Before any current trend in American menswear, both contemporary and heritage, the Japanese had always embodied a certain respect and cult-following of vintage American sportswear and fashion. We’ve seen various Japanese-headed brands become popular fixtures over the last few years which includes the likes of Yuketen and its founder Yuki Matsuda. Spearheading a brand known for its reproduction of classic styles and an unwavering penchant for high-quality materials and construction, these cornerstones of Yuketen contribute to what will surely be a long lasting and successful run for the foreseeable feature. We spoke with Yuki Mastuda regarding the brand Yuketen itself and where he finds his inspirations, among other topics.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Photography: Daniel Ahn
Interview with Yuki Matsuda
Could you provide a little history about Yuketen?
The Yuketen brand was founded by Meg Company, which started in 1989. Yuketen started as a moccasin-focused concept and has slowly developed into a full range of footwear, bags, accessories, and outerwear.
What originally inspired you into creating Yuketen and the aesthetic it embraces?
Yuketen is inspired by vintage American lifestyle. It’s about making shoes and boots the way they were made many decades ago with the best materials and components, with my deliberate interpretation.
For those unaware, what is its affiliation and relationship with Quoddy?
Quoddy was helping with Yuketen’s business up until 2006. After that season we’ve been focusing on our respective brands. The Yuketen factory located in Maine, U.S.A. has been ongoing since 2006.
Being known as purveyors of traditional and classic footwear, do you feel as though this sort of typecasts you to create a certain style of footwear?
Not everything we do is completely traditional or classic. But even traditional and classic models can be modified by my knowledge of shoe design. It’s still a “shoe” but the outward appearance can be completely altered. Yuketen has many different styles and I design more and more every season. The possibilities are endless and I can make unique shoes by shifting the components around, changing the forms, leathers, colors, etc.
Where do you find a lot of your inspirations? In old archival texts?
My inspiration is in my mind. I purposefully avoid potential external influences from my peers because I don’t want to become conflicted in my own inspirations. The present aside, I am more interested in utilizing my ideals of past American lifestyle to guide my pursuit of new Yuketen designs. Old archival texts are entertaining but I hope the breadth of each season’s Yuketen collections has earned me enough credibility for your readers to understand that I don’t simply copy my designs from old catalogs. Copying is not designing. I’m a shoe fanatic. I make my designs because I am obsessed with details about shoes and shoe manufacturing. To other people shoe details are boring or inconsequential, but to me shoe details are revelational.
With an aesthetic firmly rooted in a past American lifestyle, do you feel that your options for inspirations are limited?
No, I believe limitations are created by the individual. By this I mean that the degree of limitation is relative. Past American lifestyle can be perceived with an optimistic or pessimistic prejudice. For example, one can define past American lifestyle optimistically considering that American tradition was created from a melting pot of many different imported cultures. Conversely, one can pessimistically interpret my inspiration for Yuketen rooted in past American lifestyle as being narrow-minded and short sighted. It’s the classic glass half full or glass half empty paradigm. It’s all about perspective…
Aside from making quality iconic footwear, does pushing the boundaries of aesthetics, designs and color also pique your interest?
As you can see our shoes are the output of all my creation and knowledge. Every season I must devise a new plan. Aesthetics, designs, and colors are all part of my plan. It’s not design for the sake of design. It’s design for a useful function. Comfort is fundamental for shoemaking. So all progress must begin from this basic starting point.
How long does it take to make one pair of shoes? Could you outline a bit of the process?
Our production process is mostly handmade because we employ classic genuine handsewn moccasin construction techniques. So a large percentage of the shoe is constructed by one person. But the shoe does pass hands between various people from cutting the leather to putting the laces in and packing them into a shoebox. Our factories usually take anywhere between 96 and 120 hours to make one pair of shoes. That sounds like a long time to make one pair of shoes but considering how long our shoes last its well worth the time and effort.
What makes Yuketen footwear different from any other brand that makes similar footwear?
I think our quality and design are our largest factors that make us different. Only people who scrutinize quality understand it. Little details make a big difference.
How does the Japanese angle play into the overall appeal and direction of the brand?
It’s helpful and aids in the overall appeal. There’s an added degree of respectability. In the past several years Japanese design has become more sought after in the global marketplace because of the prolific Japanese obsession with quality.
Has Yuketen’s profile been raised by the last few years as we see a return to high-quality and traditional forms of footwear?
I think so. We’ve been lucky to be at the forefront of this movement. Yuketen is now world renown and still going strong. It’s a funny irony that an emerging global brand is being manufactured by such a small factory.
What are some of your personal footwear favorites from within the 2010 Spring/Summer collection?
My favorite new style is the double bottom Maine Guide Boots. It’s a style inspired by 1940’s Maine wilderness guides. The Maine Guide Boot is Yuketen’s version of the boot that was worn by the really rugged outdoorsmen who could eke out a living alone in the wilderness.
Do any other aspects of design interest you beyond just footwear? You mentioned that beyond Yuketen’s footwear offerings, it also possesses a collection of apparel and bag accessories. Will we see these aspects of the brand increase in profile to match the footwear in coming seasons, or will you continue to place the emphasis on footwear?
My emphasis is always on footwear but I also actively create bag and clothing designs. Many people are unaware that Yuketen has complimentary pieces aside from footwear. I also enjoy the complexities and beauty of watch design.
Do you have any special projects on the horizon and any last words?
For the upcoming collections I’m mapping out some pretty outrageous stuff. It’s gonna be a really fun season for exploring new designs. Sorry I can’t divulge too much information right now but I think there will definitely be some shockers! I’m very excited about being able to promote my ideas/designs and find support for what I love to do. Thank you very much