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In Conversation w/ Eiichiro Homma

As the founder of nanamica and creative director behind The North Face Purple Label, Eiichiro Homma is responsible for the look and design of two of Japan’s most revered technical outdoor brands.


Utilizing “a high-level mix of fashion and function,” his integral input and unique output may center around his incorporation of cutting edge materials, but it’s the obvious aesthetic differences between the two brands that show just far Homma’s creative vision stretches.
 
While nanamica and The North Face Purple Label share designers, materials and even a design space, the two brands each offer their own unique and signature approach to tech-focused products with the comfort and usage of their customers at the forefront of each creation. While Purple Label shares The North Face’s predetermined adventurous outdoorsy look, nanamica maintains an understated design, far from the futuristic output that predominates most technological brands. Remaining successfully steadfast to its roots and eschewing modern day trends, Homma’s unwavering vision is creates silhouettes both casual and timeless, but with an unmistakable innovative edge that he incorporates like no other...

photo of Eiichiro Homma by Ms Kae Homma

Tell us about the name nanamica.
[Eiichiro:] "nanamica” translates to “houses of seven seas”. Since myself and my partner, Takashi both love the sea, we have the desire to deliver our creations to as many people as possible around the world connected by the sea no matter their location or language.
 
 
What would you say your mission statement is?
“One Ocean, All Lands” meaning the ocean is one and the world is connected, is our mantra at nanamica. We create beautiful yet neutral items with advanced functionality that people can enjoy and use every day.
 
 
You started out working with technology-based brands in the early days of that being a thing.
Are you amazed at how far it’s gone?
I started my career at GOLDWIN INC, the Japanese sportswear company, back in 1982. Since then I have always been creating a high-level mix of fashion and function item that can support a fun and cool life.
 
 
Would you say your inspiration or designs have changed over the existence of nanamica?
I believe I must be stubborn. I can recognize my taste never has not changed over the years. But there is often another Eiichiro who can sometimes accept the changes of the times. Hence our creations are often a good balance of solid taste and a sense of the times.
Are there any aspects of daily commuting unique to Japan that nanamica's functionality addresses?
We have only around 150 year history of wearing western garments in Japan. Until 30 years ago, most businessmen would wear a classic men’s suit every day without fail. Today, sportswear has taken the place of the classic suit. However, there are still many people who enjoy a classic lapel jacket, which looks slightly old school today. So, we try to suggest cool, casual and functional setup suits that have a new school atmosphere.
 
 
Your new collection is called “Roots.” How does this collection differ from ones before it? What links each of the products?
After any creative work is completed, it is followed by self-assessment and that process is repeated and again and becomes accumulated in layers as a result. When an item of clothing is created, it is reviewed and made better the following season, then again the season after that and so on. When layers of such updates accumulate over time, creations often end up quite some distance from our center. There are times we look back and realize that we might have deviated some distance from our center. Our customers might not even notice the change but when that kind of thing happens, we sometimes just get rid of all the old layers and go back once again to our starting point once again.
Explain your role at North Face Purple Label and how it differs from that of nanamica.
The North Face Purple Label is a collaboration label with The North Face team in Japan, which is operated by GOLDWIN INC. where I worked for over 18 years as a designer. We consider The North Face Purple Label to be a part of The North Face and take care not to create any designs that do not look like The North Face. On the other side “nanamica” is our own label where we enjoy 100% freedom of design. We intend for our creations to evoke “the rhythm of sea” and “Japanese sensibility”.
 
 
How do you divide your time between North Face Purple Label and nanamica?
We are a small company to this day meaning these two brands are cooked at the same kitchen by the same chefs. However, I am mostly focusing on nanamica of late and some of the younger generation in our kitchen are challenged with developing The North Face Purple Label.
 
 
How do you differentiate in designing something for TNF vs nanamica? Do things overlap?
Obviously, The North Face should be American, West Coast and Outdoor. Whilst nanamica should be Japanese, Basic and Marine-inspired. These are the key factors of difference, which we always keep in mind even we share the same materials.
It is said to be inspired by maritime activities? Is that something you are well-versed in?
Since nanamica is not active sportswear, we do not have any garments developed specifically for such activities as sailing, surfing or diving. However, nanamica is created by people who love the sea and we are happy if our customers recognize our brand is created by sea lovers.
 
 
Your brand seems to stay true to a specific formula season after season, but is it important to change/differentiate from one to the other?
Our most crucial value is “a high-level mix of fashion and function” whilst our taste is that of the sea lover. So, our fundamental formula, which should not change season to season, ensures creations “should be functional” and “should have marine influence”. On the other side, people are always expecting something new, so some seasonal elements are often very important.

photo of Eiichiro Homma by Ms Kae Homma

Tell me about your view on using synthetic materials vs. natural materials. Is it important to maintain a balance? Is that balance difficult?
Since my direction is relatively classic, we intend to produce natural materials with high functionality. Today, the latest technology can combine both factors with no big compromise.
 
 
I read that you are able to be on the scene when new fabrics have been created and tested. How often does this happen? I imagine a great amount of effort goes into each step. Have you ever gotten to the end and realized that the new fabric won’t work after all?
Since my background is working at an active sportswear company, we have always had close relationships with high-end fabric mills. When any new technology or new raw material is discovered, a new fabric would be developed and tested. It is a mature society today meaning we do not have so much chance to discover an entirely new functional fabric. But every now and then one comes and we believe we have a chance to test fabrics prior to other brands due to the aforementioned relationships. However, even if we have priority testing, it is not always a good result that awaits us but such failures often generate motivation for new challenges.
 
 
How much input you and collaboration do you have when working with textile engineers?
That is a difficult question. When I was young, there were no mobile phones nor video conference devices back then. There were no high-end laboratories either. We had to visit and stay at fabric factories in particular districts for a week or more every couple of months. Today, the latest technology at laboratories and communication technology both make the process much easier than before.
Is there a certain situation that you just have not been able to find the right fabric for yet?
I am sorry for not being able to disclose any concrete solutions today. In fact, I have dedicated more than 10 years targeting some issues that I continue to work on.
 
 
Any challenging day-to-day situations you have not been able to make the perfect outfit for
As mentioned earlier, my challenges do not seem to be those that can be solved within a short time. I hope to achieve some within my business life.
 
 
Do you find it challenging to use technologically advanced materials for casual clothes? So many of the technical brands are so futuristic looking. I enjoy how yours retains its timelessness.
That is true. Active sportswear should be developed as rationally as possible. Hence if every designer has the same supercomputer, each garment will end up looking the same as a ski jumpsuit or swimming wear since these are easy to move in, cause no friction and are super-lightweight etc. Would you want to drive a Formula 1 car every day on the road? I believe people want to have other emotional values in addition to functionality.
 
 
Remaining true to your style, are you ever inspired by new trends? Are there trends you like to see disappear?
I was inspired by some trends when I was younger. However as mentioned, I believe I must be stubborn and my taste today remains unchanged for some time. But I believe fashion often needs a contrast. We can show our different side as a contrast. So, there is no trend which I would like to see disappear.

photo of Eiichiro Homma, by Justin Chung

Ricky Orng

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