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Designer Dialogue: Southern Field Industries

September 05 2015

SFI Maine

Southern Field Industries’ founder-designers (and husband-and-wife too) Manabu and Keiko Okada radiate a certain positivity as they chat with us in the SFI studio, located right by their home in the serene Saitama countryside just north of Tokyo. It’s a positivity that has served them well, for what’s now a thriving artisanal bag and accessories brand, has its origins in hard times. The pair turned things around through a combination of determination, inspiration and, well, plain old-fashioned talent, we’d say. Informed by the Okadas’ bucolic lifestyle (beautifully documented in their photo journal), but equally suited to life in the big city, SFI’s designs draw upon skills Manabu learned crafting high-end equestrian goods to present a range of cleanly designed, but hard-wearing and thoughtfully functional, products well suited to those of a practical, down-to-earth nature: a little like the Okadas themselves.

Tell us about the history of Southern Field Industries up until now. What inspired you to start your brand?

Manabu (M):
I had been working at my father's company, a small sewing factory supplying the Japanese horse racing world, for some 14 years when it was forced to close. In this negative situation, I saw something positive in the potential to take over my father’s business while also getting started on my own thing; something I really wanted to do. And so Keiko and I took some sewing machines and rolls of fabric into the workshop beside our house, and began Southern Field Industries right away.

For the first three or four years, we were still making some equestrian supplies. It was a difficult time for us initially; to be honest we were inspired by desperation! Attending shows to sell our horse riding goods we also took the opportunity to introduce our bags and accessories, which were well received and ended up gaining interest from some great stores in the USA. This gave us the impetus to focus on Southern Field Industries as our main business, and now Keiko and I are really enjoying working on it at our studio surrounded by beautiful nature.

SFI Production

From your workshop’s location in the Saitama countryside, to the SFI brand itself, it seems that a love of nature and the outdoors are strongly evident in Southern Field Industries. What kind of influence does your lifestyle have on your work? Would SFI be a different brand if you were based in Tokyo?

Keiko (K):
Our studio is located in a small town called Hatoyama, in Saitama prefecture which is about 90 minutes from Tokyo. There are no cafés or clothing shops over here, but instead we get to see a lot of birds and small animals, and I get to enjoy picking mushrooms in the woods! Working out here as opposed to the city gives us the time to get inspired; we can move at our own pace and that’s very important for us.

I had no choice of location originally, but wouldn’t even have considered the city as a base even if it had been an option! Here we can concentrate on our own work without being disturbed. If we were based in Tokyo, we might get distracted by all the voices and commotion and end up losing focus, and so we keep our distance from the city.

What’s the atmosphere like when you’re busy at work in your studio? Will there be music playing and conversation going on, or are you quiet and more meditative? If you play music while working, what do you listen to?

We love music when we work! I’ll be listening to iTunes or SoundCloud all day when I'm in the studio. I have no prejudice in terms of genre...from loud rock music through to jazz, old soul songs and current electronic music. Today, I listened to Mogwai and Pat Metheny.

But normally we can't hear the music clearly because the room is filled with the noise of machines and hammers! (Laughs.)

SFI Workshop

What are the main influences on your designs? Where do you find inspiration?

We love going hiking with our dog Jasmine, and seeing beautiful things. I really get inspired by the sum total of everything I’ve seen and felt up to now, but good ideas don’t come into my mind when I consciously try to think of one!

SFI Hiking

What SFI bags do you use yourselves, and what’s inside?

I use the PX Backpack to carry post when I cycle to the nearest mail box, which is some distance from our house and studio!

I love my PX Haversack, especially when I’m riding my bike. It’s the perfect size for my daily essentials. Today, I’m carrying an SFI wallet, my iPhone, a Haruki Murakami novel, a notebook and Caran d'Ache ballpen, a handkerchief, Burt's Bees lip cream, Shea Butter hand cream and some painkillers.

SFI Field

Tell us your favorite SFI product, new or old, and why it’s special to you.

It's hard to pick just one, but the SF Tote and SF Rucksack are my favorites because they are our earliest products; I have a lot of memories associated with them and they mean so much to us.

The PX Tote is my first choice when I go out to shop or meet up with friends. We’re thinking to perhaps offer it in other sizes in a future collection.

SFI Backpack

What do you think you would be doing with your lives if you hadn’t created SFI? Can you imagine yourselves working in a different industry?

I find it hard to imagine not having SFI in my life now, but if I didn’t I would prefer to still be doing something creative. I love to be creative all the time.

Maybe I’d be working as a nurse, as I did in the past. But I really love what I am doing at SFI and hope to continue with it for as long as possible!

Shop Roztayger's selection of Southern Field Industries products HERE.


Designer Dialogue: Kitty Nguyen of Hayden Leather

September 01 2015

Kitty from Hayden Leather

According to Kitty Nguyen, when it comes to character, all the digital devices in the world can't compete with the personality of paper. And given that Nguyen leads a family-run bookbindery-turned-leather accessory label, it's no surprise that she stays fiercely devoted to stationery. Hayden Leather's loyal customers, mind you, are endlessly thankful that she does.

We sat down with Kitty to learn more about her passion for print, the perseverance of paper in our Apple-infested age, and, last but not least, why you won't find the color black in any upcoming Hayden Leather collections.

How did Hayden Leather come to be and where does the name come from?

Hayden was hatched to address a perceived void—a refined American artisan product—in the men’s accessories market.

Currently, fine leather products made in America have made some noise, but they tend to have a rough hewn sensibility—what I like to describe as “made-in-a-barn” by an earnest craftsman. We wanted to be less “cowboy” and more “Swiss watch”. A quiet, refined luxury that you favor more each day as you use it.

Our factory is a second generation, family-run workshop. It began in 1977 as a leather bookbindery. Hayden is a family name, dating back to their arrival in the Americas in 1630.


What defines your line and your customer?

We wanted to make products that age with character and grace, becoming tools we love and rely upon. The goal was to craft products that had a tailored, modern sensibility combined with function and beautiful materials.

Our guy is clever, well-read and aware, but not trendy. He understands the difference between style and fashion and can totally rock a tweed jacket. He knows the right color when he sees it. He is interested in quality and construction because he uses things forever. He takes notes on paper and texts when he is running late. He is polite!

How are your agendas/journals made?

Because we began as bookbinders, we take our journals fairly seriously. All of our journals (and agendas) are Smyth-sewn. The pages of the book are first folded into separate groups and then stitched with binder thread through the folds. This creates a strong book block that will be further reinforced using fabric and glue on the spine. In contrast to other book-making methods, Smyth-sewn books are more durable, have wide margins and can open completely flat. Our pages are acid-free with a guilded edge. We also sew in a handy ribbon page marker.

Lastly, we cover our journals and agendas in Italian vegetable tanned leather. Every component ensures that the books will age beautifully. There is also the option of embossing our product with your initials, name, or even a personal message—to render it completely yours.


Why do you think people gravitate to Hayden's stationary products in this digital age?

I don’t think anything will ever replace the paper experience. There is something about jotting things down. It is physical. It is committed. You can flip back through the year(s) and recollect. Look at the notes in the margin, the scratch outs, the food or coffee stains. The doodles. The ticket stubs or flora you stuck inside. You cannot do that with a tech device.

I have a daughter of the millennial generation. She recently started using an agenda!
I LOVE my technology. It reminds me of things I need to do and provides cool instant gratification. But it lacks charm.


What inspirers you?

I am inspired by just about everything. It’s all about the lens we see things through. I am a curious person and love to learn new things. I guess you can just say that I am nosy! A change of scenery is always inspiring. Therefore traveling, people-watching, a good story, and a thoughtful person can all get my mind racing.

Probably most inspiring to me is the marriage of form and function. It needn’t be high brow and it can be found anywhere. From that perfectly balanced spatula I use every day in my kitchen to a stunning Richard Neutra house. Intelligent and beautiful is a lethal combination for me.

You create leather goods geared largely towards men. As a woman, how did you end up specializing in men's accessories? Do you gravitate towards men's fashion, personally?

I was lucky to land in menswear early in my career, purely by happenstance. I definitely gravitate towards menswear and all its trimmings. My father was a diplomat and dressed as a gentleman—very correct! He was not a dandy, just pretty well-turned out. I was the only girl with three older brothers, so I was very accustomed to being around their stuff and their behavior.

I enjoy menswear because of its tradition and history, the context and the etiquette. I find it entails quite a bit of sociology as well. How men shop and what goes into their decision to purchase—it’s fascinating, really. Product information is very important to many men.


How would you describe your personal style?

It should not surprise you that most of my closet could form the foundation of a man’s wardrobe. For example, I am passionate about having the perfect trouser, poplin shirt (single-needle construction), and jacket (no fusing!). I really admire good tailoring. And I own more brogues than my husband. But, I also like a pretty dress. I guess if I had to describe my inclination, it would be “slightly butchy, but hopefully cute”.


What famous person would you most love to see with a Hayden journal?

David Brooks. Jon Stewart. Michio Kaku. Any half of the Obama couple.

What's your biggest pet peeve when it comes to fashion?

The fashion victims. Those who don’t have an opinion and just blindly follow.


What's one thing your customers would be surprised to learn about you and about your brand?

I try to avoid using the color black in any men’s collection. It seems counterintuitive, I know (and possibly counter commerce—black sells!), but black is historically not a color in menswear. I don’t believe it became prevalent until the early 1980’s. Previous to that there was navy, gray or brown. Black was reserved for funerals.

To my eyes, black seems out of place, almost “wrong”. So you will not find any black in the Hayden Leather collection (the only exception is our Little Black Book, for obvious reasons). Therefore, midnight navy is our black. I find it to be richer and more gentlemanly.

Shop Hayden Leather at Roztayger.com HERE.

All best,


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