Takashi Tateno might not have been the first to introduce you to the beauty of American workwear but he probably comes close. He is responsible for the incredibly successful Workers website that documents American workwear through extensive research and historical materials. Unfortunately for us, most of his research is in Japanese, we’re only left to admire the archival photos. After designing a bag and publishing it on his site, he was encouraged by his loyal readers to make them available to the public. Since then, he has designed and created a number of garments and accessories painstakingly replicating the stitching and detailing of the originals. Tateno is the sole proprietor Workers managing every aspect of the company, we were able to stop by his store in Kurashiki, about five hours southwest of Tokyo, to talk to him about his obsession with American workwear.
When did Workers start?
Did e-workers begin as a blog and evolve into producing clothes?
No, e-workers was originally a website that introduce work clothes, its history and ads.
What did you do before Workers?
I grew up in Saitama Prefecture and graduated from the University with a degree from the department of economics, and eventually went on to Bunka Fashion School to study basic skills in garment construction. After graduation I moved to Okayama Prefecture where I found a job at a sewing factory. My duties included cleaning the cutting floor, cutting fabrics, sewing parts, driving, calculating cost, quality control, factory management, and sales. But it was a great learning experience. The factory was small, so I was doing it all from accepting the orders to making the clothes.
During the evenings, I would work on my own designs, drawing the patterns, cutting the fabrics, and sewing them. I made jeans, sack coats, and work shirts. I was in search of a particular shape and silhouette and gradually was able to make the patterns that I wanted. But it was a challenge because work clothes were sewn by special sewing machines that used various attachments.
I paid particular attention to the details in the clothes. For instance, the front placket of almost all old work shirts are chain stitched. Some were two, while others were four stitches. The width of the plackets are similar. I asked a lot of people as I researched. Everyone from factory workers, sewing machine specialist, to my boss. One by one, I gradually understood which sewing machines and attachments were needed. As I further researched I began to fall in love with old work clothes. Not only the clothes themselves, but the manufactures, the history, and the ads.
However, during the middle of the last decade, people were not as interested about work clothes, like chambray shirts or railroad jackets. So in 2005, I started a website called “WORKERS,” to show the beauty in vintage clothes, its history, and the ads as a way to share my research. Initially, I didn’t imagine I would be selling clothes from my website. But at the end of 2006, I made a newspaper bag and showed it on WORKERS. I recieved e-mails from people telling me to sell it. I was shocked. I didn’t think people would be interested in it. By 2007, I started taking orders for the bag and was shocked again by the number of people who wanted to buy it. It was more than I had anticipated.
So that’s when I decided to start making clothes. I thought about it carefully, and chose to make a work shirt referencing shirts and jackets from Reliance MFG, Railroad Jackets, and ads from HEADLIGHT.
I didn’t know how to make the Wabash fabric. So on September, I traveled to the US for the first time. Went to West Virginia and the archive of J.L. Stifel and Sons. I found some reports from the 1940’s and I was able to understand the basic method of making that kind of fabric. I brought that information back to Japan and asked a fabric manufacturer replicate it.
Do you have formal training in designing and producing clothes or are you self taught?
Yes, I went to Bunka fashion college. But I was only taught the basic clothing construction for shirts, pants, and women’s coats. I studied making work clothes on my own. Fortunately I had a good friend who worked at Kojima and he knew how to make jeans. He taught me the process of making a pair of jeans step by step. After graduating Bunka fashion college, I got a job at a factory in Kojima. There I was able to learn a lot from the sewers, cutters, pattern makers and others.
When did your interest in American workwear start?
It was in 1999 when I was at university. I worked at a large book store in Tokyo, and found one book by chance. The book was called "WORKERS,” and cost about 4000 Yen. It was quite expensive for a student, but I bought it anyway. The book contained ads and catalogs of work clothes.
What is it about American workwear that excites you?
The mass production behind it all. The use of so many different sewing machines made the clothing designs more special than any other country’s work clothes.
What decades of American workwear is your clothing based off of?
Mainly 1900 to 1960 to 70.
Is there an era in American workwear that is particular interesting to you?
1900-10. I have some ads from this era, and there are many special designs from it. These designs were gone by the 1910-30.