared to the number in 1960's - 70's in Japan, Shoichi Inose's primary concern is to supply fine leather with stable quantity. His factory has been manufacturing Yoshida's leather products for over 50 years, since his father's period. "It is a destiny for those who handle natural material", he says. If by any chance he fails to supply the leather, he would have to reschedule the arrangements of all 6 to 7 related companies which handle sewing, additional materials, parts and zippers, etc.

The thickness of leather is measured with a gauge and thinned out by a machine and a knife.

One week delay of material delivery to their factory means one month delay of finished product delivery to the customers. In the meantime, Mr. Inose would have to prepare substitute work for the craftsmen. He has been calling the shots with concern for the craftsmen, in the world of leather where law of nature and global distribution of leather impact the outcome.

In his factory, he starts his work by cutting leather into parts using metal molds. It requires a lot of experience and good judgment to cut out parts with minimal waste from leather which has spots of natural scars. His experience over 40 years makes a big difference particularly in the thinning process. "We adjust the thickness of leather by thinning it out. We often make it thicker for Yoshida's products". It is so thick that the sewing craftsmen would raise their eyebrows because they must cut in it before sewing. But Mr. Inose wouldn't compromise. "This thickness creates durable bags".

Generally, about 30 parts are used in one bag, but 10% more than that is used for Yoshida's bags. In 2002, the leather backpack was released, made with more than 80 parts, which became popular. Mr. Inose's factory lives up to the designers' passion 120%. This is the place where new leather bags are created.


Craftmanship 2

Matsurou Ideka / Bag crafman

Spending 40 years looking forward to the next designs

In 1948, when Tokyo was still scared from the Pacific War, Matsurou Ikeda started working in the bag manufacturing world at the age of 15. 20 years later, in the late 1960's, he encountered Yoshida's bags. "Gosh, the world of bags has changed", he still remembers that moment of surprise. "At that time, the bag sellers purchased bags that were designed and made by the craftsmen. But Yoshida had a Planning team, who showed me the design and said "Please make this"".

Numerous patterns for the models they made so far are hung on the factory's wall.

He makes a pattern based on the design and creates a sample spending several days. Sometimes he struggles with the difficult orders from the designers, but the sense of accomplishment is satisfying all the more. More than 40 years passed since his encounter with Yoshida, but he is still always excited to see new designs. The sound of the sewing machines always echoes till late at night in his factory.

He has emotional attachment to the TANKER series, which he has been handling since its release in 1983. "I feel honored to be able to sew the long seller bags". He says the reason why this model is popular for a long time is because it is light and usable. On the other hand, because polyester cotton bonded with nylon is so soft, "It is hard to sew it while keeping the right shape", he says. But if by any chance he fails, the series' history of more than 25 years might end. So he always stays focused after all these years.

"Bag manufacturing is not a flashy job and requires patience, so I had no choice but to concentrate on it", he says remembering his past 60 years. He can't keep himself from saying "Thank you very much!" when he sees someone carrying the bags that he has sewn. "My wife chews me out saying "They would be disappointed to know an old grandpa like you makes their bags"", he grins.


Craftmanship 3

Toshio Saijo / Leather / Gold / Silver stamper

Same machine, same hands, for 50 years

3-tatami-mat (4.95m²) room is where Toshio Saijo works. Around his zabuton, two machines, small tool box, and brass-made art works occupy the space. He has been sitting here for 50 years, silently facing the world of stamping.
Stamping is the printing technology to copy art work with logo etc. with a film. It is called “hot stamp”, for it literally is stamped with heat and pressure. “Adjusting the heat and pressure is the tricky part”, he says. A flame of gas flickers from the machine he’s used for 50 years since the establishment of his factory.

Most of the artworks called “Hanko” are made of brass. Yoshida Kaban’s logo in the early days is also kept safely.

“I use an electric machine when I need power, but this is what I use most of the time. It lets you stamp everything with a sense of hand, with great versatility”.
Stamping can be applied to leather, paper and plastic and so on, with an exception of iron and glass. It is important to apply the film evenly. Mr. Saijo hits the diaphragm of the machine with a wood hammer to adjust the heat coming from the two gas tubes, and tests stamps over and over again. Everything has to be stamped beautifully, from a 1mm line to one-colored illustration. However, his half-century old machine is worn out, and the stamping board is not flat any more. So he uses paper to adjust the height for each art work. “But what matters most is to find the best film suited for each material”. For example, for some leather, it is better to use a film for vinyl depending on the finish of the leather. He sometimes applies “double stamping”, which uses the first film as a glue. Mr. Saijo started working in this business at the age of 15, then established his own factory at the age of 25. His master gave him one machine, one bicycle, and one customer. The circle of customer grew bigger, and it led him to Yoshida Kaban 30 years ago. Mr. Saijo still keeps the hand sewn horseshoe-shaped coin case Kichizo Yoshida gave him. “It might be better to use it to make it age, but I think it's too good to do that.”, he smiles.


Craftman 4

Kenzo Sawai / Leather wholesaler

In between designers and tanners

“Japan produces leather worth 100,000 cows per month. But the United States produces leather more than 20 times of that, for they have 100 million cows. 60% of import leather comes from the States”. Kenzo Sawai recites the data on leather one after the other. He is the 3rd generation leader of the leather wholesaler since 1921. His grandfather and father knew Kichizo Yoshida in his training years.

The leather for PORTER GROUND is black at first. It is washed by water and scratched by a file to create the texture.

“They said that Kichizo was well-organized and clean, he was “born to make bags”. I have been communicating with the designers. Since I live near the head office (of Yoshida Kaban), I have a meeting everyday. But when we get too heated up, the meeting ends after midnight”.

Firmness, color, shine, grain, pore, and strength. Mr. Sawai says the designers’ needs to have “the leather like this” varies in detail. When he can’t find the right one among his 5,000 pieces of leather in stock, he makes it from scratch. PORTER GROUND uses one of the originally made leather, whose feature is its firmness. The cow leather is tanned with vegetable tannin, and tanned again with mix of vegetable and synthetic tannin. “The leather becomes firm when sufficient amount of tannin is absorbed between fibers”. The leather is then dyed, hand painted to create color shading, and sand-papered to create an antique look. “It is elaborately-crafted. No one would find this quality of hand-processed leather anywhere except in Italy”.

HThe leather is produced by the leather craftsmen in Himeji, Hyogo. “I only deal with people who understand my thoughts”, Mr. Sawai says, and he travels to Himeji once or twice a month. He plays a role to “interpret” the designers’ needs to the tanners, to produce the ideal leather. “My job is to materialize the designer’s idea. I overlook the production line through my experienced eyes”.


Craftmanship 5

Teruo Sekiguchi / Bag craftman

Designer's belief in quality benefits me.

PORTER REAL series is made to pursue functionality on business occasions. 2WAY OVER NIGHTER has the most complicated form in 9 types of the series. Its unique form has a look of 2 briefcases sewn together. This type is created by Mr. Teruo Sekiguchi, the bag craftsman with 42-year experience in the field.

Whenever the designers show their new drawings to Mr. Sekiguchi, he always answers “I will never know (the outcome) until I try” as if it were his line.

Mr. Sekiguchi’s motto is to “do ordinary things in ordinary ways”. He tries his best not to produce defects in order to save PORTER brand.

Despite of his actual achievement that realized every request in the past, he will never say “I can do it” on his first glance at the drawings. However, when he saw the design of 2WAY OVER NIGHTER, he wondered “I doubt if I can do it”.
“That was the most complicated bag in the past, I just didn’t have a clue where to start sewing. Number of parts was more compared to other bags, and it had 10 fasteners. During the manufacturing process, there were many times that I mistook the outside for the inside”, Mr. Sekiguchi says with a smile. After many trials, he completed the sample, but he remade it whenever there were adjustments on gloss texture of the materials, or changes to leather used for handles. “Yoshida’s designers stay with the full value of quality. Even when I think it is enough, they ask me “we want to make it better, would you please make it one more time?”. He considers their belief in quality will benefit him, and he always answered their requests of “one more time”. “That’s why I became better”, he says.

“I don’t care about the space, I am just a dumbbell craftsman”. Mr. Sekiguchi has realized and sent many items for Yoshida to the world, from his four-and-a-half-tatami-mat room in his house. In that room, his youngest son Daichi now sits and works beside him, who told his father “I will do it” when he was 18, at the same age as his father entered the world of bags. Mr. Sekiguchi hopes that his son will be able to be proud of the bags he created, just as his father does.


Craftmanship 6

Yohji Tan / Woven label wholesaler

"Brand face" that decorates completion of bags

In a weaving factory in Fukui that faces the Sea of Japan, there is a loom that keeps on working so that the threads are always set. This is the machine that produces PORTER regular woven labels. “Every time threads are changed and set, there are inconsistencies in the products such as uneven woven surface and narrower width”, Mr. Yohji Tan says, who relates the factory to Yoshida Kaban. Woven labels are the designed tags with brand names, etc. Most of the woven labels of Yoshida Kaban are created under the supervision of Mr. Tan.

Mr. Tan keeps most of the woven labels of Yoshida Kaban for 30 years. “These are my notes”. Mr. Tan can’t help looking at the woven labels of the other passengers’ bags when he is on a train.

30 years ago when Mr. Tan was working with the people in fashion industry, he thought “this is going to be tough” when he first dealt with Yoshida Kaban. For clothes, the labels were usually sewed on inside material, but for Yoshida Kaban bags, they were sewed on outside material. “Woven label is the “brand face” that determines the appearance of the bag. Even a slight difference can affect the whole image”, he gets keyed up. With this reason, he selected one factory to do the work so that the same craftsman can weave the labels using the same machine.

“Since Yoshida’s designers stick with the quality, we often use the threads in the colors that are not in the samples”. Mr. Tan serves as a mediator between the factory and the designers, and he sometimes sends the bag material samples to the factory in order to convey the exact color to those working at the weaving site. Then he makes the samples of the labels and brings them to Yoshida’s head office almost every day. “Because you will never get the image until you actually put the labels to the bags. There are many times when the labels were “too loud” or “too soft” against the bags, and the outcomes were totally different from what we expected. But once the bags have the woven labels, their faces get sharpened”, he says with a smile.