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Shinya Hasegawa of Battenwear

My love for surfing and outdoor sports is a great motivator. I started out making clothes because there were lots of items I had pictured in my mind and knew I wanted to wear, but I hadn’t been able to find them exactly either in vintage or contemporary collections.

—Shinya Hasegawa, Founder of Battenwear

New York-based outdoor clothing company Battenwear have made waves on the menswear scene with their multi-functional clothing and accessories. Designed with versatility in mind, Battenwear looks as much at home in city as it does in the great outdoors. Founded in 2011 by Tokyo-born designer Shinya Hasegawa, Battenwear takes influence from a combination of Shinya's previous experiences which includes being a surf enthusiast, vintage clothing collector and four years spent working as Daiki Suzuki’s design assistant at Woolrich Woolen Mills.

Inspired by surf and outdoor wear during the late 1960’s through early 1980’s, Shinya's design approach has focused on practicality; balancing comfort with style, functional clothing is at the core of each collection, most of which is easily packable. As impressive is that all Battenwear clothing is made in the USA, with the majority being made within a three block radius of Battenwear's office and showroom , located in New York's garment district. This proximity of manufacturing allows Shinya and his loyal team (which includes his wife Carrie and operations manager Mitch Frank) to oversee production at every stage to ensure no single detail is missed.

In the over-populated world of menswear it takes a lot to stand out, for us Battenwear have achieved this through Shinya's passion to design clothing that lasts. Although the silhouettes can be likened to classic American sportswear, the functional details and fabrications used shows Shinya's awareness of putting his designs 'to the test'. As a year-long East Coast surfer along with other outdoor pursuits, Shinya's understanding of form and function can be seen in the use of fabrics including ripstop nylon, military rough poplin, army duck cotton and cotton-poly fleece.

Not only is Battenwear purposely designed, the collections includes wearable staples such as the Scout Anorak, Correspondent Jac, Gym Jacket and the Reach-Up Sweatshirt. One of Battenwear's charms is you don't have to be a fully pledged weekend warrior to appreciate the clothing; it's this balance between adventure and everyday that makes Battenwear one of the IDMC° teams favourite travel-inspired labels.

If it's not apparent yet we're blatant Battenwear fans so we was delighted at the opportunity to visit Battenwear's head office, meet Shinya and company, and hear more about building a outdoor inspired clothing label in the heart of New York's garment district.

LF: Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

SH: I was born and raised in Tokyo. I lived there until I was thirty years old, when I moved to New York City to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

LF: How did you get into the clothing game? Have you always been into clothing since a young age?

SH: I have a brother who is 6 years older than me, and we shared a room until he went to college. Naturally, I was really interested in everything he was interested in, no matter how much that annoyed him. He bought a couple of great American vintage pieces when I was little, and I immediately took up the passion and then it just kept growing, long after my brother got interested in something else. I collected a little workwear, but mostly outdoor, sports, and casual clothing. Tokyo has a lot of great vintage shops, and I also ordered items from abroad.

For me, and actually a lot of people my age from Japan, 1970’s-early 1990’s American active wear was a real game changer. The fabrics and details were functional rather than fashionable, and that, counterintuitively, lent to a unique sense of style, something that could really be explored and paired well with other kinds of items. So, anyhow, I rapidly started collecting clothing and catalogs, beginning with late middle school, and I’m still collecting now.

LF: You understudied at Woolrich Woolen Mills for Daiki Suzuki, how did you find this experience?

SH: I always say it was like the best possible college experience. I studied under Daiki for four years and basically learned everything I know about making clothing. I had never designed before that. I majored in marketing in college in Japan and at FIT in NYC and had had fashion/garment sales jobs before working with Daiki. So, it was a whole new world to me, and something that I found more interesting than anything I had done before. Daiki was and is a great mentor.

LF: When did you start surfing?

SH: When I was in high school. It wasn’t easy to get out to the beach from Tokyo, but it wasn’t that hard either. Actually, it’s a lot like surfing as a New Yorker. Once I started, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop.

LF: How would you say your passion for surfing and the outdoors relates to your design approach?

SH: My love for surfing and outdoor sports is a great motivator. I started out making clothes because there were lots of items I had pictured in my mind and knew I wanted to wear, but I hadn’t been able to find them exactly either in vintage or contemporary collections. I wanted the feeling and functionality of the traditional outdoor and sports clothing I grew up with, but with better fits, better fabric, and a unique sense of style that made the clothing look really interesting.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that being someone who surfs and hikes and camps, etc, is central to my design approach, AND so is the fact that I’m first and foremost a city dweller who is going to come back to an urban setting at the end of the day or weekend and want to be able to wear the same clothing to bars and restaurants and even to work.

LF: How did Battenwear begin?

SH: When Daiki finished the Woolrich Woolen Mills contract, Mark McNairy took over as head designer, and I was lucky to get another really great mentor in Mark. But, at that point, my head was bursting with ideas for my own brand. Mark and Daiki and a bunch of other great friends in the industry really encouraged me to go off on my own.

LF: Where does the name Battenwear come from?

SH: Batten is my wife, Carrie’s, maiden name. She took my name when we got married, so I took her name when I started the company. The word "batten" also has nice meaning to it: something that is used to fasten or hold elements in place. Like the cross bar in a picket fence, or the slat used to secure a door (as in “batten down the hatches”). I think it's a good word to have associated with well-made clothing.

LF: How do you approach designing a Battenwear collection?

SH: I start off choosing fabrics based on a theme or image that I have in mind. I get a lot of inspiration from watching old surf movies, or flipping through photography books, or a great day hiking somewhere beautiful. Usually it’s a color scheme or mood that serves as the basis for a new collection. Then the clothes grow from there. When the collection is done, I spend some time outlining the details and mood for each piece, which we type up for our item descriptions.

LF: All the Battenwear collection is made in New York City, was this always the plan?

SH: Yes, I knew from the start that I wanted to make clothing in New York City’s garment district. It’s a neighborhood with such amazing history and important resources. And maybe even more importantly, when you have so much of your collection being made only two blocks away from your office, it means that you can visit the clothes several times a day and really be a part of making sure that they’re the best quality they can be. This is particularly important since Battenwear is so detail-oriented. And it helps that there are lots of great fabric and trim suppliers in the neighborhood too. It creates a situation where making clothing really feels like physically making clothing rather than orchestrating a huge international business venture like most big fashion companies. I like the old-fashioned feel to it.

My big wish is that the garment district could grow and keep being an active part of New York and the world’s fashion industry. But there’s a good chance that, without a lot of interference by the city or one of the great local neighborhood organizations, it will continue shrinking. Lots of factories are being replaced by hotels and condos and it’s getting harder and more expensive to do things locally.

Currently, we make about 90% of Battenwear in NYC (with the other 10% being certain accessories and other items made in other U.S. states), but in coming seasons, I’m planning to move a tiny bit more of production outside the city. I never want to move production out of NYC completely, but this seems like the best way, given current circumstances, to keep, and even further increase, the high quality of Battenwear and keep from increasing the prices. For Spring/Summer 2016, for example, most of the items will continue to be made in NYC but we’ll add one Canadian factory where I’ve spent a lot of time building the same kind of relationship I have with my factories in NYC.

LF: What's your favourite piece of Battenwear clothing so far?

SH: That’s a tough question. I only make clothes that I want to wear myself, so I really like everything we do. And every season has different highlights. Now that it’s finally starting to feel at least a little bit like fall in NYC, I’m getting really excited about a couple of the outerwear pieces we made for Fall/Winter 2015. Last season I wore the Scout Anorak pretty much every day in fall, and I think we made some great improvements for FW15. And then in winter, I wore the Northfield Parka all the time, and I really love the new fabrics we have for FW15. Brand new for this season is the Cargo Coat, which I can’t wait to try out. It’s sort of like a workwear version of a classic mountain parka.

LF: There's only a small team behind Battenwear? Is this an advantage?

SH: The brand is entirely self-funded, so the smallness of the team started off as a necessity more than anything else. At first it was just me, with some great part time help. And then Carrie started helping more and more. And then we needed someone to handle production, to help with samples, to do sales, etc. Right now there are 5 of us with some additional help when things get crazy. Part of me wants to keep adding people to the team so that we can pursue lots of different projects, but most of the time, I’m really glad we’ve kept it so small so far. It’s a great group of people, and I’m really proud of how much we accomplish.

LF: You must travel a lot, where's been your favourite location to date?

SH: I love going to the mountains and American National Parks, but if I’m going to really relax and check out mentally, I like to have a beach nearby. Two of my favorite trips of all time: Baja California in Mexico and Okinawa in Japan. Both places have such amazing beaches and great food. We also spend a lot of time in Los Angeles where my wife’s family lives, and there’s nothing better for me than surfing in Malibu.

LF: How often do you get to surf? A good head escape?

SH: In NYC, I try to surf at least once or twice a week, but between work and family life, that can often translate into more like twice a month, especially in fall and winter. When I’m really busy with designing, though, I try to carve out more time for surfing, because it helps me get ideas in place. My team at Battenwear always rolls their eyes when I come in at noon, un-showered and sandy and smiling, when everyone is frantically trying to put the collection together.

LF: What's the future plan for Battenwear and yourself?

SH: I have a lot of plans. Carrie calls me a dreamer because I’m always proposing some new direction for the company. One thing that’s happening soon is that we’re opening a retail space in the Garment District, adjacent to our office. We’re starting off small, doing by-appointment only, but it’ll be great to have a place where people can come to try on the clothing and learn more about what we’re doing and what is important to us and about us as a brand.

We’re also launching a unisex capsule collection for Spring/Summer 2016. Although I originally thought of Battenwear as a men’s brand, I noticed from the very start that women were also buying and wearing Battenwear clothes, bags, and hats. The feedback we were receiving is that that there were not enough women’s brands making serious, high-quality outdoor clothing and sportswear that also looked great and transitioned well to a day or evening out in the city. I thought that was unfair, so I decided to start making some unisex items, and we’ll see what the reaction is like.