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In 1993, we opened a small shirt store in Kamakura, a historic city located to the south of Tokyo. Since the very beginning, everything we do has been for our customers. We have put every effort into producing shirts that are true to the expectations of “Made in Japan.” Our highly efficient business model means that we are able to offer high quality products at an affordable price.

We believe that the finest quality products, together with the spirit of selfless hospitality – both seen and unseen – are paramount in bringing the greatest satisfaction to our customers.

How the business began
Inspired by Kensuke Ishizu, founder of VAN Jacket Inc.

“Is there no one to take over my vision and make Japanese men fashionable?”

Those words began it all.

These were the words of Kensuke Ishizu, founder of the VAN Jacket clothing company (VAN Jacket Inc.). Yoshio and Tamiko Sadasue both worked for VAN Jacket, the company responsible for introducing American Ivy League fashion to Japan in the 1960s and 70s. Ishizu’s words of woe continued:

“It was my job to establish a clothing company during Japan’s post-war recovery, and to teach Japanese people to dress in a manner that wouldn’t be dismissed in international company. After VAN went bankrupt, men’s fashion in Japan deteriorated significantly. No one has come forward to take over my vision.”

Yoshio Sadasue replied immediately. “Then I will start a shirt store.”

Sadasue was secretly developing a business plan that focused on customers’ long-term happiness.

The idea was to start a specialty shirt store that sold high quality products at an appropriate price. This was a completely new take on the retail business models of the past. Shirts are a necessity for men to be fashionable. By providing high quality at an affordable price, Sadasue was certain that customers would welcome this new shirt store. After seeing Sadasue’s determination, Ishizu wrote the following short message of recommendation.

“My finest apprentices, Mr. and Mrs. Sadasue, have told me that they are to open a shirt store. Mr. Sadasue intends to shut himself away in a factory to make the shirts and Mrs. Sadasue will sell them to customers directly. This is truly the modern SPA1. I would like to applaud them for endeavoring on such a difficult task. This is precisely the confidence and philosophy needed to establish a shop that feels special. I am sure that many people have been waiting for a store like Maker’s Shirt Kamakura – most certainly.”

In 1993, Yoshio and Tamiko Sadasue opened their small shirt store above a convenience store in Kamakura with the hope that one day, their shirts and brand would be recognized by everyone, including those at the heart of Ivy League fashion in the sacred grounds of menswear, a place of admiration since the days of VAN Jacket: New York.

A letter of recommendation sent by Kensuke Ishizu to Yoshio Sadasue

TAKE IVY (1965), a photo book containing photographs that captured the style worn around Ivy League campuses (photographed item belongs to Yoshio Sadasue, originally published by FUJINGAHOSHA). The staff at VAN Jacket spent two weeks on the East Coast shooting photographs on the campuses of Ivy League universities. On the other side of the Pacific, Kensuke Ishizu and VAN Jacket led the movement for Ivy League fashion in Japan. TAKE IVY was reissued in English by powerHouse Books in 2010.

A letter of recommendation sent by Kensuke Ishizu to Yoshio Sadasue

TAKE IVY (1965), a photo book containing photographs that captured the style worn around Ivy League campuses (photographed item belongs to Yoshio Sadasue, originally published by FUJINGAHOSHA). The staff at VAN Jacket spent two weeks on the East Coast shooting photographs on the campuses of Ivy League universities. On the other side of the Pacific, Kensuke Ishizu and VAN Jacket led the movement for Ivy League fashion in Japan. TAKE IVY was reissued in English by powerHouse Books in 2010.

Kamakura,
where it all started
A fascinating city that was once the ancient capital for samurai

Kamakura, where it all began, was also where President Tamiko Sadasue was born and raised. The reason for the use of “Kamakura” in the brand name was because Kamakura itself has special connotations. With mountains surrounding the East, North, and West, and Sagami Bay to the South, the area forms a natural fortress. In 1192, the first ever military government led by samurai was established here, using this geographical advantage. As a result, Kamakura became the political and cultural center of Japan. These samurai followed the path of "Zenshu," making Kamakura the birthplace of Zen philosophy. In modern times, a host of writers and luminaries have fallen in love with the city and called it their home. Consequently, many unique trends have emerged out of their presence there.

The city of Kamakura attracts tourists from all over Japan and beyond. Not only can it boast the proud heritage of the ancient samurai, it also has the natural beauty of the ocean and mountains to offer, while remaining easily accessible from Tokyo. It is an honor for Kamakura Shirts to use the name of such an attractive city, and we will continue to nurture our brand to stay true to the prestigious image of “Kamakura.”

Kamakura City and Kamakura Shirts
by Tamiko Sadasue

Business often takes me out of Tokyo, and whenever I meet new people, the conversation always goes like this:

“Where are you from?”

“Kamakura.”

“That’s such a nice place to live!”

It’s always the same, but it always makes me happy. I was born and raised in Kamakura. Other than five years in Osaka for my husband’s job and then two years in Mishima, Shizuoka, I’ve lived in Kamakura my entire life. So I tend to think living in Kamakura is an obvious thing. But I guess it’s not, and I’ve come to realize that people aspire towards living here.

When we founded the company, my husband (Chairman Yoshio Sadasue) chose the name “Maker’s Shirt,” because we were selling “freshly made” shirts. I thought the name was a little dull. I wanted a more memorable name to launch me back into the working world having been a homemaker for 22 years. I thought it had to be “Maker’s Shirt Kamakura.” Thinking that my husband would object, I anxiously suggested that we add “Kamakura” to his idea. I was surprised that he approved without hesitation: “Let’s do it.” It wasn’t much of a shop – just a rough, little space on the second floor of a convenience store.

Let’s go back to look at Kamakura’s history. Back in 1192, Minamoto no Yoritomo established a national military government in Kamakura. The area is a natural fortress, difficult for enemies to attack. Mountains surround the East, North, and West, and the South faces Sagami Bay. The Emperor never once lived in Kamakura, giving it a spartan feel. And today there are many shrines and temples from the era that keep the samurai spirit alive. Kamakura is austere and unostentatious and makes the most of the natural environment. That’s a big contrast with Kyoto, where the Emperor lived for generations and has an aristocratic culture; Kyoto’s streets and buildings are colorful and flamboyant, from the Golden Pavilion to the Silver Pavilion.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Kamakura became home to the culturati, including writers Soseki Natsume, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Doppo Kunikida, Yasunari Kawabata, and Jiro Osaragi. There are many novels that use Kamakura as the backdrop. Both Doppo Kunikida and Masaaki Tachihara wrote novels called Kamakura Madam which were love stories.From these novels, the phrase “Kamakura Madam” took a life of its own. Young people may not know the term, but Kamakura madams were wealthy women, just like “Ashiya madams.” Ashiya, between Osaka and Kobe, is famous as an affluent residential area, so Kamakura was the equivalent for Eastern Japan. Commoners would call the graceful and beautiful matriarchs “Kamakura madams.” This makes me remember that the first time Kamakura Shirts was written up in a magazine, the article title was “The Favorite Store of Kamakura Madams.”

Then there’s the ocean, which gives Kamakura a strong association with the overall Shonan area. Shonan refers to the beachside towns of Kamakura, Zushi, and Hayama. In the 1950s, Shonan became famous as the haunt of youth called the Sun Tribe (Taiyozoku). This all started when Shonan-based novelist Shintaro Ishihara – who later became the governor of Tokyo – wrote a book about local teenagers called Season of the Sun. The book won him the esteemed Akutagawa literary prize at age 23, and after the media attention, teens out on the Shonan beach became known as the Sun Tribe. They wore sunglasses and flamboyant beach clothes, and liked to play around. Even though Japan was not as developed as it is now, the Sun Tribe sat under parasols on the beach listening and dancing to American songs on their transistor radios. I was a very young girl at the time but intrigued by the Sun Tribe. I almost felt like they weren’t Japanese. Even though I watched them from far away, the memories are still vivid. Those Sun Tribe teens must now be in their 80s... Since that time, Shonan has been at the cutting-edge of trends.

At the end of the 1960s, Shonan became home to Japan’s first surfers. Teenagers in beach style who surfed became known as “Shonan Boys.” They were stylish young men from good families who grew up in the area. “Kamakura Madams” and “Shonan Boys” are both very charming names.

Since the Meiji Period, many of the country’s top luminaries have had their vacation homes in Kamakura, and since it’s just an hour from Tokyo on the Yokosuka Line, there are many executives, writers, and actors who commute every day on the train’s first-class Green Car. And because it’s a city with so much history, Kamakura sees tourists year round from northern Hokkaido to southern Kyushu. It has always been a popular destination for tourists from abroad as well.

With the backdrop of history, the natural scenery of ocean and mountains, and residential areas close to Tokyo – there is no other city in Japan like Kamakura. There is nothing that makes us happier than the fact that we have been able to identify our brand with the image of Kamakura, a charming city known all over Japan.

At some point, people in Japan just started calling us “Kamakura Shirts,” and today we’re better known as “Kamakura Shirts” than “Maker’s Shirt Kamakura.” So when we opened in New York, we decided to call the brand “Kamakura Shirts.” It makes sense: our company was born and bred in Kamakura, and our flagship shop is still in Kamakura, right next to the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine.

It is an honor to wear the name Kamakura and be called Kamakura Shirts. We will continue to do our best to live up to that name.

Made in Japan
Dealing directly with an entirely Japanese manufacturing team

From the very start, Kamakura Shirts have been committed to ensuring the quality of the materials used, as well as maintaining high standards of manufacturing by using Japanese sewing factories.

The sewing techniques used in Japan are said to be the highest in the world due to precise craftsmanship and excellent skill. With the motto, “each stitch placed with the greatest care,” each garment is delicately sewn together. The shirts are finished with single needle seams that look neat even on the inside, and the shirt pattern itself is elegantly curved to fit around your body. Most of the fabrics we use are 100% cotton and reach a yarn count of 100. For some of our collections we use luxurious 200 and 300 count cotton. The buttons are made from natural shells, and the interlinings we use are non-fused. Just putting your arm through one of the sleeves will soon make you realize why these shirts are so special.

We work very closely with the Japanese factories and deal with them directly, cutting out the middlemen. We research and develop new ideas together with the factories, and place an emphasis on all-Japanese manufacturing. These factories work as a team, not as rivals, and keep techniques open in order to promote better craftsmanship between them. Keeping the entire production process in Japan facilitates communication between all parties involved, and both maker and seller can unite for a common goal.

Through direct communication and the elimination of the middleman, we can cut costs substantially. As well as the aforementioned sewing factories, we deal directly with fabric mills and subsidiary material makers too, all for the goal of producing high quality shirts that can be sold at an affordable price.

The Kamakura Shirts brand cannot grow without the outstanding sewing factories that support us. We will continue to put our heart into producing every one of our shirts, in Japan.

Sincerity
From father to son - a lesson in how to be a true merchant

There are over 5,000 companies in the world that are more than 200 years old. Of those companies, over half are located in Japan. This commercial heritage reflects Japan’s culture of putting the customer before profit, and the desire to succeed the accomplishments of past generations. The idea of “sincerity” is very important in Japan.

The Sadasue family were mercers as far back as the Edo period (17th to 19th century). From a young age, Yoshio was taught the principles of trade and the art of being a true merchant by his father:

“Merchants have always been seen as having low social standing. That is why it was important for them to value dignity and pride even more than high-ranked samurai. A merchant receives his share only once the customer is happy. A true merchant will not lie. He works hard for others, sells what he has gathered and lives on the reward of pleasing someone. Therefore, have the same, if not more dignity and pride than the samurai, and follow the path of a true merchant.”

What Yoshio’s father taught was not merely a business model but a “mind model.” His experience taught him the importance of having high aspirations, even as a merchant.

Yoshio and Kamakura Shirts inherited the wisdom of fair play from Yoshio’s father, committed to producing and selling shirts with the deepest sincerity. We are devoted to maintaining a business that can be trusted, and dedicated to providing observable high quality in our products together with the intangible Japanese spirit of hospitality in our service. It is for the same reason that Kamakura Shirts have never held discount sales: we set an honest price for our customers from the beginning. How are customers to trust us if we are selling something at half the price it was yesterday? Through constant efforts to achieve a low-cost business model, we have been able to set a fair price for customers from the very start. This is precisely the honest merchant’s way that we have always desired.

Evolution and innovation
Putting our customers first

People’s tastes are always evolving. For that reason, we must provide our customers with even better shirts and service that surpasses expectations. With that in mind, we have searched for superior fabrics, improved sewing techniques, and revised shirt patterns; we are constantly seeking innovation in both quality and design. We have put in place a remarkable form of merchandising so that we can hear people say, “I didn’t know that amazing quality shirts could be this affordable.” Whatever the age, we maintain a global perspective and keep our senses alert so that we can always realize “outstanding merchandising” for our customers.

Since ancient times, Japanese art and culture has enshrined meticulous attention to detail, and the spirit of sparing no efforts for self-improvement. It is rooted in our culture to follow traditions while still adapting to the times when it comes to manufacturing.

The cultural shift from the traditional kimono to wearing and manufacturing Western-style clothing such as shirts has been a challenge. That in particular is why we have put our customers first, and refuse to make any compromises in researching what makes our customers happy. Our challenge to evolve and tirelessly improve ourselves will continue, so that we can provide customers with even better products and services.

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