In 2015, I met Kyoko and Kakuo of Buaisou, warm, humble people who are devoted to their hospitality as much as their craft. We originally met through a mutual friend, Jackson, and I was immediately drawn to their passion for indigo. Their farm and dye studio is located in Tokushima, nestled among mountains on the eastern part of Shikoku island. When I arrived, they greeted me with a warm cup of indigo tea, brewed from hand-harvested young indigo leaves. Kyoko brought me around their farm and workshop, where she showed me their unique ‘hell vat’ technique of indigo dyeing.
Since the development of synthetic indigo — which only requires a reducing agent, Thiox, an alkali and lye — indigo dyed products are sold all around Japan, offering a wide array of patterns and variations. Despite that, Buaisou has kept to their tradition of growing crops of indigo plants, and fermenting the harvest using the Sukumo technique. Kyoko explained that all designs at Buaisou are kept simple, because a natural indigo blue is extremely hard to achieve. Instead, their focus is the artisanal farm to fabric process, likened to making wine or olive oil, in that it is a deliberate, conscientious series of steps that starts from the beginning.
Afterwards, they introduced me to their indigo-dyed products. At that point, the Buaisou team were experimenting with indigo-dyed shoelaces, and like us, they were also in the midst of perfecting their own t-shirt, from the way it fits to details like the colour of the stiches. They wanted to build a range of products that eschews seasons and logo placements, in order to encourage the user to consider the object and material in and of itself. With our shared values in mind, I knew that Buaisou and Faculty would be as perfectly complementary as they first seem. I told Kyoko that I needed a bag, nothing flashy or too customised, I just needed a long, big, catchall bag that I can bring to my travels without thinking about what to wear with it. A few days later, they made a gigantic bag for me. It was constructed from a very high density No.9 canvas made with an old-style loom in Okayama. After it was dyed bright indigo from the vat, the bag was sewn and topstitched using a thick yarn that was specially dyed grey. At Buaisou, both fabric and yarn are dyed to the core — a small detail as unnoticeable as this shows reverence for the craft passed down from their masters, and resistance to appeal to the opinion of others. I thought it was beautiful, and ordered a smaller version for Faculty. And so, the partnership was born.
Over the next weeks, we worked together on the Buaisou x Faculty t-shirt collection. While developing various shades of indigo, I had a funny idea of challenging them to dye a grey t-shirt using anything they could find around their farm. They sportingly accepted the challenge, and went on an excursion in the nearby mountains to source for the grey pigment, which they found in the alder cones of the native Yashafushi (Alnus Firma) tree. Kakuo later told me that they heard noises and suspected it to be from a bear, thinking they would not make it out alive. The Buaisou team added the single grey t-shirt to the collection as a parting gift, distinctive to our brand’s use of grey. The remaining pigment was used to dye the yarns for stitching the bags. Seeing these products start as raw plants and then come to full fruition makes the collection feel much more personal.
In celebration of the launch of Faculty as well as our first collaboration, we brought over the Buaisou team to hold an indigo dyeing workshop during our pop-up opening at K+ Curatorial Space. While preparing the vat two weeks before the workshop, we realised that the water in Singapore was quite different than the mountain water back in Tokushima. This drastically affected the fermentation process, making it nearly impossible for the sukumo to turn blue. Refusing to give up, we stayed in the office everyday until wee hours in the morning, taking turns to stir the vat intermittently. On the day before our launch, the indigo miraculously bloomed into a beautiful shade of blue. Kakuo gave me nudge and claimed, “You are now the Singapore’s forefather of indigo!”.
Today, Buaisou boasts a full range of indigo-dyed products which includes t-shirts, shirts, tote bags, scarves and aprons, and has since collaborated with the likes of New Balance and Coca Cola. As the fashion industry continues to have a penchant for branding and merchandising, Buaisou stays true blue to their focus on the artful process of indigo dyeing. Hopefully we will work together again.