AKASHI-KAMA's Cross Cultural Design Influence

I recently spoke with Alec Nakashima, the founder of AKASHI-KAMA, a California based brand that creates garments inspired by the Japanese-American experience. A relatively young brand, AKASHI-KAMA's offerings include hoodies, t-shirts, and their original Noragi Jacket which are all manufactured domestically in Oakland, California. 

I first encountered the brand's work on Reddit around the time of their launch, and I have been happy to watch their growth and evolution over the past few months. 

What inspired the creation of AKASHI-KAMA?

I'm Japanese-American, and went to Japan for the first time in 2018. It was an incredible experience, and after I came home I kept looking for something that blended a traditional aesthetic and that I could wear in an everyday context. I couldn't find anything like what I was picturing, so I decided to make my own. 

The brand, having been launched in May 2019, is still relatively young. What was the startup process like? 

The startup process was really difficult, lots of failure-turned-learning early on. For example, our gold aglet ends (one of my favorite design details on our Noragi) took 4 physical samples to get right. 

You mention that the brand's garments are "designed and influenced by the Japanese-American experience." Would you mind expanding on this experience and its relationship to the brand? 

Love that you picked this line out because it's really the basis for the whole brand. I mention Japanese-American because that's specific to me, and the voice I can bring. Our garments are not the traditional style at all, just like me—and really like all future generations of immigrants—they're two cultures coming together to make something new. Our version of the Noragi has gold aglets inspired by streetwear, tapered instead of wide sleeves, and is designed to be worn open rather than tied. It's my way of opening up this once-traditional silhouette to everybody.

All of AKASHI-KAMA's garments are made in Oakland, CA by sustainable, small batch manufacturers. Can you expand upon why it is important for the brand to use domestic, sustainable manufacturing?

This was important for me from the very beginning. These are things that matter to me deeply, so I never really even considered going abroad for manufacturing, despite the cost differences. I thought there was something poetic in these Noragis being made of Japanese materials but created in America, just like me and tons of others. 

The noragi is a staple of the brand's offerings. If you can recall, where did you originally encounter this garment?

Two major places that really influenced me on this—my grandma's closet, and my host parents in Japan. Both had beautiful, intricate, garments that I admired and doubted I could ever pull off. 

This may be an impossible question, but what is your favorite iteration of AKASHI-KAMA's noragi? 

Ha, impossible is correct. I've been wearing our heavier Noragis as layering pieces a lot lately, the Mustard (made of a heavy Japanese Twill) and the Black, which is our first Noragi made from organic cotton. But the classic Indigo is probably my favorite. Goes with anything, and feels incredible when you're wearing it because of the lightweight double gauze cotton. 

What is your favorite way to style the piece? 

I love the simple fit—it's so eye catching of a piece with the ties hanging, all you need is a plain tee and cropped jeans. During the colder months I wear it as a midlayer a lot, under army jackets or overshirts. 

Moving forward, what can we expect from the brand in 2020?

Oh man. Really excited about what we have coming this year. Aloha shirts soon, which is special to me since my mom's side of the family is from Hawaii. We have a special Noragi releasing as part of our 1 year, and I'm working on a longer, three-quarter length garment. That one is going to be crazy.

AKASHI-KAMA's Instagram

Photos (excluding the 2nd shot of Alec) via Point of References. Special thanks to Hannah Apple for modeling. 

Damian M.

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