Interview & Report

Mari Odaka

Mari Odaka

malamute Designer

Born in 1987 in Saitama. Graduated from Bunka Fashion Graduate University. After experiencing as knit designer, launchead RTW women's wear label "malamute" in 2014.

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Having started as a brand specializing in knits from their 2014 A/W collection, malamute was an award-winner of the TOKYO FASHION AWARD 2022 last year. Detailed craftsmanship born from close communication with production backgrounds is added to the soft image of knits, to strengthen their collection every sesason. Having started their overseas developments, we spoke to their designer, Ms. Mari Odaka, on this brand with great future prospective.

This year the brand as welcomed its 9th year since launch. Has there been a turning point in the development of the brand up to now?

The turning point was the 2020 S/S runway show, our very first individual show, which was presented off-schedule of fashion week Tokyo. The fact that we specialize in knits was unchanged, but we increased styles, and broadened our fabric expression. I see it as the timing at which we grew into a fashion brand specializing in knits, rather than being a knit brand.

To you, what is the attraction of knits?

The most profound attraction of knits is that it starts from choosing threads, enabling us to create expressions from scratch, by which, enable us to create all sorts of texture expressions.

Do runway shows have important meaning for the brand?

Yes, because I think it is a means that enables us to convey the brand image directly. It is a situation in which we can have viewers strongly feel the worldview of the brand in totality, through the atmosphere of the venue, such as music, space, etc. in addition to the clothes themselves.

How was the runway show you presented in March, after having been awarded the TOKYO FASHION AWARD 2022?

It was a show presented at a timing when I had been hoping to express in a fashion show, how people can coexist with the corona virus, after having survived the corona pandemic. The theme was “out of action”, and it was a suggestion made turning my awareness to things outside of action. During the corona pandemic, malamute had been suggesting easy-to-handle clothes that make home life comfortable, but I felt fashion should exist as a more outgoing, outward thing, and I feel, having models walk down the runway, allowing us to suggest our fashion in action, has been a powerful source of transmitting for the brand. At the venue, we set up numerous balloons, so that rather than walking straight, we had to contemplate how to have the models walk among the balloons. By having the models come in and out from behind the balloons, we felt they would attract attention. It was a production in which we had guests enjoy a sort of trial-and-error mood. In the collection itself also, we created a collection in which the person wearing can arrange the clothes however they please, depending upon their mood, by adding zippers to slits to enable changing the opening freely, adding versatility so items can be worn 2-ways, 3-ways, etc.
All our guests who saw the show commented that the worldview expressed was very malamute-like, so we are extremely pleased. We had finished holding an exhibit before the show, but some buyers put in additional orders after seeing the show. It can’t be helped due to still being under corona restrictions, but if I were to wish for more, it would have been fantastic if we could have had more people see the show at the venue.

2022 A/W collection

You have started a service of remaking malamute knits. What is the aim in doing this?

During the corona pandemic, we spoke to our craftsmen how we would like to rethink our production process, and our talks extended to how undoing knitted threads to re-knit into something different is the ultimate reuse. So, starting from the idea of how interesting it would be to undo heavily used items into something completely different, although it is limited to whole garment items of malamute, the Re:born project of re-knitting past malamute knit wear into bags, mufflers, etc. was born. It is time-consuming, but the craftsmen are having fun doing it, too. Customers ordering re-knits are always excited when they receive the newly reborn items, exclaiming, “Wow! That turned into this!” (laugh). I feel this is a project unique to whole garments, something that can be done only with unsewn knits.

This past September, you experienced a showroom at Paris. How was your very first overseas sales activity?

Up to now, our developments were limited to domestic sales, and we had never done any overseas wholesale, so there were many new realizations. All sorts of people from all sorts of countries came to see and touch our collection, and through that, we were able to grasp the feminine image and styling image people are looking for in overseas markets. There was also a shop in Milan that selected our items in totality, including accessories, so much so that they may structure a whole corner, rather than just racks, which made us realize that the knit expressionisms of malamute can be a forte. There were many people from Asia-Pacific regions, such as South Korea, Hong Kong, etc. who were interested, so we intend to continue maintaining contact with overseas, and devise a way to have overseas people see our collection directly.

In furthering your overseas developments, is there anything you are particularly conscious of as a brand?

I think we need to be able to respond to occasions, including vacation dress scenes. Also, we need to reconsider sizes.

Please tell us your present state of domestic business.

Our domestic wholesale is increasing also, presently with approximately 30 accounts. Our business increased dramatically from around the 2020 S/S season, when we started to make suggestions in totality as a brand specializing in knits. Domestic buyers are impressed with the variety in knit expressions unique to malamute, and I feel they strongly sympathize with the superbness of the craftsmanship of our craftsmen.

What sort of things would you like to challenge from here-on?

I intend to increase powerful pieces in the collection, to establish a brand image. I also hope to increase overseas sales, so that we may give presentations at Paris. Furthermore, I feel malamute is a brand embodying the fortes of Japanese craftmanship, and it is my wish to become a brand which is recognized as such. I am also contemplating a project so that the brand will become a platform for overseas people to acknowledge Japanese craftsmen and/or production backgrounds.
As a designer, I intend to challenge shoes, bags more, to strengthen our power as a brand. I am also interested in collaborations with fields other than fashion, such as architecture.

What sort of experience has participating in TOKYO FASHION AWARD programs been for the brand?

I have a solid sense that malamute has taken a step up by becoming an award-winner of TOKYO FASHION AWARD 2022, and I am truly thankful for being given the opportunity to take sure steps towards overseas developments. Nationally also, thanks to winning the AWARD, our domestic accounts have increased, along with broader acknowledgement of the brand.

A word of advice to those brands thinking of applying to the TOKYO FASHION AWARD please.

This is an extremely positive award for people thinking of overseas developments. Another strong attraction is that you get to meet designers of the same generation, and all sorts of people.

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