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.
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”.
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.
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.