Many people were eager to visit the exhibit of KYO-TO-TO during the 3rd edition of MONO JAPAN. This brand that explores new embroidery techniques has their home factory located near Kyoto, beyond the mountains going from Arashiyama and Sayano, in Kameoka city.
40 years ago, the father of Mrs. Sakiko, the current proprietor of KYO-TO-TO, founded a company that was specialized in embroidered apparel, called DUOMO. In the 80's, the fabrication of textiles was still on of Japans' primary industries, and many kinds of textiles were produced and exported to all corners of the world. This is the same era that many high fashion brands that are famous today, such as COMME des GARÇONS and ISSEY MIYAKE were created on the domestic market.
DUOMO embroiled clothes for high fashion brands, putting various ideas in their products. Despite these brands being very expensive, they sold in large numbers at the time.
Later, the capital of textile industry moved to China, and as a result, the Japanese textile industry saw a drastic decline. Many of the production processes for clothes, including embroidery, had largely been taken over by Chinese factories, putting DUOMO in a financial pinch.
While this was happening, Sakiko lived together with her partner Roy and her baby in Tokyo. However, because of her will to start a new life with her partner and her child, she decided to return to her home in Kameoka city.
It was then that she found out about the dire financial situation the company of her father was in. Together with Roy, she came up with the idea to reestablish the company as an independent embroidery brand. Rather than just being an embroidery company that participated in projects from other apparel brands, they would outsource the designing part and adopt the clear concept of Wa, which meant they would only be using domestic materials. This is the genesis of KYO-TO-TO.
Nowadays, the main product of KYO-TO-TO are embroidered patches that can easily be applied onto clothes by using a steam iron. The patches were also designed with the concept of Wa, which means that they have a clear relation to Japanese culture. The lineup includes series of patches that portray vegetables from Kyoto (Kyo-Yasai), Sumo wrestlers, Ninjas, Ukiyo-es, Sushi's and more. What's interesting about these series of patches, is that they also include the collection of less obvious designs. There are series of patches of all kinds of mushrooms, birds and fishes that even Japanese people have rarely heard of. By utilizing their experiences of having worked with the apparel industry, they were also able to produce other products, such as; bags, shirts and cushion covers that they then further decorate with their own patches.
The brand’s name, ''KYO-TO-TO'', is an allusion to the idea that what they create will start out in Kyoto, then continue to Tokyo, and from there, reach out all over the world. Spreading from old to new capitals, as a fusion of both modern, and traditional tastes. This concept can be found back in every aspect of their production. That's why it is important for them that the towels and other base-materials they embroider on have to be made in Japan, and the ink, gold- and silver strings used for embroidering have to be made in Kyoto. Furthermore, the techniques they use are inherited from kimono makers whose industry historically flourished in Kyoto.
Besides Sakiko, her parents, and Roy, 7 other people are employed in their factory in Kameyama city. After their designer completes a design for a patch, they first make a preliminary blueprint to test the design, and make sure the sewing machines will work both effectively, and beautifully. The information of the blueprint is then sent to the sewing machines, and a machine called Tatou shishuki, which is connected to all sewing machines, will then start sowing the patches on gauze fabric.
Even though the embroidery process is done mechanically, there are points in the process that need to be done by hand. These include; changing the sewing threads for different fabrics, and cutting the patches out of the gauze fabric by melting the edges to prevent fraying. Due to their high-quality designs that are both beautiful, yet playful, KYO-TO-TO is often approached by museums to make products for exhibitions. In fact, on the day of my visit, they were busy making products for an exhibition about the Jomon period, which will be held at the Tokyo National Museum.
KYO-TO-TO is a brand that its young creators established by exploring new ideas. There might not be as large a demand for embroidery patches as there used to be at the time of the Japanese bubble economy. However, I feel that they have the possibility to be loved by people all around the world, by presenting a joyful and creative way to customize their fashion.
Please check KYO-TO-TO page for various & fun patches!