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 — the words of Kensuke Ishizu, founder of the VAN Jacket clothing company (VAN Jacket Inc.).
Our founders Yoshio and his wife 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 immediately replied to him, “Then I will start a shirt store.”
Sadasue was secretly developing a business plan, one that focused on customers’ long-term happiness.
The idea was to start a specialty shirt store that sold high quality products at an honest price, a completely new take on the retail business models of the past. Fairness and respect would be paid to the makers of the shirts, the factory workers, prioritized through direct communication. Shirts are a necessity for men in order to be fashionable, and they must be made well to stand the test of time. By providing high quality and long lasting shirts within an accessible price range, Sadasue was certain that customers would be pleased. After seeing Sadasue’s determination, Ishizu wrote the following letter 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 version of SPA. I would like to applaud them for endeavoring to undertake 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.
It was their hope that, one day, their shirts and brand would be recognized by everyone - including those at the heart of Ivy League fashion, on the sacred ground of menswear, a place of admiration since the days of VAN Jacket: New York.
This was our beginning.
The city of Kamakura, the namesake of Kamakura Shirts.
When we were founded, Yoshio Sadasue chose the name “Maker’s Shirt” to best describe how he aimed to sell “freshly made” shirts. Meanwhile, his wife, Tamiko, longed for a more memorable name to launch her career back into the working world after having been a homemaker for 22 years. Tamiko anxiously suggested to add “Kamakura” to his idea.
He approved without hesitation: “Let’s do it.”
Back then, we weren't much of a shop – just a rough little space, on the second floor of a convenience store.
The history of the region traces back to 1192, when Minamoto no Yoritomo established a national military government in Kamakura. The area is a natural fortress: mountains surround the East, North, and West, and the South faces Sagami Bay. An Emperor has never once lived in Kamakura, giving it a spartan feel. Even today, there are many shrines and temples from the era that keep the samurai spirit alive. Kamakura is austere, dignified, and makes the most of the natural environment. Kamakura's effortlessly subdued ambiance lies in contrast with the aristocratic culture of Kyoto, where the Emperor lived for generations. Kyoto’s streets and buildings are colorful and flamboyant, from the Golden Pavilion to the Silver Pavilion.
The ocean ties Kamakura with the surrounding Shonan region.
The Shonan region includes the beachside towns of Zushi, Hayama, and Kamakura. In the 1950s, Shonan gained fame as the haunt of the youths dubbed the Sun Tribe, or Taiyozoku. This name was coined by the Shonan-based novelist and governer of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, who 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 receiving attention from several media outlets, the teens out on 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. Tamiko was a very young girl at the time, but she was intrigued by the Sun Tribe, watching them in their vivid clothing from afar, fascinated by their uniquely Shonan sensibilities.
Since the Meiji Period, many of the country’s top luminaries have owned vacation homes in Kamakura, thanks to its convenient location one hour away from Tokyo on the Yokosuka line. Executives, writers, and actors may also be seen who commuting every day on the train’s first-class Green Car. With its rich historical backdrop, the natural scenery of ocean and mountains, and beautiful residential areas a step away from 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.' This is why, when we opened in New York, we decided to call ourselves '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 be called Kamakura Shirts.
We aim to share the unique sensibilities of Kamakura with the world.
The value of "Made in Japan."
From the very start, Kamakura Shirts has been committed to quality materials and high manufacturing standards.
The sewing techniques used in Japan are among the best in the world, exemplifying precise craftsmanship and excellent skill. Upholding the principle “each stitch placed with the greatest care”, each garment is delicately and meticulously 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. Many fabrics we use are 100% cotton, while some collections feature a luxurious 200 or even 300 thread yarn count. The buttons are made from natural shell, and our interlinings are non-fused.
Simply putting your arm through one of the sleeves will reveal to you why our shirts are so special.
We work very closely with our factories and deal with them directly. We research and develop new ideas together with them, and place emphasis on all-Japanese manufacturing. These factories work as a team, not as rivals, and share techniques freely in order to promote better craftsmanship as a whole. Keeping the entire production process in Japan facilitates communication between all parties involved. Both maker and seller are able to unite for a common goal.
Through direct communication and the elimination of outside contractors, we are hands on throughout the process. We also deal directly with fabric mills and subsidiary material makers to facilitate our operations.
All of this is for the sake of producing shirts honestly, with reliable quality.
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 heritage reflects Japan’s culture of putting the customer before profits, as well as 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-ranking samurai. A merchant takes his share only once the customer is happy. A true merchant does 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 him was not merely a business model but a “mind model.” His experiences taught him the importance of having high aspirations, even as a merchant.
Kamakura Shirts inherited the respect for fair play from Yoshio’s father, and we commit ourselves to producing and selling shirts with the deepest sincerity. We are devoted to maintaining a business that can be trusted, and dedicated to providing high quality products alongside the intangible Japanese spirit of hospitality within our service. This is an embodiment of the honest merchant’s way, which we have always desired to fulfill. Since ancient times, Japanese art and culture has enshrined meticulous attention to detail, and the spirit to spare no effort for self-improvement. It is rooted in our culture to follow tradition while still adapting to the times, and we take care to keep to these ideals when it comes to our manufacturing process.
We challenge ourselves to evolve and tirelessly work to improve, bringing our craft now not only to Japan, but to the world.