Lica and Naka met in the early 90s when they were at art school together in Osaka. They launched their first fashion label 20471120 (the name referring to the date when Naka believes “something will happen”) in 1994, establishing boutiques in Tokyo and Osaka the next year and quickly developing a cult following amongst Japan’s flourishing street fashion scene.
By 2000 they were experimenting more and more with reused clothing and embarked on a new venture called Tokyo Recycle Project. During fashion week in Tokyo that year, instead of putting on a show they sent empty cardboard boxes to all the local fashion journalists, with a note inside requesting they send them back a garment from their wardrobe which they no longer wore. After gathering information from each person about their lives and their memories of the clothes they had sent, the designers set about deconstructing and reassembling all the garments they had received, making them into new, more desirable pieces to return to their owners.
The project caused quite a stir in Japan and the designers soon found themselves set up with a Tokyo Recycle Project centre in Harajuku, where anyone could come to see them with their old unwanted clothes and have them remade into something new on site. It was read as a critique of Tokyo’s hyper-consumerist culture, and it encouraged people to form more meaningful relationships with their material belongings, something which Lica and Naka believe is lacking in contemporary life.
In 2001 the pair presented a Tokyo Recycle Project collection based on the reuse of pre-existing garments from UNIQLO (the Japanese mega-brand specializing in cheap mass produced clothing), including a dramatic red dress which was assembled live on their model, as a performance piece (see last image below). Shortly after, they embarked on a trip along the Silk Road from Italy to Kyrgystan, making exchanges for used clothes along the way and eventually releasing a special collection called Silk Road Remix Recycle.
In recent years they launched Zechia, a more orthodox fashion label which still retains the irreverent spirit of Tokyo Recycle Porject and 20471120. Lica (who is also a licensed aromatherapist and has worked as a chief designer at Cacharel) does most of the designing while Naka (who is a practicing artist – some examples of his work above) looks after their graphics and related art projects.
For Spring/Summer 2010 they started the new eco sister line Zechia Hearty, which was shown a few weeks ago at Japan Fashion Week. Using organic and recycled cottons, it features T-shirts embellished with simple messages like “Love Family” and “Keep The Earth” or Naka’s hand-drawn graphics of endangered and extinct species. The duo appeared utterly free of cynicism as they humbly explained to me that they continue to see fashion as offering an unparalleled opportunity to communicate a message, and to change the way people live their lives.
Naka (Masahiro Nakagawa) has a solo exhibition at Gallery Venue in Denmark next year, including works from the Tokyo Recycle Porject and 20471120 archives.
T-shirts from the new Zechia Hearty line (Spring/Summer 2010).
Tokyo Recycle Project fashion show at The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (2005).
Tokyo Recycle Project dress assembled from pre-existing synthetic UNIQLO garments (Spring/Summer 2001).