ARTIST INTERVIEW: Nick Sugihara and Maryam Shamlou of IJJI
Artists: Nick Sugihara and Maryam Shamlou (interview with Nick)
IJJI joins us for the first time at Echo Park Craft Fair this season, and we are thrilled to share their intentionally-curated designs, each defined by a focus on natural fibers, beautiful colors, and interesting silhouettes. Founded in the fall of 2016, and recently relocated to L.A., the company began with a pair of genderless canvas drawstring pants – hence the origins of the name: IJJI (pronounced ee – jee) comes from a Japanese word イージーパンツ, meaning any loose fitting drawstring pant.
The Echo Park Craft Fair is celebrating our 10 year anniversary this Holiday, 2019. Can you speak to how long you’ve been doing the Fair and how the EPCF community has contributed to the evolution of your work and business?
This is our first time! That being said, we first attended EPCF a couple of years ago and it has been a goal for us to be a part of it ever since. The fact that we have the opportunity to participate is a very gratifying benchmark for where we’re at creatively and as a business.
Please tell us about the current work you will featuring this Holiday and speak a bit to how you/your work as evolved over the last decade?
We started the brand three years ago with a single pair of pants and no plans for what came next. Since then, we’ve evolved slowly out of the desire to create a more complete wardrobe. For this holiday we prioritized comfort and drape, releasing a wide leg trouser and our Work Jacket in a super luxe wide-wale corduroy. Our Fall releases are always geared towards layering and breathability because the temperature shifts so wildly down here!
The ethics of production are on our minds a lot recently – questions of sustainability, fair labor, location, and artistic integrity. How do these concepts come into play in your craft and your business? What choices do you make that take into account these ideas?
We think about this a lot too, particularly the somewhat fraught nature of producing physical goods in a world where we’re drowning in excess. It’s led us to think more carefully about what we really want to make and what we feel so-so about.
I think the bare minimum for any clothing designer in 2019 needs to be intentionality. I don’t want to consume the limited resources we have available unless it’s to create something I feel strongly about and that I think adds value to someone else’s life. It’s a constantly shifting criteria, though, and that’s what makes it so hard. There are moments when I think we’re doing a really good job and then others when I want to light it all on fire.
Our relationship to the labor that goes into manufacturing our clothes has basically been the same since the beginning. We’ve always used tiny local operations that we can develop personal relationships with. The benefits we see are innumerable, but a lower carbon footprint because of the lack of transit, and the ability to actually speak with the people that are sewing our clothes, are two of our faves.
Can you speak a bit to your process? What inspires your work? What techniques do you use to produce your designs? What is the history behind those techniques, and does that inform how you utilize them in your process?
The inspiration really varies. Sometimes I’ll have some image living in the back of my head for a long time and will just periodically take it out and think about what it might look like in the context of IJJI. Eventually it might turn into something, but maybe not. Then I try to do as much self-interrogation as possible: Why do you like this? What aspects are most essential? What could be better? The final piece for me I think is a question of utility, like is it good at doing its job? Does this jacket perform all the functions of a jacket well? It can be a pretty slow, meandering process, which is why we don’t make that much stuff!
As far as technique is concerned, it really helps me to get things in three dimensions as quickly as possible, so I sew a lot of the first samples myself. Being able to understand garments from a construction standpoint has been a huge asset to me creatively, although I can get a little stuck in the weeds from time to time. I think having that physical connection to the work has given me a real sense of practicality when it comes to designing, because even when I’m sketching, I’m imagining how all the pieces go together. It’s kind of an outdated skill in a lot of ways, but I was raised with a real appreciation for craft, by a mom, who sewed most of my halloween costumes.
What is your underlying philosophy/core vision for your work? And what impact do you hope your creative work will have on your community?
In some ways I try to position our work to have as little impact as possible. I think that’s the real beauty of having a small business, and something that’s maybe been lost a little bit, with the internet and social media. I love the idea of being a niche business.
The north star to which we always look has a lot to do with only making things because we want to, not because we feel like we have to. Of course we’re not always totally successful and sometimes we end up doing stuff that we’re not 100% happy with. But it’s a long road and knowing what you really want is a tall order.