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Interview with Gauze Clothing Studio Garage

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Garage Gauze Clothing Workshop, Tatsuya and Yoko Nakanishi

Garage Gauze Clothing Workshop, Tatsuya and Yoko Nakanishi

We visited Nakanishi Tatsuya and Yoko, the husband and wife team who run Garage, which sells a wide range of products made from gauze material.

Their atelier is located in Karahashi Rajomon-cho, Minami-ku, Kyoto City, near Toji Temple, famous for its five-story pagoda, and is marked by a painted bicycle on the wall. The glass-walled atelier allows you to see inside from the outside, and you'll find yourself stopping in your tracks to look at the cute clothes.

In addition to cute clothes, the atelier is decorated with foreign books that the couple bought during their stay in the UK, and there is a mural that was a gift from an illustrator friend. The slightly retro atmosphere of the atelier makes customers feel like they have traveled back in time, giving them a slightly extraordinary experience.

Garage's atelier and shop

A sign at the entrance of Garage's atelier shop

We handle everything from design, pattern making, cutting, sewing, and dyeing.

-Garage sells a wide variety of gauze items, but what kind of products do you mainly sell?

Recently, we have been expanding our range of women's items. We mainly sell blouses, T-shirts, dresses... At first, the brand started with unisex T-shirts, so we have fewer men's items compared to the women's items, but we do have some men's items available. Garage's men's items are mainly sold by Craft Cafe.

Colorful gauze clothing on display at the atelier shop

--I imagine that most of your customers are women, but what age group do they make up?

As our prices are higher than fast fashion, we are mainly popular with women over 40. When we held a pop-up shop in a department store, we also had younger customers interested, and they sometimes purchased several items at once.

─Gauze clothing is gentle on the skin and feels nice to the touch, so I have the impression that it's something that a lot of people want.

We have received positive feedback from people with sensitive skin, and we sometimes receive inquiries about our products. The clothes sold at garage are made of gauze material, but they are stretchy due to the bias stitching, and are very comfortable to wear.

-The colour is also very beautiful.

We dye our products ourselves using dyes we mix ourselves. The most popular color is white, but we hope our customers will enjoy the various colors available.

Garage has been making women's T-shirts from double gauze material since the company was founded. The remaining fabric is used as fringe in the design.

The reporters were amazed at how soft the gauze shirt felt to the touch.

-- I've heard that bias sewing requires a special way of cutting fabric, which means it's actually less efficient at using fabric.

It's true that using bias stitching is inefficient and not commonly used, but at garage we use the leftover fabric for decorations such as ruffles, trying to minimise waste as much as possible.

--I see. It's a great initiative from the perspective of the SDGs, which aim to avoid wasting resources.

Thank you (laughs). But rather than being conscious of the SDGs or eco-friendliness, it feels like the times have just caught up with us (laughs).

--What is the reason behind your commitment to continuing to use gauze as a material?

"Wara Tenjin Shrine" in Kinugasa, Kyoto The baby clothes I received as a prayer for safe childbirth were made of gauze and felt very nice to the touch. However, gauze clothes for adults were not common at the time, so I thought, "If they don't exist, why not make them ourselves?" That's what got me started. I've continued to use bias-strip fabric since then, and when I made clothes made of gauze, they were strong, had beautiful silhouettes, and came in a variety of designs. Some of my customers have been wearing the same clothes for over 10 years.

Wara Tenjin Shrine (Kinugasa Babacho, Kita Ward, Kyoto City) is known as a shrine in Kyoto where people pray for safe childbirth.
Its official name is Shikichijinja, but it is also called Wara Tenjin because straw is given out as a talisman for safe childbirth.
Items given out include belly bands, amulets for safe childbirth, and baby clothes.

Yoko Nakanishi sewing gauze clothing

A torso used to make patterns for gauze clothing

After leaving an apparel company, studying abroad in the UK for three years was a turning point for him

--More than 10 years! That's because of the long history of over 20 years that you two have built up. You both originally worked as pattern makers and other creative jobs at apparel companies, but did you have the desire to become independent from that time?

If there was a turning point, I think it was my study abroad in the UK that triggered it all.

--Did you go to England to study? Was it to study fashion?

No, I actually graduated from school and got a job at a sports manufacturer, where I worked as a pattern maker, then moved to a company that produced decorative tiles, where I worked for about five years. During my time at the sports manufacturer, I had many exciting experiences, such as taking the measurements of sumo wrestlers to make their jerseys, but I somehow got a little bored with my work in Japan (laughs). I may have gone to England in search of excitement. I didn't go to a fashion school or university, but to a language school.

--You and your husband have both studied abroad in the UK. Did you meet while you were there?

No, we met at a junior college in Japan and have been friends ever since. When we were students, we visited England on a school trip and thought it was a nice place. So, we had always thought that if we were to go abroad, we should go to England, and we decided to study abroad there. We went to Southampton, a port city with a beautiful sea. It's famous as the place where the Titanic departed.

--How was your life there?

I was surprised at the many differences between Japan and the US. We had a hard time finding a place to live, so after we arrived, my husband and I stayed in a youth hostel for a while. It was also difficult to find a part-time job. I had to go directly to the stores and ask if they had any rooms available or if they were hiring part-time workers.

--It must be quite a shock for Japanese people in Japan, because it's so easy to inquire about rental properties or apply for part-time jobs.

Well, it was more than 20 years ago, so it may be easier now (laughs). Although we decided to study in the UK at the time, we both left with zero English skills, so we struggled to communicate with the local British people, but we managed to get by in the end. We were able to rent a place to live and get a part-time job managing a lodging facility, so we were able to earn some money.

Late 1990s: When I was in the UK
With my host family who looked after me during my stay in the UK

The studio displays the foreign books he acquired during his stay in the UK and a mural given to him by an illustrator friend.

--I'm impressed by how tough you both are. Were you thinking about finding work in the UK at the time?

Yes, in fact, things were coming together, but I couldn't get a job locally due to visa issuance issues. I was hoping that my employer would handle the visa application process for me, but the local government decided that there was no need for a Japanese person to do the job, and so the deal fell through.

--That must be a shock, just when things were starting to come together.

Well, it can't be helped (laughs). Even with that happening, I bought a car and went on a wandering trip, and had fun. I found a used Nissan Sunny for sale over there for about 70,000 yen, and I used that to go to all kinds of places.

-- 70,000 yen! That's cheap!

When I returned to Japan, I sold it to someone else for about 40,000 yen (laughs).

--That was a good deal. What made you decide to return to Japan?

Financial reasons and visa issues. I went to the UK with plenty of money, but gradually I ran out of money, and even though I extended my visa, I reached my limit... I had no choice but to go back to Japan.

After returning from the UK, she launched her own garage, selling her products at craft markets, and now also runs pop-up shops and clothing workshops in department stores.

-How was life after returning to Japan?

When I returned to Japan in 2000, it was during the so-called employment ice age in Japan, so it was really bad timing. It was hard to find work because of the recession.

-I see, so that's why you two decided to start a garage?

Well, I managed to get a job at a hand-painted Yuzen company, but it was my experience there that led me to start up Garage. At first, I was doing hand-painted Yuzen at the company, but after about four months I was assigned to a sales position at the same company. I worked in sales for about a year, but because it was a small company, I was able to see and learn about management know-how up close, and gradually I started to feel a strong desire to do it myself.

-After studying abroad in the UK and working at a hand-painted Yuzen company, you created Garage. What was the beginning of Garage?

As I mentioned earlier, I got the idea from baby clothes, and from the beginning I started selling gauze clothes. At first I sold my products at a craft market, and some customers picked them up and said they were cute, so I was very happy with the positive response.

-Garage started out as a handmade market, but now it has grown to the point where it holds pop-up shops in department stores. How do you feel about the brand's growth?

We will be holding a pop-up shop at Hankyu Department Store, and it will be great to meet new customers that we would not normally meet at the atelier, as well as customers who have always been interested in us after seeing us on social media. We have many repeat customers who come back again and again, which makes us feel that our commitment has reached their hearts, and it is very moving.

Also, opening a pop-up shop has led to new connections. We happened to have a connection with Spica Pattern Store, a Kyoto-based store that was operating next to the garage booth, and thanks to their cooperation we were able to sell these cute gauze shirts. We were not good at coming up with patterns, so we were really grateful for their cooperation.

A cute gauze shirt with a whale shark design by Spica Motif. Everyone exclaimed, "So cute!"

-This is cute!

This shirt can be worn by both men and women, so I hope many people will pick it up. In addition to the shirts, this series also sells skirts, so you can enjoy them as a set. The design, which looks like a whale shark swimming in the ocean, is cool and perfect for the upcoming season. I'm really grateful to have had this opportunity, thanks to the pop-up shop. I've also had the opportunity to hold clothing-making workshops at department stores.

Overcoming the torrential rains at my parents' home and the coronavirus pandemic

-I really admire the way you two paved your own path and made the most of opportunities and connections. But the history of the garage, which has continued for more than 20 years, must not have been filled with only good memories.

Yes, my parents' home is in Hiroshima Prefecture, and on the first day of the workshop, Hiroshima was hit by heavy rain and flooding, and my parents' home was also affected (the Western Japan heavy rains of July 2018).

I was worried about my family during the workshop, so I went to Hiroshima immediately after the workshop. In addition, the entire apparel industry was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the stay-at-home order, and garage was no exception.

As you can see, there were some difficult times, but I think my experience studying abroad in the UK has allowed me to stay positive and keep working hard.

What I learned from studying abroad is that Japanese people are too serious. And to be honest, from the Japanese perspective, British people seem to live their lives a little too casually, but I realized through studying abroad that maybe it's okay to relax a little.

-Many Japanese people would probably be hesitant to do what you two did, giving up a glamorous career in Japan, going to the UK with no English skills, and then starting an apparel brand after returning to Japan.

I think it's good to try new things without taking things too seriously and relax a bit. Our son grew up watching his parents' backs, so he is proactively trying to do what he wants as a freelancer.

Generally, many parents want their children to work for a company and live a stable life, but we don't have that kind of worry for our own children, and as parents, we just want to watch over them.

-If you two have such thoughts, I think your child will be able to take on the challenge of pursuing his or her own dreams in a positive way. What kind of feedback do you have about your child's garage?

When he was a child, he loved the clothes we made for him and would wear them all day long of his own volition, but as he grew up he stopped wearing them (laughs).

I want to convey to many people the appeal of gauze clothing and the joy of making clothes.

Fabric cutting work.
"We should do as much as we can with our own hands."
With this idea in mind, we handle everything from design, patterns, sewing, and dyeing.

Each piece is dyed by hand after sewing.

-Garage has overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and will celebrate its 23rd year in business in 2024. What are your prospects for the future?

Our goal is to keep Garage going. To achieve that, we will continue to protect the brand by not taking things too seriously and by staying positive.

Starting this year, we have started selling shirts using print fabrics from Spica Moyoten, and they are so popular that they sell out immediately after going on sale. We hope that many people will check them out.

We are also planning to hold another gauze clothing workshop at the Hankyu Umeda Main Store in Osaka in July 2024. It takes a lot of preparation to hold a workshop, but I am still excited to meet many people. I hope that this workshop will also convey to many people the fun of making clothes and the charm of the garage.

The brand name "garage" (pronounced "ga-ra-ji" in British) is used in Japan to mean "a garage," but overseas it is also used to mean "a place for manufacturing." At Craft Cafe, they receive orders for Garage not only from customers in Japan, but also from customers living overseas, and the passion the two of them put into making clothes has reached many people across the ocean.

The gentle touch of the gauze clothes seems to reflect the personalities of the two people who made them. Why not try one for yourself?

(Interview date: June 21, 2024 / Text: Takuya Hamamura)

Profile of Tatsuya and Yoko Nakanishi of Garage, a gauze clothing workshop

Right: Tatsuya Nakanishi, born in Kyoto in 1969

After graduating from the Fashion Design course at Kyoto College of Art, he got a job as a pattern maker at the sports goods manufacturer ASICS.
Every day, he made patterns for sportswear and wear for top athletes, but he wanted to create things that involved more sweat and effort, so he left ASICS, where he had worked for about two years, and moved to Otsuka Ohmi Ceramics. There, he worked at a manufacturer of large tiles and decorative ceramic panels for building entrance halls and building walls, and was involved in the production of ceramic panels and sign panels for artists' works. He was mainly in charge of making ceramic panels using photoengraving technology. Here, he learned the basics of various craftsmanship and came into contact with the works of famous artists, which gave him a keen sense of commitment to "making things."

I worked there for about five years, but I quit and went to the UK, hoping to live there permanently, in search of an environment different from Japan. I returned to Japan at the end of 1999 due to visa issues. At that time, Japan had a high unemployment rate, so I couldn't find a job, but I wandered around for about half a year and rediscovered the good things about Japan. Luckily, I was in Kyoto, so I got a job at a kimono dyeing shop. I traveled all over Japan as a salesperson at exhibitions and sales events.

During this time, I somehow felt a surge of motivation and confidence, and decided to use the skills and experience I had acquired to make and sell my own products. I quit my job at the dye shop.

Left: Yoko Nakanishi (born 1968 in Hiroshima)

After graduating from the Kyoto College of Art and Design, she got a job as a pattern maker at a women's clothing apparel manufacturer in Osaka. After working there for about four years, she worked as a freelance illustrator and pattern maker.
I went to England to live there for about three years, studying at an English school and working part-time. I was forced to return to Japan due to visa issues.

After that, I felt a surge of motivation and confidence, and decided to make full use of the skills I had acquired so far and start making and selling my own products.

The couple started Garage in 2002. They are the mother and father of one child.

Gauze Clothing Workshop Garage Featured Items

Stylish and cute loungewear made from double layered gauze


Click here for details

A short-sleeved shirt with fluffy details on the chest


Click here for details

A simple sleeveless T-shirt made of double gauze


Click here for details

A simple T-shirt made of double gauze that feels soft against the skin


Click here for details
Garage item list
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