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Inside Steven Alan

Q&A: Batten Sportswear

  • We recently spent a morning at our Brooklyn shop hanging out with Batten Sportswear designer Shinya Hasegawa to discuss his debut collection for Spring ’12, now in stores. The collection was born out of Shinya’s need for clothing suited to his lifestyle – both active and urban – and pays homage to vintage outdoor gear. He also shared his favorite surfing spots and where to find really good Japanese food in New York.

    While there’s a clearly defined aesthetic in the collection, we also love how functional all of the pieces are. When you’re designing, what comes first – utility or form?

    My ultimate goal with Batten has always been to make sportswear, which means each item has to be functional at heart. So when I design, I focus first on utility and construction. This part of the process is actually a lot of fun for me – ever since I was a kid, I’ve been really curious about all the small details that go into making clothes and shoes and bags. It’s been really interesting to focus on the construction of each Batten Sportswear item. I think this attention to utility is an important part of the aesthetic too.

    {Shinya needed a jacket that was easy to pack and worked in different climates, morning to evening. The slimmer two-panel sleeve design on the lightweight Travel Shell Parka allows for easy movement in the outdoors but also creates a streamlined, urban silhouette. It also has an angled front pocket for easy access to valuables, and a back pocket for map storage.}

    You honed your skills at Woolrich Woolen Mills, working with Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments for four years. How did that influence you?

    Daiki is a really great teacher, and during those four years working with him, I had the chance to learn about all of the different elements that go into making clothes. It’s funny, because I never really expected to become a clothing designer. Sure, I’ve loved clothes my whole life, and since I was a teenager it’s been a serious passion. But I had never really thought about making my own clothes until I worked with Daiki. For example, my major in college was Business, and here at FIT I studied Marketing. My previous jobs in fashion were mostly in sales. When the chance came to be assistant designer for Daiki, though, I jumped at it immediately and found out how much I liked the design side of clothing. He taught me not only all the technical skills I needed but also how to use the knowledge about clothes that I’d been gathering since I was a kid.

    As a vintage connoisseur, are there any favorite items you’ve come across over the years?

    I’ve collected a lot of vintage over the years from lots of different eras, but my favorites have been outdoor clothing and backpacks from the 1970s and 1980s. Although, it’s still funny to think of the 70s/80s as a “vintage” era since it doesn’t seem so long ago. Lately I’ve started collecting some great stuff for a new project, but I’m keeping it secret for now.

    {Since early mornings on the beach can be chilly, the Cutter Jac works as a shirt/jacket hybrid. It features 70s design details such as an elongated collar and stash pocket on the arm. We also dig the fun printed lining.}

    You do everything yourself – from the sourcing and design to marketing and sales. What’s the most challenging aspect of being a one-man team?

    When I was starting Batten, I decided that I wanted to experience all aspects of the business for myself. I had already had some experience with sales but never with my own clothing, so I figured being my own salesperson would be a great way of establishing relationships with the stores and getting to know my customers. I had the same kind of desire to really get to know my factories and suppliers first hand and see what kinds of relationships and collaborations we could come up with in order to be able to make the best product possible. As for sourcing fabric and trim, I consider this one of the most enjoyable parts of designing – touching and seeing the fabric, carrying rolls of it to factories, sorting through aisles of trim. I’m a nerd for that kind of stuff.

    But being a one-man operation has also been a challenge since it’s difficult to wear so many different hats at once. And more importantly, I know that if I want Batten to grow, I’ll need a strong team. I’ve actually just hired one full time person and I’m looking for interns. The next stage is developing a strong infrastructure that Batten can be built upon in the future. What’s fortunate is that since I’ve already done every aspect of the job myself, I will be ready to teach my future team from first hand experience.

    {The Packable Anorak easily flips into a tidy little pouch (we watched Shinya do it in a few seconds). Ultra lightweight and quick drying, it’s great to have on hand for unexpected showers while riding a bike. It also features a thoughtful side vent zip to help you get out of it quickly without pulling your shirt off with it.}

    We hear you’re an avid surfer. What are some of your favorite surfing spots?

    I’ve been lucky to be able to surf at some really great beaches, even though I’m not the best surfer around. I think my all time favorite surfing experience was in Nine Palms in Baja California (Mexico). My wife’s family is in L.A., and surfing in Malibu over the years has also been something really special – I love the surfing history of the Malibu beaches. Around here, I like the Cove in New Jersey because you get these beautiful tubes from the reef break with excellent views of Manhattan. I also like Lido in Long Beach because it has such a good atmosphere and I can get regular waves from the A-frame breaks.

    What is it about East Coast surf culture in particular that inspires you?

    Surfing in NYC has gotten popular lately, but it’s definitely not for everyone. The winters here are long, and the water can get really cold. Most of the year, you really have to put yourself in the right mindset (and the right gear) just to get in the freezing water. And a lot of NYC people have to get to the beach by public transportation. I love the A train to Rockaway, for example, but it’s not pretty especially really early in the morning when there are drunk or drugged out people still out and the rats on the platform are extra fearless. I think New York surfers are really dedicated – making the long journey to the beach and gearing up in their wetsuits and gloves and hoods to plunge into the freezing water. They do it because they love surfing, and that’s really inspiring.

    But altogether, I’m still trying to figure out what East Coast surf culture really is and how Batten Sportswear fits into it. Especially since the ASP surf contest was held at Long Beach in New York last year, NYC locals are getting more and more into surfing. And there are NYC surf brands like Saturdays Surf. None of this was happening 5 years ago. I think we’re creating East Coast surf culture right now as we go along. That by itself is pretty inspiring.

    Since you’re originally from Japan, we have to ask you – what’s your favorite place for Japanese food in New York, and are there any restaurants here that you wish were in Japan?

    There’s a lot of great Japanese food in New York. I particularly like Kajitsu in the East Village and Hibino in Brooklyn. One NYC restaurant that I think would do really well in Japan is Frankies. I’ve had a lot of good memories at the Frankies on Court Street in Brooklyn, and my friends visiting from Japan seem to really love it.

    What’s your ideal New York weekend?

    I like to wake up early in the morning and go surfing in Long Beach. Then I have brunch with my wife in our neighborhood in Brooklyn, and we figure out the rest of the day and the evening. Sometimes we go shopping at the farmers market near Prospect Park and walk around the park. Sometimes we have friends over for a dinner party. My ideal weekend is all about relaxing and unwinding. For me, New York City is a great place to do that.

    Many thanks to Shinya for sharing his insights and teaching us what all those strategically placed pockets are for. You can shop Batten at our stores and our web shop.

    - Photos by David Gonzalez

    This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 at 5:35 pm and is filed under In Stock, New Arrivals, Photos. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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