The essence of “Made in Japan”
Exclusive interview with LOOPWEELER Founder, Satoshi Suzuki (1)
Fashion is about the rapid changing trends through different times. Fashion brands needs to be sensitive to the daily changing industry in order to deliver the latest styles. Founder of LOOPWEELER, Satoshi Suzuki is one of the trendsetters who designs a series of cotton items knitted by the“Loop wheel machines”. It is our honour to present this special interview with Satoshi Suzuki by Hiroki Matsumato, director of Japaense lifestyle online shop RUMORS.
Text by FUJITA Mayu（OPENERS）Photo by TAKADA MidzuhoTranslated by Winsome Li(OPENERS)
The loop wheel machine
――How did you start LOOWHEELER?
Before starting LOOPWHEELER, I had been working in fashion planning and production for 15 years since I graduated from college. I dealt with material, patterning, almost every detail relating to fashion production. Except tailoring, I guess I had involved in the production of every item from socks to functional sportswear. Together with all the experiences gained, I encountered this unique fabric knitted by the loop wheel machine as well as the loop wheel expert who shares the same value with me. Since then, I have started my own products.
――What is the difference between a loop wheel machine and a normal knitting machine?
By the mid-1960s, the loop wheel machine was the major type of knitting machine but the low efficiency was the driving force of its decline. Although it may vary from different material, the loop wheel machine can only knit one meter of fabric in an hour. During the 1960～70s, manufacturers preferred the newly developed knitting machine which can knit 10 to 20 meters in an hour.
However, the knitting processes of the two types of machine are completely different. For loop wheel machine, very less tension is applied to the thread during knitting and the average spin speed is 24 rotations per minute. It is a speed that can be traced by bare eyes. The knitted fabric is being pulled down by its own weight and gradually piled up in a tub-like round tray. For the modern knitting machine, even the lowest speed is 10 times faster than the loop wheel macine and the high speed one will be 30 times faster. Of course, it is impossible to trace the rotation with bare eyes.
Besides, the increase of knitting speed means that tension within the thread will be added to prevent threads from twisting together. The knitted fabric will have to wind in the same speed.
With the latest technology, do you think there is any other machine better than the loop wheel?
The use of different needle is the point here. Needle for the loop wheel machine is like a fish hook that barely holds the thread. Thread may jump off the needle easily. However, the modern machines have a movable needle which can strongly grip the thread in the high speed spinning. At the same time, the centrifugal force is adding tension to the thread.
――So it will damage the thread?
It may be easier to demostrate by performing a small test with a household thread. Simply give a ‟1m length and 1mm diameter” thread a strong pull , the thread should be lengthened to 1m1cm and thinned to a 0.9mm diameter. If the knitting is done in this way, the thinned thread will add density to the fabric and make it hard in texture. That is why high-speed machine is more appropriated to produce fabric with firm texture.
The loop wheel machine is still the best to knit natural fabric that maintains the original softness of cotton. Basically, air is trapped within cotton and this natural structure results in a soft and warm texture. You will find the difference of fabrics between high-speed machine and loop wheel after washing several times.
The essence of “Made in Japan”
Exclusive interview with LOOPWEELER Founder, Satoshi Suzuki (2)
Wearing loop wheel knitted sweatshirts every day is just normal to me.
――What is it so special about “Made in Japan”?
From the bubble period to 1995, the manufacturing industry rapidly shifted to “Made in China”. As far as I know, there were about 10 loop wheel factories in Wakayama. Some went bankrupted, some closed down and there were only 2 factories left in the late 1990s. They are the only 2 loop wheel factories left in Japan now.
I worked very close with the factories in the past and felt very bad for the decline of“Made in Japan”. In order to adapt to the new market changes, we have been seriously thinking about moving the manufacture to China or staying in Japan. I kept asking myself what can I do and where my passion is.
This brings me back to the starting point, “I love the fabric knitted by loop wheel machines.”
Working all the years in the fashion industry, I have the chance to wear clothes from many brands. Eventually, the hoodies and sweatshirts knitted by the loop wheel machine are what I am wearing everyday. I like them the best, they just fit me perfectly.
Even the business is growing, the industry may go down without support from the next generation.
By creating a brand selling all the loop wheel fabric made products with constant production, I am sure the culture of loop wheel machine should be able to pass to the next generation. It may sound a little arrogant but“Made in Japan” is what we are defending.
If we are recognized internationally, we can be a “case study” for the young ones. It may raise their interest to produce their own loop wheel fabric. I can’t support the industry just by myself.
I hope it would grow gradually with more brands joining us. It is not only a benefit to the retail business, but also increases business opportunity for the factories.
Wear it, wash it and live with it.
――How was the reaction of your customers during the start of the brand?
The loop wheel fabric is not like the iconic “red stitches” denim and it is difficult to express the comfortable texture visually. I am confident to be a manufacturer but when it comes to sales, I m a complete amateur. It is about how we put the strength of loop wheel fabric into words. At the beginning, we explained to our customrs that it is the fabric knitted from the loop wheel machine. Just simply tell them all the facts, let them feel the fabric and gain their trust. We are still doing the same now. Wear it, wash it and live with it. Customers will come back when they realize what Loopwheeler is actually about.
Rather than a manufacturer, my ultimate task is to tell people what loop wheel knitted fabric is about.
The essence of “Made in Japan”
Exclusive interview with LOOPWEELER Founder, Satoshi Suzuki (3)
We aim to be the best sweatshirt brand in the world.
――What makes you start business in overseas market?
Actually, we had our presentation overseas at the very beginning. Right from we started, we aim to be the best of the world, to win the gold medal. We may not be able to get it but we strive our best to be number one. To be the best sweatshirt brand in the world is our goal.
I have been in the production for a long time and I am confident to say that I am a professional in making sweatshirts. After all, it is about how to communicate our creation. It would be great to show our products overseas to people who have pure judgement. I had a friend in London and that’s why we started there.
――How was the response?
At that time, Japanese denim brands like Denime, Fullcount and Evisu Jeans were popular in the UK as people admired authentic craftsmanship. But our sweatshirts were still too expensive for them and we hardly receive any orders. That was 1999. The next year in 2000 was the Japan Year in UK and we joined a Japanese products promotion event in a major department store called Selfridges.
Our connection with Colette started off by just a few lines through email
During the Japan Year, we approached Selfridges and ended up with a business deal. It was a good start.
Then Sarah Lerfel,buyer of Colette saw our products in Selfridges and she introduced us to local magazines. Our connection with Sarah started there. Colette was still 3 years old by that time.
――What were the items available in Selfridegs?
They loved the shirt with the print “Selfridges” in Katakana on the chest. Japanese may find it a little weird but Katakana was like a design element to the British.
RUMORS Speical Collaboration Item: Hoodie for all grown ups
――Tell us about the special RUMORS edition.
Suzuki The shape will be based on the LOOPWHEELER hoodie and the RUMORS side will be responsible for the design. This time we are using a new material.
Matsumoto The new material will be thicker then the LW Extra Light, a hot sold out fabric for this year S/S but thinner than the LW Light fabric, with more firmness. Our concept is to produce “A spring hoodie for grown ups” and we need something firm in texture.
Suzuki The base color will be LOOPWHEELER’s Grey Melange. When we have collaboration with other brands, we always have a brand tag in special color on the cuffs.
Matsumoto We want the brand tag to be in black with grey words for a chic style. The design in general will be a style suitable for the young people as well as grown ups.
*The original interview article in Japanese was published on the 26th December, 2011.
*The Rumors special edition hoodie will NOT be available in LOOPWHEELER International Online Store.