«I changed to menswear design because in womenswear, the freedom is over the top». In conversation with Fumika Oshima, founder of Proposition
An appreciation for vintage clothes
Fumika Oshima is the designer behind Proposition, an upcycling brand she started while at Central Saint Martins in 2017 with Richard Spandler, a vintage clothing dealer working with French workwear and military clothing. Inspired by the work of modern artists like André Butzer and Margiela, Fumika uses a patching technique to carve out stronger squares and sections of fabric from vintage workwear that have worn out over time. Her small studio works on each piece without any machinery, focusing on creating items that will live a second life.
ZZ: Let’s start from the beginning. Proposition was born out of your love for vintage with your partner and the quality that clothing takes on as it ages decade by decade.
FO: I met Richard in London five or six years ago; we met because I loved the aesthetics of vintage clothes. Richard was working at across markets like Portobello in London selling vintage clothes. He was a dealer, dealing with old clothing from abroad and we realised that we had the same aesthetic. We share an appreciation for vintage clothes that have been worn for a long time and that have been transformed through the act of wearing. With vintage clothes, it’s re-making, not creating something new – we started by juxtaposing that. When we started while I was still at university, we were not thinking about ethical issues and recycling – it was just what was right. Now it’s on-trend, even though it’s a basic issue.
ZZ: London has become a nest for designers who are looking to deepen their understanding of t Western fashion and traditional tailoring techniques. What pulled you to come to London from Osaka?
FO: Coming from Osaka, it’s hard to find something that fitted me, so I started to make my own clothes. I changed to menswear design because I liked dressing men more. Working within the parameters of menswear, you have a lot of rules to play with. In womenswear, the freedom is over the top. At Proposition, we focused on vintage clothes, specifically farm wear and workwear that came from France. We were limited in how we used colours and materials because most workwear isn’t colourful –it’s drab monochromatic and covered in stains. My clothing essentials in Japan are the same – they’re only in monochrome or grayscale.
ZZ: Your clothes are patched up, with raw hems that make your fingers itch to run over the patchwork of cloth squares. Simple silhouettes, with a nod to Japanese minimalism and Margiela. Did he inspire you?
FO: The collections were initially inspired by Margiela, however that has changed now to other artists, musicians and literature. For my final project at Central Saint Martins, I found this Russian artist called Ilya Kabakov, who was inspired by Russian literature. It made me think about the way that I create clothes. I think of made-up characters in my head from a cacophony of what I have read or listened to in music or books and create clothing for them.
Designer growth through self-development
ZZ: You stepped away from the monochrome look for your final work while at CSM. You ended up winning the L’Oréal Professionnel Young Talent runner-up award. What prompted the change?
FO: My final collection was about making friends with the enemy. I embraced colour and illustration in my designs for the first time, illustrating my work myself. Initially, I started copying the work of artists I enjoy before moving on to my own style. The collection ended up being covered with my prints and drawings. Through illustration, I tried to embrace something that I have never liked. I liked looking at artists like Andre Buter or Michael Madras. They do black and white paintings, but they also embrace colours and weird characters, which is what I was trying to do.
I wanted to show that it is no good or bad way to design. These categories that are genre-less and category-less help the designer embrace novelty. I took a year out from CSM to broaden my perspective and get some space from London and came to Berlin in 2018. That experience changed my attitude towards creation.
ZZ: Fashion schools are associated with high stakes and equally high pressure. The suicide of a third-year fashion student from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in March 2018 has prompted fashion schools to re-examine what ‘good design’ is. Creative expression relies on freedom – did you feel like that was omnipresent in Berlin?
FO: In Berlin, people were more relaxed and there was more evident diversity. I realised that while I was at university, tutors had their own beliefs about what made good design work. Even at CSM, which is a creative college, I didn’t feel as free as I should. When I came to Berlin, the pressure to succeed across those lines eased. I was exposed to painting, drawing and music – I tend to go out more to galleries in Berlin and it changed my sense of style as well. While I was in Berlin, I was fascinated by the colourful world of André Butzer.
Sourcing materials in flea markets, not buying new bolts
ZZ: André Butzer’s work explores creating a world from imagination, something that your characters/models share. Moving on from artistic inspiration to practical design aspects – how does sourcing materials from markets differ from trade shows?
FO: My partner has a collection of vintage clothes and he used to go to the markets to get more. Now that is impossible. Luckily, we have enough, but those moments of accidental inspiration from perusing the markets in Holborn has been put on hold. We started off using old clothes, but then we realized that we could use items from the Eighties or Nineties as well, even though they’re not as old as my initial source material.
ZZ: Your collections feel both old and contemporary, marring the typically evident features of machine-made clothing, where chemical dyes and scouring solvents are typically used to ‘age’ clothing. How do you choose the pieces that end up becoming a part of your collection?
In my final collection for CSM, there was a patchwork tracksuit that I re-worked from a coat I found at the market. I choose the clothes we work intuitively, understanding if a pattern is interesting on a piece of fabric or how the clothing has faded and aged over time. Once an item has been worn for a long time, the colour and texture of the clothing changes. Sometimes, the shape is distorted as well. We look at that and try and bring that into new clothing as well, rather than focusing on the generic similarity you get with machine-made clothing. All of the old clothing we work with is fragile. We patch from different pieces to create a cloth from stronger parts of the garment to sustain it in its new life.
ZZ: Mass use of machinery to create clothing has become the norm. Identical cuts and stitching lead to a lack of originality and purpose in clothing design. What do you do differently?
FO: All of the garment construction is done by our team and nothing is made in factories. Making clothes artificially is a bad way to express yourself. There is more beauty in handicraft that has a history and moulds to you from years of wearing and the right fit. Although I never thought about it, the ideas behind Japanese craftsmanship are in my blood – when a seam is not straight, I believe it creates something beautiful and one-off.
The life cycle and longevity of clothing cycle is paramount
ZZ: Your mission statement for this year reads – ‘Accumulation of memories and flow of history which needs impulse and infringement from formless story to disrupt and reassemble = subject’ and ‘In-between and out-between’.
FO: I believe that fashion works backwards now, not thinking about the past, only the future. I like mixing the present and the future and the past. Every piece is constructed from old farming clothing, workwear or parachutes that have an aged quality that is then cut into patches which are sewn to new patterns. I want my clothes to be worn for longer than six months, because each of them deserves a future. The items are not throwaway – they are a part of heritage.
Lockdown and brand advertising
ZZ: The coronavirus is affecting all aspects of clothing production There is a growing sentiment towards the re-thinking of priorities, especially in terms of sustainability.
FO: It is a big problem now – how do you sustain yourself, both with sustainability and with corona. This is an issue that no one has previously experienced and we need to change how we operate. What brands do ethically is about advertising and image. It’s clear when a brand is only doing it for that reason. Some designers are working harder, re-using materials from their last collections. I saw a brand earlier this year that was patching everything and using the scraps. I question the need for seasons with clothing – if I wear a t-shirt every day, there is no need for seasonality. Producing clothing without a specific season in mind extends their life. Gathering in the same places twice a year for Fashion Week is also problematic, as it enforces the idea of seasonality and throw-away culture. It’s a good time for brands to tackle it.
Shops are struggling now, so they are not buying up collections. From the perspective of a creative, working from home helps with concentration. It’s possible to experience more things now, everything has slowed down – I started drawing.
ZZ: Brands have been encouraged to move their business online.
FO: For a small company like us, we do not use factories and we don’t have outside support and can create and deliver clothing directly to customers. We need to strengthen our bonds with our people – the customers – and emphasize the need for this in the industry. Collaborations with smaller companies like us help move things and are a good way of maintaining contact. The only way that we could sell clothes before was in a shop. We didn’t have e-commerce, because our items are a one-off and you can’t feel the quality of the material through a screen. That needs to change, because commerce will be heavily internet-based. Internet presentations are flat and we need to think about how to present differently. The way we will end up presenting will reflect our brand, so that people can experience the uniqueness of clothes that have a history.