F/style is a design team based in Niigata.
It is a very cool point of view from the point of view of their product-making process (monozukuri), “to do everything necessary before products other than manufacturing circulate”.
We visited an office and showroom in Niigata City and asked them about their monozukuri of “F/style”.
Worldview of “F/style”
I rode on a rocking bus for about 25 minutes from Niigata Station and got off at Meike-atago, the last stop. I passed under elevated railroad tracks of Joetsu Shinkansen bullet trains, walked a little further, and came upon a white, square building. It is the office and showroom of F/style, a design team that conducts business from this location in Niigata Prefecture. Enter the space, and you are greeted with a wide-open atrium style space with ear-pleasing music flowing through it. In the display area are products developed by F/style, arranged while leaving just the right amount of empty spaces. Each item has an authentic aesthetic appeal, as if firmly grounded by its roots and taking slow, deep breaths. Emi Iragashi and Wakana Hoshino of F/style also carry the same air about them, and I was at once enchanted by the world view created by this brand.
The role of “F”
The “F” in F/style stands for the pencil grade of F*. While B and H come in numerous levels of hardness, F stands resolutely and singularly as just “F.” And often, those who once try the sensible hardness of F find themselves getting hooked on it. “When you liken the quality of design to the hardness of pencils, H seems a bit too stoic, and HB is very common and mass-produced. Our idea is that the F is right in between those two. It’s in a position that’s quite particular but also one that’s necessary.” F/style has found a role to play in that mid-range area. The team serves as the connector among those who make, sell, and buy products, and takes charge of the entire process that starts with planning and developing products and carries all the way through to inspection and distribution.
*In Japan and many other countries, pencils are graded on a continuum of H (“hard”), F (“fine”), to B (“black”).
What is commonly referred to as #2 in the United States is equivalent to HB (positioned between F and B), while B is #1 and H is #3. F is at #2½.
The showroom, open 2days in a week
The showroom is open only on Mondays and Saturdays, from 11am to 6pm. Hoshino sits in front of a low table that looks like a payment counter to serve a customer. For a woman that came in to buy a present, Igarashi gift wraps the product, adding a corsage made using some of the eucalyptus that grows in their yard, and graciously hands it to her. This space peppered with F/style’s many commitments that are subtle yet beautiful allows visitors to relax while they enjoy looking at each product. You may see a floor mat made by professional artisans by hand using a technique called “hand hook”; a bag made using the linden-weaving technique, a traditional folk craft passed down through many generations in Niigata’s mountain areas; soft and comfortable socks that do not constrict around the ankles; or modern casual-wear made with Kamedajima, a type of cotton fabric formerly used to make sturdy working clothes worn by farmers. These products offered by F/style are quite unassuming, with very natural qualities about them. The comfort felt in the clean, pared-down designs may be due to the love that their makers infused into them being felt subconsciously.
Cycle for a product-making process (monozukuri)
Behind the showroom, there is a Japanese-style tatami room to the right, and a room with working tables and shelves stocked with inventory to the left. In these two neatly organized spaces, certain jobs are carried out such as inspecting products and packaging them in preparation for shipping. F/style’s number-one product is the HOUSE [DOGGY MAT], a floor mat for dogs. They are sent from the factory in a half-finished state and completed here before they are ready for being distributed to various shops. Igarashi, who is in charge of finishing the mats, tweaks and adjusts their shape, skillfully using scissors and a vacuum cleaner. In inspecting the products themselves, they say they take and adopt what they have noticed or realized in their direct interactions with the products’ makers and sellers. The best positive growth cycle for a product-making process (monozukuri), as F/style sees it, is to find a harmonious rhythm among the three parties of makers, sellers, and buyers, so that the entire cycle can flow in a smooth, effortless manner. “We are not just interested in creating products, but rather, we see our goal as completing the entire process that ends with handing over those products that were created. Our ideal is to have a smooth flow of circulation through the “entrance” and “exit”—the making of things and selling them.” I wonder how we, as buyers, will go onto take in and gain from F/style’s approach toward monozukuri in the future.
Focus on where we are at present
It has been almost 20 years since Igarashi and Hoshino met. They say they hope to continue with F/style without being tied down to any of their past activities, always staying agile enough to change things around. “I feel that it’s extremely important to focus on where we are at present. If you get too caught up with the past and are unable to focus on the now, you’re better off letting it all go. I think the only question is whether or not something is necessary right now. As long as you make that clear and leave some extra spaces open, your world of encounters and monozukuri will likely expand.” The authentic beauty radiated by F/style’s products is a precise reflection of this belief system. The two women’s clear-eyed perspective is equipped with sensibilities they have nurtured through their past experiences. The style represented by the “F” will likely continue to evolve together with their sensibilities.
A design team comprised of Emi Igarashi and Wakana Hoshino. In the spring of 2001, the year the two graduated from the Tohoku University of Art and Design, they founded F/style in their home prefecture of Niigata. The team takes charge of the entire process that begins with design proposal and carries through to development of marketing channels. They connect the “now” with traditional industries of Yamagata and Niigata Prefectures, and deliver their products to consumers who will use them. Among books they have authored is Efu-sutairu no Shigoto (“The Work of F/style”) published by Anonima Studio.