Interview Series: “The woman with a mission”

This is part one of the two-part interview of Jotaki Ren on fashion, design and changing times. 

  1. Patterns of love and the kimono
  2. On patterns, principles and timeless fashion (this article)
  3. On kimonos, functionality and (dis)abilities

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How did your journey in fashion and design begin?

In essence, my job was to make my clients better. Fashion design was just a small branch of it. What I did can be compared to surgery. Take the example of the apparel. If someone asks me, “What kind of clothes would make me look better?”, it is very difficult to answer that. There is the question of plain or patterned. If patterned, what kind of pattern? Then, there is the question of the elements of the pattern – their distance, type, and colour. Every detail counts and makes a huge difference. I often used the phrase “kiban, ganban and taiban”  (基盤, 岩盤, 胎盤) to express this sentiment.

Kiban is like a motherboard or the base upon which the idea is executed. Ganban is the bedrock, and taiban means the placenta. The one attribute that these three have in common is that they are all invisible. But, together they create the look of the person. The aim of fashion or design should always be to make the wearer feel comfortable and look better. Nowadays, clothes are made for people with figures like those of models. That shouldn’t be the case.

Is there a particular principle that you work under, in terms of fashion and design?

The principle is love. Let’s take the example of a person – male or female, tall or short, thin or fat. There are always positive and negative characteristics to each person of any body type. If we consider the pen to be a person, then the paper branches are the characteristics which can be positive (blue) or negative (white). People tend to focus on the negatives more, and as a consequence, they see themselves with a deficit or defect. My job is to make my clients focus more and more on the positives, through apparel and clothing. This is love.

Jotaki Ren showing explaining the positive-negative theory using a pen and paper

See, the fundamental principles – kiban, ganban, taiban – never change through time. Trends come and go. I want to promote fashion that sticks to the fundamental principles and create timeless fashion. After all, today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s junk.

What is your opinion of mass-produced clothes?

A picture f=of a department store with mass-produced clothes lined up in hangers

I am not against mass-production. When I started my career as a designer at an apparel company, I was an industrial designer. That’s something I still want to keep on doing. Please note that there is a difference between industrial designers and just a designer. If you are just a designer, your work is considered to be art. You don’t think about your customers. These designers shouldn’t try to sell their products, because it’s just like you are selling your ego in the form of your work.

In contrast, industrial designers thrive on their earnings. If their product doesn’t sell, they are fired. I developed a very calculative bent of mind while working as an industrial designer.

Jotaki Ren writing on a small notebook
Jotaki Ren explains her thoughts through diagrams and notes

Look at my jacket. I can wear it in all four seasons. Let’s say that the jacket costs ¥10,000, but if I can wear it all year round, it is ¥2,500 per season. Is it not the same as when you buy four season-specific clothes of ¥2,500 each? This way, you can save a little space in your wardrobe. That’s the mindset that I had when I was an industrial designer, and I still want to do that. I want to challenge myself further. I want to move to Indonesia or Vietnam and become a Japanese language teacher. All the while, I will be trying to mass produce clothes based on fundamental principles.

Read the next article


The articles feature no pictures of Jotaki Ren respecting her wish not to be photographed. The interviews were conducted in Japanese by Rena Takiguchi. Transcribing was done by Rena Takiguchi and Chandrica Barua. The final write-ups in English are by Chandrica Barua.

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