STORIES OF CRAFTSPEOPLE
From its highly experienced senior craftsmen in their 80s to its passionate and idealistic young twenty-somethings, Tsuchiya Kaban's leather artisans all have strong feelings for their craft. How do they view "making"?
Ms. Sasaki began aspiring to "become proficient in a skill" when she was in elementary school. She entered the Tsuchiya Kaban atelier as a Randoseru craftsperson, and after having two children, became the craftsperson in charge of producing samples. She began by focusing on products for adults, starting with "OTONA RANDSEL," a backpack made using Randoseru crafting techniques. The words "diligent" and "committed" describe Ms. Sasaki perfectly. Even the senior craftspeople boast of her outstanding technical skills, making evident her approach to work which prioritizes prudence.
The role of craftspeople "exists as an intermediary between designers and users."
The event that sparked my interest in becoming a craftsperson was the renovation of the entrance hall of my home when I was a child. The carpenters and concrete layers were all extremely proficient at their jobs, which I admired.
I wasn’t sure at that time what specialty I wanted to pursue as a craftsperson, but I already knew I wanted to "play the role of an intermediary between designers and users".
When I was about to graduate from college, I considered doing social work. The thought of becoming a leather bag craftsperson never crossed my mind. Although I already had experience making bags at that time, the only material I had worked with was cloth, which doesn’t have a difficult manufacturing process. I had no clue how to work with leather, a completely different material. But upon thinking about it further, with this being the case, wouldn’t I be able to gain this knowledge if I became a craftsperson? Therefore, I picked up the phone, called Tsuchiya Kaban (I had subscribed to their Newsletter), and asked, "Are you looking for craftspeople?"
Unfortunately, there were only marketing positions available at that time. So I started my career in Tsuchiya Kaban doing marketing work in the first three years. After that, I entered the studio to become a Randoseru craftsperson.
I became the craftsperson responsible for making samples after returning from maternity leave. After I had become proficient at making the Randoseru, I then gradually shifted to making leather bags for adults.
"Sample makers" play an important role before leather designs are made into leather products. They are responsible for making prototypes to assess whether there are any issues with the durability, or whether the manufacturing process can run smoothly, etc. This job was precisely what I had dreamed about as a child: "to be an intermediary between designers and users." Thus I sought out the senior craftsperson in charge of making samples and began assisting the person in the sample making work.
The person had nearly 50 years of experience as a leather bag craftsperson. The person told me, "You should be able to visualize what the paper pattern will look like just by looking at the design sketch." The working style was "If you don’t first make the actual thing, you won’t be able to understand anything." Therefore, my way of working at that time was to observe and imitate rather than asking the craftsperson to instruct me step by step.
Although nowadays I occasionally use this method to make prototypes, in the very beginning I was only clipping leather-like materials together. While making the sketches of actual products, my head would be filled with worries of "It’s not like that, but it’s also not like this". Because it’s actually quite difficult to understand curves or how a product will look three dimensionally after it is sewn together.
The ability to conduct production smoothly is closely related to an outstanding production method.
I’m now seven years into my career as a craftsperson, but my view on playing "the role of an intermediary between designers and users" has not changed one bit. I aspire to be a sample making craftsperson that can respond "No problem at all!" unhesitatingly when a designer says, "I want to make a bag like this."
In addition to having discussions with designers, I always carefully examine design sketches. For example, I may observe that the texture of the leather has been sketched to look cushiony and soft, or that the lines have been drawn to overlap over one another. The imagery that is portrayed by a designer is also closely connected with the leather bag’s tactile sensation or expression. Things may have the same form, but those faintly sketched lines indicate whether the bag has a soft or hard texture.
Another of my responsibilities is to determine whether the craftsperson can make the bag effortlessly and easily. A bag can be the most beautiful bag in the world, but we won’t make it if the craftspeople have to exert unnecessary effort. I learned this important piece of knowledge personally during the two to three years I spent with the "OTONA RANDSEL" line.
In the beginning, I wanted to turn designs into reality without changing a single thing. Therefore, even if the design was difficult to make, I always told myself, "You have to find a way! Okay, this angle will be hard to sew using a sewing machine, but why not challenge yourself?"
However, no matter how minute the unreasonable things that occur during the manufacturing process are, once they pile up they can become huge burdens for craftspeople. These burdens may then end up creating unnecessary inconveniences for customers somewhere, sometime down the line. The senior craftspeople once advised me, "You absolutely must take these issues into account when creating samples." As a result, my viewpoint gradually changed.
A leather bag isn’t a product that is made by one person alone. Instead, specialized craftspersons are responsible for the production of each part in accordance with the workflow. This is exactly how to go about achieving the two goals of consistent quality and a sizable manufacturing volume.
The phrase "united as one" is written in the Randoseru work studio. These words were written by a former senior craftsperson, and they really resonate with me. Although the craftspeople that work together may be of different ages and have different personalities, wonderful results are possible as long as everyone is "united as one."
As a child, I dreamed of "playing the role of an intermediary between designers and users." Comparatively, I now strive to "play the role of an intermediary between designers and craftspeople." Coming after this stage are the customers that use the products. Although sample makers don’t come into direct contact with customers, the more you invest yourself in your work, the more wonders and delights you will experience.
I believe that the number of leather bags that can be made during one lifetime is finite, and therefore each bag should be made carefully and diligently.
Of course, spending more time on making a bag doesn’t necessarily mean that the resulting product will be better. As a loose example, I believe that a bag made with emotional investment emanates a different sensation than a bag made without such investment. I think the emotions that you invest in a product will definitely be transmitted.
The concept of "manufacturing diligently and conscientiously" is deeply rooted in Tsuchiya Kaban. I always think that it would be great if this sentiment can be expressed through our products. What I can do to make this happen is eliminate to the greatest extent possible all the issues during the manufacturing process that may vex the craftspeople that make the products.
We always continue to make improvements wherever necessary, even while our work is commended. I believe that continuous improvement, whether it relates to people or to objects, is essential to advancement.
STORIES OF CRAFTSPEOPLE