While many Japanese labels draw inspiration from Ivy and American workwear, Visvim abandoned that and delved deep into ancient folk customs. Growing up fascinated with Heavy Duty items, Hiroki Nakamura - Visvim founder and designer - later discovered, after moving to Alaska, that no-one really cared that he was dressed head-to-toe in American heritage clothing. This sparked something in Hiroki, a yearning to do something unique that upheld Japanese tradition. After a stint at Burton Snowboards and working alongside Hiroshi Fujiwara, he developed a footwear line in 2002 that fused Native American moccasins with hi-tech sneakers. In 2005, Visvim later expanded into a fully-fledged apparel line that set its sights on bolstering functionality by means of age-old techniques. Nakamura uncovered heavy wool coats in Tibet, hand-dyed blankets on Navajo reservations and colourful folk art in Guatemala; all of which have gone on to inform the design process behind each garment.

As Japanese consumers mature and get older, they realise they don’t necessarily need more product but something that has meaning and a story behind it. With this in mind, Visvim continues to flourish and collectors become increasingly desperate to get their hands-on older pieces. Fiercely loyal and devoted to everything Visvim, Gian Jonathan is an archivist and collector boasting a collection of over 200 pieces. With a wardrobe filled to the brim with every Visvim grail you could ever imagine, this is what dreams are made of. From mud-dyed GORE-TEX 3-layered jackets - made using an ambitious process known as dorozuke- to a down jacket from 2014 made using vintage bandana fabrics - this collection of Visvim is unlike anything you’ve seen before.

SEVENSTORE investigate and document Gian’s unique story and affection with the Japanese label. Prying as much information out of Gian as possible to unearth some of his most coveted items from his archive, touching base on the traditions that Visvim upholds, how he began collecting and the lengths he’d go to get his hands on Visvim’s most sought-after goods.

SEVENSTORE: What is it about Visvim that piques your interest? What is it that initially attracted you to Visvim?

Gian: Initially, I think I was first attracted to the FBT. “What a strange looking and expensive pair of shoes”, I thought, but it did catch my attention and I began researching more about the brand. Like many others, usually the point of entry to Visvim starts with the footwear and then slowly it goes up and up.

SEVENSTORE: Can you tell us about how you began collecting and trace back to a point that demonstrates this?

Gian: I can’t really remember the exact point I began collecting, I think it happened naturally over time. But, I still remember the first Visvim piece that I bought, or rather, my wife bought for me. It was during our company trip to Tokyo in 2013, she knew I had been wanting to get a pair so she bought me some as a birthday present: the 7 hole 73’ folk boots in sand suede. 

SEVENSTORE: When it comes to collecting Visvim, is there an element of emotional attachment to the pieces you come by? This sort of ties into the criteria of the articles you collect but does it play a crucial part in holding onto them?

Gian: Visvim has this certain charm and quality to their stuff, be it apparel, footwear or accessories that when you look at it in person you just know that it’s well crafted. If you think the photo looks good, most of the time the real thing is twice as good as that. Also, there’s this contradicting factor in their product, it always feels imperfectly perfect. Be it the imperfect hand stitching on their shoes or the repair mark on the vintage fabric, or the unevenness of the natural dye. All these factors, I think, are the ones that initially attracted me to the brand and kept me hanging around.

There is a lot of emotional attachment and stories to some of the pieces. Like, for example, I could never let go of this ICT Noragi Kofu. I got it from this HK collector who is my friend. He knew I really really wanted it so after months/years of persuasion, he finally passed it on to me. To me, it is still my top piece on my Visvim list. Looking at the pieces sometimes brings back nice memories.

SEVENSTORE: What was it that made you want to start collecting and archiving Visvim? Was there a lightbulb moment that went off or was it a natural progression over time? What had you been interested in before clothing-wise? 

Gian: It’s been more of a natural progression over time. At some point, I was trying to mix in similar brands like Kapital and Blue Blue Japan, but it just doesn’t feel right. Those pieces will end up just sitting in the wardrobe. I think that’s when I realised Visvim is the only one for me, I haven’t looked back since. The community was quite small during that time (around 2013-2014) and the only source of information of Visvim was via online forums like Superfuture, fuk, or IG. Then, I began just taking pictures of my pieces and posting them on IG and that’s where I met like-minded people that are into the brand as well. It was fun! I remember there were only like 12k hashtags on IG for Visvim, now it has grown to be around 680k. Crazy. 

SEVENSTORE: Japan has a rich history in general, but especially when it comes to manufacturing and craftsmanship - methods of Boro and Sashiko are popular examples found in clothing. There is a strong sense of Japanese traditionalism in Visvim, why do you think they make it such a priority to uphold these values and pay homage to age- old methods? It is certainly one of the most unique things about Visvim, there are very few brands that place such emphasis on maintaining these values.

Gian: Haha, actually this question is best answered by Nakamura-san as the designer of the brand. But, from my point of view I think those age-old methods give warmth or a charm to the product that no modern manufacturing could achieve. Also, I believe they are trying to support and preserve the craft. Apart from Boro and Sashiko, they also made a lot of stuff using other age-old methods like Kyo-Yuzen, Saki-Ori, Katazurizome, Majotae fabric, as well as foreign methods found outside of Japan.

One of my favourite methods we have seen in times gone by is mud-dyeing, especially for boots. The recent Brigadier boots that I got look like they have been dug out by an archaeologist. The overall colour and the vintage-ness of it is unreal.

SEVENSTORE: Do you have a certain criteria you go by when it comes to purchasing Visvim? Or, do you pick up any kind of Visvim item that comes up?

Gian: No, definitely, I have to choose carefully, I can’t just buy anything that comes up. I don’t have a certain criteria per se. I think, firstly it has to be something that I can wear (size wise) and usually I go by the rareness of it. It’s like collecting cards, you want to get all the rare pieces. I’ll be much happier if I could score a rare, old piece rather than a recent hyped-up piece, but that’s just me!?

SEVENSTORE: With such an expansive collection, is it fair to say you don’t get a chance to wear the majority of pieces you own? It must be hard to find enough days in the year to wear each piece?

Gian: Yes, you’re right, especially all the heavier coats or jackets. I wish I could live in a four-season country. It's so hot in Singapore even a t- shirt is too hot. Sometimes I still try to wear a denim jacket of sorts but usually that doesn’t last very long. Once I was desperate to wear the Six Five Fishtail Parka and the weather was slightly cool. But, when I picked up my boy from school wearing that coat, everyone looked at me and asked, “Oh, is it raining heavily outside?”. I will never wear that anymore in Singapore.

SEVENSTORE: Practicality-wise, how do you store all of the items you have collected? Are they boxed up or is each piece hanged, steamed and covered?

Gian: I treat them normally, I don’t box them up or anything; the jackets are hung with the dust bag but that’s about it. Also, I just wash them normally, except for the delicate pieces.

SEVENSTORE: What lengths would you go to, to get a sought-after piece? Or, give us an example of the lengths you’ve had to go to in order to get a piece?

Gian: Haha, I think I’ve tried almost everything really. My good friend once said, “If you want something enough, you will find a way.”

SEVENSTORE: What do you think it is about Visvim that has garnered such a cult-like following? Is it a shared appreciation of the craftsmanship behind each item, or do people want to collect something that is produced in such limited numbers? 

Gian: It’s the mix of both I think, the craftsmanship for sure, but I feel the ‘hard to get’ factor contributes a lot to it. When you produce something so little and so hard to get, the demand will increase. So, when people finally get what they are looking for, they go crazy about it. I think the low quantity, small batch strategy is working out for them, although nowadays they do create stuff in a larger quantity.

SEVENSTORE: What do you think about the Visvim garments that utilise GORE-TEX technology? It’s like two worlds coming together - modern fabric technology and age-old Japanese craftsmanship.

Gian: It’s great, I’m glad they continued the partnership after Hiroki said they would be stopping the collaboration a few years ago. I think the most special GORE-TEX pieces are the ones that use natural dye on them. It only happened for one season and was never made again. Maybe it was too time consuming and labour intensive. It was a triple GORE-TEX membrane combined with a slub yarn chino outer and they did an indigo/mud dye on it.

SEVENSTORE: So, a bit of a fun question now and your chance to really show off! Can you list five of your favourite pieces from your collection, why and the story behind them?

Gian: It’s very hard to choose five pieces as they are constantly changing!

20AW ICT Brigadier Boots 

I just got these last week but they have become one of my all-time favourites. They are made from kangaroo leather which is my favourite material in the history of Visvim footwear. The boots were mud dyed and then applied with a very heavy damage process essentially tearing the shoes down, giving them an original patina. It was so heavily damaged that each boot needs to be repaired. Mine even came with a leather patch. 

Free Edge Shirt N.D. Big Collar

Not many people know that I am a big fan of this. This Free Edge Shirt was made using 100% antique hemp called Majotae. It’s a project in Japan that revives and preserves this antique hemp. The texture is incredible and second to none. It has the texture of a linen but it’s more fibrous and more textured, but yet supple and lustrous. And, in this version they dyed it with dark indigo and mud, resulting in an almost black appearance. I have worn mine so many times it has developed these nice fades. In certain areas the indigo dye has gone and it reveals the brownish mud hue, and in other parts the mud has gone and it reveals the indigo.

ICT Dugout Shirt Black Bandana

I really love the bandana series, especially the black bandana. It’s the hardest to get, most of the time they are gone even before they are put on sale. So, I was really lucky to get this piece, and it is the same exact piece that they used in the official photo. To date I’ve only seen another person that has this dugout shirt in black bandana. I wonder how many they made? 

I am on a mission to collect all the black bandana apparel and so far, I’m just missing one last piece! 

Douglas Jacket N.D Silk

This is a crazy piece, sometimes I wonder how I got this, haha. This souvenir style jacket was made using a naturally dyed blend of silk and cotton. The special part is the fish embroidery at the back, it was embroidered freehand by Japanese artisans. So, instead of inputting the design to the computer and letting the machine do the work, the artisans looked at the picture of the fish and controlled the embroidery machine by hand. Crazy! Only 11 pieces of this jacket were produced. 

ICT Noragi Kofu

I think this piece will always be at the top of my list. Somehow if there’s one piece that can sum up what I like about Visvim, this will be it. This was only released once during the Isetan Pop up, I’m not sure how many were made, so far, I have seen about 5 pieces including this one. It was made using vintage indigo fabric, I like everything about this piece. The pattern selected and placed were very, very considered. The layout was perfect and the combination of colour was perfect. It’s as if the designer really placed each fabric by himself. The Kofu series continues to be a staple item from then up until now, but the first generation of Kofu will always be regarded as the best one ever from them. 

SEVENSTORE: You document many of your collected Visvim pieces on Instagram. Are there plans to move beyond Instagram as a platform to share more information about them? For example, a website where you categorise them into outerwear, bottoms and accessories, and explain about the process behind the design.

Gian: Not at the moment, it did cross my mind but I don’t think I would be able to do it as it will take too much time, haha. Actually, a few years ago my friends from the USA started a website called ‘Vissertations’. It was really great, they reviewed a lot of pieces in-depth and it came from a user point of view. Unfortunately, it has since been discontinued.

I do think I want to try to do more Instagram content where the community could contribute to it... Let me work on it. 

SEVENSTORE: As a collector you get your hands on an absurd amount of Visvim gear, can you tell us about some of the distinct design nuances that are unique to a brand like Visvim? Whether that be the inspiration behind a jacket, the age-old dyeing method or the construction of said piece. 

Gian: I feel if there’s one common and unique thing about Visvim pieces is they all age nicely. It’s something that is not so easy to see because you need to put in the time as well as overcoming the mental barrier to see how a particular garment evolves: how the colour changes over hundreds of washes, how the denim fades, how the boots develop a patina after a few seasons of wear. It is really a hidden and often overlooked quality in a brand, it’s not easy to create something that will look better worn compared to brand new. I have this pair of mud dyed pants that have, I don’t know, maybe more than 10 holes in them? I keep patching them up even though my wife says, “Why don’t you throw them away?”.

SEVENSTORE: In the time that you’ve been collecting Visvim, have you noticed any changes in the way they approach design? There are a number of ways that makes Visvim so unique.

Gian: Yes, for sure, there have been a few shifts because they have to try to make something new each season, right? Like, for example, from 2017 onwards they began shifting towards a looser and more oversized fit for their clothing. They started to introduce a jumbo cutting, even for pants, and some jackets like the Kerchief Down Jacket also underwent a few sizing changes. Mostly, they are all getting a looser fit. But not all shifts are good, now they have started to put Visvim branding on their clothing which I am personally not too fond of. Besides that, I feel that the design principles have stayed the same.

The latest collection of Visvim is available in-store and online now.
Special thanks to Gian Jonathan