We recently caught up with Akira and Sarina, the duo behind UTILITEES and asked them a few questions about their past, present and future to help you discover a little more about who they are and what makes them unique. If you like what you find and want to see their garments in the flesh, they are now available to purchase from our online store.
Here at Sonder Supplies, we have a strong emphasis on discovering and sourcing new brands and designers whose passion for well-crafted garments and accessories radiates through their unique stories of how they arrived at where they are today. UTILITEES is a brand that for us has always been lingering to take-off, and in the summer of 2020, they completed production of their first line of exceptionally well-constructed t-shirts. Our relationship with the minds behind the brand stretches back many years. For those of you who are unaware, Sonder Supplies is the sister company of Iron Heart International. We are based in the UK and supply the international market with some of the best denim to come out of Japan. Iron Heart for many years has been using CDK, the silkscreen factory and home of UTILITEES to print many of our products.
UTILITEES is a brand that over the coming years is going to bring us more and more of the stuff we love; well made, timeless essentials.
Could you tell us a bit about yourselves and who is behind UTILITEES?
Akira and Sarina. Akira had worked in the copper industry for 14 years, he started working for CDK (silkscreen factory) in 2015, and he became CEO in July 2020. He is extremely passionate about developing new printing techniques, and Sarina has been working in the apparel industry for over 20 years. She is working for CDK as a manager and has also been working as the translator for Iron Heart Japan for almost 10 years.
You seem very driven to supply goods that are well constructed using only the best fabrics available, Wakayama is a gold mine for unique fabrics, how did you decide on which fabric you wanted to use?
Sarina: We researched knit fabrics and collected several fabrics from different mills. Usually, loopwheel production is limited, and we had to wait a long time to get the fabric we wanted. Also, the production minimum is very large. We knew loopwheel fabric in Wakayama is limited, but the hurdle was higher than we thought, and it doesn’t seem sustainable for us to run the brand business. So, we researched more and more and found a sustainable way to produce the fabric. We contacted a maker who produces a smooth loopwheel fabric. When we first touched the fabric, we fell in love. It is comfortable to wear, light, smooth and soft and it won’t change after many wears and washes.
The family business is in silk screen printing, how has this industry developed and changed over the last 30 years?
Sarina: Unfortunately, as you know, some brands have died, but some are still going strong despite the challenges we have all faced over the years. AMEKAJI designers used to visit us regularly so we could turn their unique ideas into reality. Silkscreen printing factories are everywhere in Japan, but we are located in Kojima “The Capital of Denim”, so designers visited us while they are producing jeans. The former CEO, my dad, worked at a fabric dyeing factory in Kojima after graduating university. He had experience and knowledge of dyeing so we could try new methods of mixing printing alongside dyeing.
Being based in Kojima, the aptly titled “Capital of Denim”, do you find your location plays a big part in the inspiration behind the brand's design aesthetic?
Sarina: We’ve been working with many Japanese AMEKAJI brands over the years. This industry is shrinking overall, but it is exciting to work together with designers. We try so many printing methods to reach their requests, sometimes it is like a science experiment! This is how we found the way to print indigo by silkscreen. Thus, thanks to them, we now have unique techniques that other factories do not. Even today, our primary work is printing for other brands. It is essential for us, and we are quite thankful for it. We decided to start our own brand so that we can try and make what we want to make. You may think we are doing this for fun, but we know nothing great will be born without enjoying the process, like great AMEKAJI designers.
What does the future hold for UTILITEES, can you let us into what new products are in the pipeline?
Sarina: One is a new garment dyed version of our plain tee. We are also thinking to release printed tees. Now we are interested in zero environmental impact colours/dyes. Our inspiration base is AMEKAJI. So, we are thinking of mixing AMEKAJI design with eco-friendly printing going forward.