I recently had a chance to sit down again with Iron Heart Boss, Shinichi Haraki, at his store in Osaka. It had a been a while since we chatted so it was good to get an update from him on how things have been lately for him and his company. Always a joy to talk to, here is our little conversation.
So how is Iron Heart doing lately anyway? With everything that’s been going on…
Well, talking purely numbers, this April and May were actually better than the same time period last year. Domestically sales haven’t been good at all, but Giles and the crew in the U.K. have been doing really well and so…yeah, overall as a company, Iron Heart is actually doing better than last year thanks to overseas sales.
How about the industry as a whole? So not just you guys, but “Japanese denim” in the larger sense?
Not good at all, in my opinion. The factories have been hit the hardest, kind of a double-punch of pre-existing orders being cancelled as well as a sharp falloff of new orders. I’m worried about all of them, from the mills to the sewing factories, like are they going to be able to keep producing things in the future like before?
Yikes, well things sound a bit rough on that score.
Yes, they are a bit of a worry right now.
Your sewing factories are all in Okayama?
Okayama and Fukuyama (Hiroshima prefecture).
One thing I’m sometimes asked (and I’m not sure how to answer exactly) is what are the main differences between the Iron Heart and Ignition lines?
Iron Heart was originally aimed at the Harley riding population within Japan. You know there was a such a range of audiences and styles in Japan then, like American casual, vintage casual etc. So for me, when I started out I wasn’t aiming at the “Amekaji” or vintage market like most makers, but I figured I should have a target as well. So because I loved bikes – and jeans are the best thing to wear on a bike – I aimed towards the Harley riders here and started up my company. That was Japan. But Giles and crew kind of recognized that people in Europe or America would probably be into this stuff for different reasons, not as biker wear, but something of quality that you could just wear every day, so that’s how the international part got going.
Ah okay, I get it.
But you know, kind of like overseas, there are also a lot of people here in Japan now, like Amekaji fans, who like Iron Heart and who I want to introduce our stuff to. That being the case, Ignition is even more “purely” geared towards the bike crowd and made exclusively for riding.
So Ignition is not only for the overseas market?
No, it’s sold here in Japan too. We started in Long Beach with the younger Harley-riding American crowd in mind, making the kind of jeans and jackets they wanted, and then we brought the idea back into Japan, to make everything here but to then introduce that style to the world.
Not sure if you can answer this easily on the spot, but what do you envision for Iron Heart in the future? Like in 10, 20 years, where do you see things?
As far as the actual size of the company, how it is now is perfect. It’s enough for me. I guess for me, we’ve been lucky enough to be able to continue to make the same kind of stuff for 15 years now so if I could still be making what I want in another 15 years…I think that would be the happiest thing for me.
For sure, I get it. Is there anything that you haven’t made yet, but really want to make?
Well, there’s really no limit on what you could conceivably make, right? Like you could get into the whole outdoor thing, the military stuff, traditional stuff…there’s really no end to it. If you try and do too many different things, it’s tough on everyone: the mills, the factories, the shops. We’re all friends, in this together, so trying to do too much just isn’t fun for anybody. I want Iron Heart to be a small brand, but a strong one. That’s the way to survive. So of course there are tons of things I’d like to make, but more than that I’d rather just focus on us being able to do what we do for another 15 years.
What’s your favorite Iron Heart item?
That was fast. Why?
It was what we started off with. Making jeans is my purpose, or I guess I should say my job, and with those I wanted to just make the best jeans possible, the best of the best. So yeah, those have the strongest memories for me. Those and the other 21oz stuff.
Totally changing direction here, what do you think of Osaka? (laughs)
Well I’m kind of from western Japan anyway, having been born in Kyushu and raised in Hiroshima, so for me, it’s easy to talk to people here. Communicating with customers is easy here in Osaka.
So Tokyo’s different?
Yeah, I think so.
Cool, yeah I’ve only ever lived here in Osaka so I can’t really compare…
Yeah, Tokyo is a real mix, you know? People from everywhere have kind of congregated there, but Osaka is Osaka…most people here were born and raised here so it’s a different feeling for sure.
I was going to ask you about your free time but…you don’t have any do you?
(laughs) Nope. For me free time equals doing what I like. Doing what I like equals doing my work so…
You love your job eh?
I love my job.
You don’t need to answer this if you don’t want, but are there any other brands or makers that you like or think are making really good stuff?
Yeah, there are. Firstly I like what Iwaya-san is doing at Pure Blue Japan. Also McCoys.
The next few questions are just kind of for fun so…here goes. Favorite food. While overseas and in Japan.
Hmmm..overseas it would be hamburgers for sure. In Japan…hmmm…maybe udon?
Music? I’ve heard it’s 70s rock for you…
Yep, for sure. But more than like, this group or that group, it was more the time. From my 20s or late teens onward like…Carpenters, Eagles, Bad Company, Doobie Brothers, that was the big music explosion for me, so I still listen to that stuff.
Lastly, is there anything you’d like to say to Iron Heart fans out there? Anything goes.
What I really want to say strongly is, first and foremost, “Stay Safe”. That’s gotta be number one. Take care of yourself and family first, and then “Go Forward”. Those are the two things I want to say, but yeah…firstly just stay safe.
Well, thanks so much for your time today Haraki-san. Always a pleasure.
No worries, thank you.