There’s a young woman selling scarves in the entrance vestibule, and as her stall is situated immediately as you go in, and people are going in behind you, you don’t stop or notice too carefully what she’s got, and it’s only when you’re on your way out of this Open Day market at the converted children’s school that is Taito Designers Village, that it strikes you, some of her things are very nice indeed, bold patterns, interesting fabrics, a kind of warmth.
Try some on. Shiho Seya’s scarves speak to you. And look, you’ve found one for you! So now you have to buy it, because it spoke so clearly, the colours, design and material, it’s almost impossible that any other one will do, this fine blue check with brown and orange, it has to be this one, that’s how clear and easy-to-grasp and distinctive her designs are.
Also look at the others. All natural fibres including cotton, linen, baby alpaca. Natural, because with natural, she says, you can perform a bigger range of finishes than with synthetic, such as stretching and distressing and crinkling up etcetera. Some scarves combine different weaves, so that textures and colours vary along the length, others split midway into two, with the main piece of fabric parting into its linen and wool-cotton components, so you get three tongues of entirely different weights and textures, that you can wrap how you like.
Seya wants you to play, find your own way to bundle them, even use the big, featherlight ones as curtains, as she does. The thing that she makes, she says, is less a designed product made out of cloth, than it is the cloth itself – the entire object of her attention, what she is designing and producing, regardless of any intricate joining or finishing, is this: a piece of cloth. That’s why she makes sure they’re very good to touch.
The entire object of her attention, what she is designing and producing, regardless of any intricate joining or finishing, is this: a piece of cloth.
Yesterday you take a friend to her workshop and your friend likes the red checks and says they’re sort of post-punk, and Seya says yes, I like Great British patterns, and points to her shelf, to a Post-It-bristling book on Scottish tartans, and tells you how she studies for inspiration, the books are read and forgotten, her investigations of Islamic weaving, absorbed and forgotten – what she creates when all this cosmic dust re-converges is a world of all cultures, she says with a laugh, “no place”.
She used to work for a textiles weaver in the far west of Tokyo. Fancy that, in this age of Chinese manufacturing dominance, they actually made textiles in Tokyo. Well, it shut down in October last year.
But that’s how she began exploring small-scale mass-production, her look is hand-made yet machine-made. She pushes the limits of what the older weaving machines can do, she says, and she understands how to work those old automated looms, they allow much more tweaking than modern ones, and she knows how to do this because in her previous job she did everything, from dealing with the business to designing the textiles and working in the factories with the machines. It was a good arrangement, as the president had let her run her label, Coova – pronounced Koh-ba, meaning factory – on the side.
She talks about how much she learnt on that job, and says, you might think I learned more there than at art college. But I wouldn’t say that, because I had a lot of help from school.
She is also getting support from the people at Taito Designers Village. I couldn’t manage without them she says, as it’s a low rent studio, like all the artist spaces here. She moved in last April and like the other tenants is permitted to stay for three years. She works in a narrow former classroom, bouncing ideas off her architect boyfriend who sometimes drops by to keep her company and work with his laptop. She sells some products through the Claska design stores, and an online shop is her hope for the new year.
The way she speaks is as considered and unambiguous as the expression you see in her scarves. The way things are coming together, this next year is going to be her time.