Manonik on Chicago, mass production and Aphex Twin

Other | Monday 23rd May 2016 | Cristina

Manonik is a fashion designer, based in Brooklyn, creating one-off, handmade objects which champion sustainability and micro-production. Have a look at his collections here. We had a chat to see what all the fuss was about.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

My name is Yoshiyuki Minami. I was born and raised in a city called Niihama, in Ehime Prefecture, Japan. I had spent 19 years of my life there before moving to Ann Arbor, MI to attend University of Michigan where I studied economic sociology, along with other scattered interests. After graduation, I worked as a graphic designer/art director for Dentsu America and Leo Burnett until I moved to NYC in 2014 to participate in the AIR program at Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY. After finishing the residency, I conceived Manonik where I make cloths by hand. I’m currently hand-sewing the cloths to make garments.

I consider Manonik as a cultural and economic experiment because the way it operates doesn’t quite fit the mold, both as fashion and as a business. It’s built on the idea of limitation by necessity or by default, which means that I can only make what I can make with the skills, equipments, space and time I have. Manonik also explores notions such as financial and environmental sustainability, transparency, gender politics, and the relationship we have with textiles, primarily clothes.

What’s the average day in your life like?

I get up, have a quick breakfast, make lunch, stop at the gym, head to the studio, make for about 7-8 hours, go home, cook dinner, eat, then go to bed. I do my best not to work on weekends, but you know how that goes. I try to be out in the nature as much as I can. I bike around, go to parks, the beaches. I like being under the blue skies and feeling the breeze on my skin.

Who, in the fashion world, inspires you?

Three that have inspired me for years. Henrik Vibskov, who is as much an artist as a designer. I see freedom in the way he makes clothes. Eileen Fischer. She never changes her simple, yet thoughtful style and uses her brand to empower people. Martin Margiela. He has a suburb ability to mix simplicity and complexity, rawness and finesse.

What drew you into making clothes?

The dissatisfaction definitely was the catalyst. One was dissatisfaction with my job as graphic designer/art director. I was using my ideas and skills to essentially make believe of something that made no positive impact on anyone, including myself. The other was the dissatisfaction with the clothes in general. I just saw recycled ideas and experiments for the sake of experiments with no substance. To find fulfillment, I decided to pursue my “artistic” interests and sewing happened to be the first class I took.

Sewing, particularly making clothes, came with familiarity – affinity that was probably instilled in me in my childhood. I grew up in a family that had interests in textile. My mother, for instance, dreamt about being a fashion designer when she was young. As I recall, she was always making something, either by knitting, crocheting, sashiko, patchworking, etc. My paternal grandmother was a meticulous embroiderer; maternal grandmother, according to my mother, was much better of a knitter than her. All my maternal aunts, they all have had something to do with textile-making or textile at some point in their lives, one way or another.

After my first sewing class, I developed this inexplicable fascination in the art of clothes making and continued to learn sewing techniques and construction on my own and by taking personal lessons. The act of making, which requires introspection and expression, and being able to wear the outcome, brought a kind of freedom and fulfillment I had never felt. I was suddenly wearing something real and tangible, that was only possible with my ideas and skills.

Why do you make your own cloths?

Initially, making cloths was out of pure curiosity. It was amazing to see hand-made cloths in the sea of anonymous, machine-made ones that, by themselves, evoked no strong emotions in me. There were people who were defying the economic and cultural pressure to use “technology,” who were also fighting to preserve the “craft.” I developed emotional ties with hand-made cloths, just like when I saw the work of Jackson Pollock in my first art history class or when I first listened to Aphex Twin in high school. I could also see, literally, the labor that makers’ poured in them. I also felt their personalities and their philosophies or their perspectives on life. Despite the wide-spread notion that cloth-making is just a “craft”, I eventually started seeing cloths as an art form that carries stories.

The more I learned about cloth-making – primarily weaving and knitting –, the more significant it became in my process. I really don’t think I approach making clothes as a craft or design; rather, I approach it as a process of “art” making. In order for me to encapsulate the stories I’m trying to tell, making cloths is essential.

How long does it take to make a piece for a collection, on average?

From the time I start planning, to the actual completion of a garment, it takes about 1.5 weeks to 2 weeks depending on the complexity. I’ve been experimenting with this revised process with “shape-weaving” and hand-sewing. When every part of a garment is shape-woven on the loom, there is no necessary incision before constructing a garment. You take each shape off the loom, cut off the extra warp threads, then you can just hand-sew the pieces to make a garment. There is no “weaver’s guilt”, cutting into a cloth that took days to complete. This process complicates and lengthens the actual making, but for some weird reason, I feel very comfortable with it as much as it drives me insane sometimes. It’s taken 5 months developing and finessing this process since the last release, but I’m nearing the end. My goal for the new future is to finish each release with this process in roughly two months.

Which methods, used in your work, do you consider the most important?

Shape-weaving and hand-sewing. I feel very natural with these methods. I think there are certain things we’ve missed or forgotten because we’ve leaped blindly into the age of mechanical production. Or maybe it’s just that our values have shifted – and still shifting as we speak – since the advent of weaving machines. With shape-weaving, I make shapes that compose a garment rather than weaving a lengthy cloth. I stopped using my Singer 31-15 because, even though it signifies a pivotal moment in the history of garment making and it’s gorgeous, it has also become somewhat of an antithesis of what I’m going after. For me, shape-weaving and hand-sewing together represent a certain level of freedom: freedom from a culture that conforms and restricts the way we think and create.

How has your work been influenced by your homes – first by Niihama and then by Chicago?

Niihama is sandwiched between the sea and mountains. It’s weirdly country and industrial at the same time because the city, far outside of metropolitan areas, grew with heavy industries and dow chemicals. As a kid, I’d run around in fields and rice patties looking for tadpoles and get squirted on by cicadas in the woods, but then I’d find myself pondering on artificial banks by the sea, surrounded by shiny metal structures. Chicago seems to share the same juxtaposition despite its size. The trees. The lakes. The vast blue skies. The sparkling snow and the bone-stinging cold. All of these pitted against the skyscrapers that appear from nowhere, the abandoned warehouses, and never ending train tracks and swirling highways. The nature is contrasted with the artificial, the man(and woman)made.

I think this juxtaposition often manifests itself in my work. I’m fond of natural fibers and natural methods, yet infatuated with the materials that have been heavily manipulated with technology. The way I make is organic and rational. I’m always trying to find a visual equilibrium between simplicity and complexity. I highlight the contrast between the soft and the hard. I find it intriguing that what we see and experience becomes part of how we express ourselves.

If you had to choose one designer to wear for the rest of your life, who would it be?

This is difficult to answer. I like wearing stories that I believe in. At this moment, there isn’t one designer who I want to devote myself to…so TBD!

What do you think are some of the problems with mass production in fashion?

There is nothing wrong with mass production in and of itself. I think the contrary. Mass production developed out a good intent to make things accessible to people. The problem, I think, is the culture that rendered us ignorant and complacent. We’ve traded our knowledge with convenience and, what we falsely consider, privileges; we stopped asking simple questions like where “things” come from and how they are made. I also think it is our economic system that takes advantage of our own ignorance for someone else’ wealth and to sustain the economic hierarchy. Mass production does and should not equal alienation, low production costs, bad quality, pollution, exploitation, etc. We need to question ourselves if these economic and cultural theories we built our lives on are, in fact, valid or simply reflections of a certain group of people who have no interest in bettering or improving the world. Criticizing and dismantling mass production is easy, but if we really want to make a change in the way things are made, we first need to understand the history, then come up with responsible ideas to better it.

Your approach to fashion seems quite politicised. Would you agree?

I never intentionally made my approach political. My approach is just an aggregation of my methodological interests and the desire to make positive contributions, whatever they end up being. There is a cultural trend in fashion for sustainability, slow fashion, etc. which happen to be part of the foundation of Manonik. I’m not surprised the advocates empathize with my approach and politicize it. It’s actually a great sign because the stories I’m trying to tell go beyond just making fashion or clothes.

What are the wider beliefs and ideals behind your fashion philosophy.

I just have one simple belief, which is that everyone deserves to be free and happy, without jeopardizing others.

What are a few of the changes that have to happen to make the world as close to ideal as possible?

Deconstruct social constructs that often dictate the way we think and behave. Accept ourselves as we are, so that we know how to accept others and the nature as they are, which is not to say be passive. Also, promote critical-thinking in combination with creativity, which are quite separated in our current education.

What’s on your ipod/iphone/record player right now?

Infinite body, Oval, Avro Part, Arca, Kara-Lis Coverdale, Luke Howard, Hans Zimmer, Bootstraps, Tim Hecker, Clark, Jose James, Alabama Shakes, Justin Bieber, Collin Stetson, Lubomyr Mlenyk…

What’s in store for Manonik in the future?

The same as it has been. Me and my explorations with materials, processes and ideas, using my own hands as much as I can. I’d also like to start collaborating with the like-minded.

Where do you hang out in your city?

Parks. Beaches. The High Line. The movies. Cafes. I like taking a walk from West Village, through Soho, then to Nolita just to keep myself informed with the “real” world.