It’s not everyday you walk into a New York City apparel showroom to find a Greg Liddle hull surfboard hanging on the wall. Then again, it’s not everyday you find an apparel line with an aesthetic that stands out on the streets but also holds up when tested in the great outdoors (and is designed and manufactured in New York’s Garment District).
In 2011, Shinya Hasegawa, a longtime surfer and vintage clothing fanatic, founded Battenwear with the intent to design well made garments that work effortlessly in both nature and the city. For example, he's created a pair of shorts that can handle a rigorous hike up a mountain by day, but won't look out of place at a dinner party in the city by night. Though his tastes are rooted in ‘60s and ‘70s surf culture, Hasegawa keeps contemporary design needs in mind: every piece folds and packs easily for travel, has practical pockets, and is made of a sturdy fabric.
Hasegawa’s foray into the world of apparel design came only after spending his twenties working as a sales rep, first for an underwear company, then for a paper company that specialized in tissues and baby diapers in Japan. He dropped everything and moved to New York to pursue a degree in marketing at FIT with the hopes of eventually becoming a fashion buyer back in Japan. After he graduated, he decided to try his luck working in New York, and got a job as a sales rep to a Japanese account for the vintage clothing store What Goes Around, Comes Around. After four years, a friend mentioned that Daiki Suzuki (of Engineered Garments) needed a design assistant while he was working for Woolrich Woolen Mills as head designer. Hasegawa jumped at the opportunity and joined Suzuki’s team with absolutely no design experience.
Here, Hasegawa shares how he built Battenwear from his experiences traveling and surfing.
You took a job working in design for Daiki without any design experience?
My main job was in product development making the samples, but I had never made a sample before. He showed me the basic idea, but he was really busy working on his own line, Engineered Garments. I had never created something. I was seeing creative people while working in sales, but I never thought I was one of these people. But once I stepped into this area of creating, I thought I could at least try it. The more involved I got, the more interesting it was -- I worked with him for years, and I started to think about doing it on my own.
[Shinya Hasegawa in his work studio and showroom.]
When did you decide that you were ready to do your own line?
When Daiki finished the contract with Woolrich, he left, which was in 2010, and I worked for one season with Mark McNairy. In 2011, I left the company and started to make my own designs.
So how long were you designing before you started Battenwear?
Four years, but I had been into this American style of clothing since I was in high school. I always had this specific idea in my mind of my favorite style, but I didn’t know how to execute it. When I was working with Daiki, that’s when I found a way to create it.
How do you find that balance of day-to-day wearability, that’s both stylish and ‘active’ wear?
For example, the reason why I designed the Travel Shell Parka 2 was because when I travel and I'm packing, I was having trouble finding a jacket that I could fit into my luggage. The TSP2 is easy to fold and pack. When you're at the airport going through security, you have to keep your passport, your ticket, your phone, etc. on you -- you can keep them in any of the snap pockets. Also, when you go somewhere after a flight, like hiking, or perhaps a restaurant, it works, it looks good.
You’ve told me how you were interested with American workwear and vintage clothing as a teenager, is there anything particular you collect?
I really love collecting short sleeve sweatshirts, I think I’m so into them because they’re so nonfunctional. In the summertime, when you are wearing something that thick, it's really annoying -- but I still think they should be worn in summer. It's really not a functional design, but that's what makes it really attractive to me. It's not so perfect.
[A few of the vintage short sleeved sweatshirts Shinya has collected over the years.]
When did you start surfing?
When I was in high school in Japan, but at the time I wasn't into it as much. I used to play rugby, so any time I didn't have a game I'd go to the beach by train.
Where in Japan did you surf?
Shonan. It's a cool place; it’s kind of like Rockaway because you can go there by train. The difference is in Rockaway you take a subway and then you're really close, there it's further, but the idea is the same. When I moved to New York, which was in 2002, I was thinking about how and where I would surf. Then I was reading a magazine, I think it was Vice, that put out an article about Rockaway, then it hit me that it was where you could surf. Soon after reading that I bought a new surfboard and I started to go to Rockaway on the subway. I just kept going.
What kind of role does surfing play when you are designing?
The experience connects to the design. If I need it, I make it. It’s functionality from my experience.
Could you speak on the SS 2014 collection we now have at the shop?
The Packable Windstopper is meant to go anywhere with you, you can fold it into a pouch and throw it in your bag. Then with the Pilgrim Packable Anorak, for instance, I usually use a nylon material, but for the Pilgrim collaboration we used fabric that we usually use for shirts. Our anorak has a zip on the side so it's easier to get on and off.
What drew you to floral patterns this season?
I originally saw a picture in a book where these guys were wearing matching floral bottoms and tops, like a uniform. I was then thinking about using a big palette, like with Hawaiian shirts. From there, I created the 5-Pocket Island Shirt. The original idea was to make Hawaiian shirts, which typically have two pockets. Then I was thinking I wanted to make something with a more functional design. Cuban shirts have four pockets, so I combined the Hawaiian shirt and the Cuban, that's why the shirt has four pockets. Inside one of pockets, there’s a small pocket that's specifically for your metrocard. When I go to Rockaway carrying a surfboard, the metrocard is tucked away in there for easy access. I was also thinking I wanted to have a small pocket because when you go to Rockaway, at least back when I first started going, it can be dangerous. If you have your wallet out, it's over. If you're changing clothing and leave your bag on the beach, somebody would probably come and take your stuff. So I used to bring a metrocard and five bucks and that's it. I always thought I needed a small pocket for those two things, and that's why I added it to the shirt.
[Books Shinya looks to for inspiration.]
You get everything made in the Garment District in New York City, why is that important to you?
I can check in at anytime and keep watching. I know it's really expensive to make it here, but the thing is you can keep watching the whole process. If the factory has trouble, I can just go there and see what’s happening.
How far is your factory from your studio?
I used to have a factory that was on the same floor as my studio, but now most of them are only one or two blocks from me. For as long as I can keep watching, I want to keep watching. Making clothing is like raising a kid, I want to watch it grow because I really want to see the whole process. It's kind of like an ego boost for a designer because you can see how it came from nothing and was made into something. It's really exciting.
Take a minute to check out Shinya's thoughtful designs here.
Words by Chelsea Burcz, all photos by Joseph Falcone.