“Clothing for creating a landscape where humans blend with nature” and the dyers that make them.
We visited kitta’s studio located in northern Okinawa, and learned about the beautiful monozukuri that stays in tune with nature.
Traveling to a monozukuri site in nature-filled Okinawa
We are driving on National Route 58 while gazing at twilight bleeding into chura-umi (“beautiful sea” in Okinawa dialect). The roadside sign for a restaurant offering goat meat dishes and the large, house-shaped tombstones make it clear that this is a place that has its own unique culture. We drive through the landscape that appears to be getting swallowed up by dusk and head to the studio of kitta.
Yuko Kitta (hereafter, “Kitta”) and Takashi Sawano (hereafter, “Sawa”) head kitta, a brand that makes original natural-dyed clothing. The village of Ōgimi of Okinawa where their studio is located is known as the home of the abaca-cloth—Okinawa’s oldest textile. The free and easy energy of nature—the blazing rays of the sun, thick overgrowths of trees and other plants, and heavy downpour of rain from time to time—is perhaps what nurtured the practices of creating beautiful products in this region. The monozukuri (product making process) of kitta also seems to fit well with this land and to be nurturing their sensibilities.
kitta’s clothing guides the senses
“All of nature, including the forces that we humans are helpless against, is beautiful to me. It encompasses everything within it, including the food we need to live, the joys and sadnesses, life and death. I believe it’s like all things in existence are giving offerings to each other,” says Kitta. The beauty of nature that she had always been in love with since childhood and her own expression came together, and a brand called kitta was born. Using pigments stored within plants, she dyes fabrics to bring colors to life and make clothing that envelopes the body. The clothing alters its expression in accordance with the movement of the person wearing it, making him or her appear even more beautiful. “I want our creations to serve as a conduit of nature’s beauty. When we feel the intense beauty of nature, we’re not just taking in what we can see visually, right? Things we cannot see with our eyes also come in through our other senses, and I believe that’s how we feel the beauty.” The monozukuri of kitta brings out the primal senses that live in all of us.
Dying the colors of plants using elements of nature
The plant colors by kitta’s clothing are so deep, it is as if you can see colors within colors. The fabric serves as a canvas, onto which colors are dyed along with the dyers’ sensibilities, and captures the hearts of viewers like artwork that penetrates the truth. “We borrow the power of nature to communicate with people. The act of dyeing using water heated with wood fire can be attributed to the five elements. It’s like we’re circulating the energy of nature. What’s more, when we hang the dyed fabrics to dry, they flutter in the wind and look like they’re playing and dancing with nature,” says Sawa. He is someone who has spent a lot of time communicating with nature. Since moving to Okinawa, he has also been trying his hand at growing ryukyu ai (indigo plant of Ryukyu). Every day is spent pouring his heart and soul into the hard labor of plant cultivation, and struggling with the challenges of supplying themselves with their own dyes. This year is their sixth harvest season, and he says he would like to continue cultivating for at least 10 years. Will their encounter with ryukyu ai provide even more depth and brilliance to the plant colors that they express? Sawa’s challenges continue.
Having moved to Okinawa
Six years have passed since they relocated their work base to Okinawa. Although they had been working in Kamogawa of Chiba Prefecture, they decided to move to this region after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. That disaster caused people around the world to shudder at the menacing force of nature and led to the manmade catastrophe of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. Kitta says that at the time, she felt so heartbroken over the fact that humans had contaminated the beautiful nature, and all she could do was cry. The feeling of shock remained with her even after the move, and she continued to feel tormented by questions of good and evil. “Some time has passed now since the disaster, and people’s senses of value have been gradually shifting. I, too, have become more accepting. Before, I empathized too intensely with nature that I was refusing to accept many things. Since moving here, I have learned to look at things from a broader perspective. I want to continue in my work of monozukuri even more freely as I stay centred in love while removing judgements and looking at things from as many angles as possible.” Kitta and Sawa appeared to be enjoying life to the fullest. Their move to this land has added to their sensibilities a value called “the joy of living themselves.”
Gradation and harmony of colors
“Kitta’s color gradations expresses that all things are seamlessly connected. Colored pencils have separate colors, yet there are actually an infinite number of colors in between them. I view each entirety of a color as a chain of colors.” At kitta’s exhibitions, their clothing is always arranged in a color gradation sequence. The individual pieces of clothing, each beautifully designed, exists within this composition that shows a circulation of colors. You find individual pieces in the whole, and see the whole through the individual pieces. It can be likened to a moment spent viewing an Okinawa sunset, like standing in the overwhelming beauty where the sky and ocean fall into perfect harmony and feeling yourself also becoming part of that landscape. “What can humans add to nature’s beauty? I would like to design things that celebrate and can be dedicated to nature.” Like the gradation of colors that flow in the ocean, kitta’s clothing offers us gentleness and joy.
In 1997, Kitta began making natural-dyed clothing in a studio apartment in Tokyo. In 2004, together with Sawa, she started making natural-dyed clothing as a product line under the brand name of kitta. In 2011, they moved from Kamogawa City in Chiba Prefecture to northern Okinawa. Their encounter with Higa ryukyu-ai Seizō-sho (Higa Ryukyu indigo manufacturing company) led them to start growing Ryukyu indigo, making doro-ai (indigo in mud form made by adding lime), and indigo dyeing. Today, they produce clothing, as well as interior and other fabric products using natural dyes made using wood fire and a fermentation process. They also hold exhibitions and workshops both within Japan and overseas.
Sawa also writes and plays music under the name “sawadii.” He has released four albums thus far, and also provides music for documentary films and other videos.