qan:savi by Hiroshi Inai
qan:savi is the name of the leather goods label designed and handcrafted by Hiroshi Inai. The name "qan:savi" is pronounced like “kansabi” in Japanese. It is named after the Japanese word “kansabiru”, meaning “kan (kami) – god” and “sabiru – rusting.” “kansabiru” is ancient concept in which aged objects (or buildings) are seen as dignified or divine. You can feel a dignified quality in aged objects.
Hiroshi’s craftsman spirit is supported by the concept of “kansabiru.” As a leather craftsman, he puts this concept of “kansabiru” into his works so that people continue to enjoy the transformation of his leather works, via the variation of texture and color from folding and bending the leather over time.
Hiroshi uses high quality materials. He uses European traditional "couture sellier," or high end French saddler's hand sewing techniques. Each stitch is made carefully, one by one. The result is simply beautiful and makes each item special.
His life story is rather dramatic. We met him at a waffle café (Funnys Waffle) in Matsuyama, Ehime prefecture where he lives. I was busy listening to his transformational life story, ignoring my yummy waffle for a while, even though the waffles were reputedly the best in the area. Here is a short story that he shared with us.
After he graduated from university, he started working in sales at an electronic retail shop in Matsuyama. About 10 years later, a new opportunity arose. The owner of an apparel shop where Hiroshi often shopped asked him to manage his new interior and furniture shop in Matsuyama. He felt that it was an ideal job for him, as he had a desire to run his own shop one day. He enjoyed working as the shop manager, selecting the goods and items for sale and serving the customers.
A couple of years later, a transformative event took place that changed his career forever. This happened in Fall 2008, just when the sales of the furniture shop had finally become stable. It was the global financial crisis.
After the Lehman shock in September 2008, the economy of Japan suddenly deteriorated. Hiroshi said that consumers disappeared from the local shopping street, even on weekends. You could see the consumers' pessimism. They spent money only on basic necessities. There were weekdays when only one or two customers entered the furniture shop. With no sign of economic recovery, he was made redundant at the age of 39. Hiroshi said that it was absolute darkness in his life with no hope for seeking a new job at that time.
But this was the beginning of his new career. As part of his redundancy allowance from the previous job, he received a few large pieces of leather.
Hiroshi said that he was the kind of kid who really loved building plastic robots. When he was kid, he continued building plastic models every day until his mother called him for dinner each evening. He enjoys the process of imagining and making objects, rather than playing with the objects he had made. So he gave these robots to his friends after he had finished building them.
It was therefore a natural decision for him to make a small leather item using the leather he had received as part of his redundancy payment. He showed his trial piece to friends who gave him positive feedback. While he initially had no intention of selling it, he was encouraged by people to whom he showed the leather goods, so he started making leather goods. He started to sell his leather goods through shops he knew in Matsuyama, participating in a craft fair and various market events in Fall 2009.
He is a self-taught leather craftsman. He creates his leather goods in his own, unique way, with great dedication.
He does not make a paper pattern for creating identical copies as leather craftsmen normally do. Instead, he firstly sketches and makes a trial piece with paper. After adjustments, he draws the outlines of all parts directly onto the leather, using a ruler. He adjusts a bit (a few millimeters), frequently and repeatedly. So all his works have a unique shape even though they have the same design. All the designs, including parts development views and sizing information, are recorded in his notebook.
Hiroshi does not use machines – everything is made by hand. He shaves the edges of leather and sews each piece by hand using a needle, although using skiving and sewing machines would make his work easier. For example, what takes him two hours to sew by hand would take only five minutes using a sewing machine. Hiroshi said he wants to sew by hand slowly and carefully. That’s his style.
Hiroshi said that it is not his purpose to make a large number of items or to make lots of money. "After going through my life crisis, I have realized that I am happy to live simply. I want to make crafts frugally for many years."
Hiroshi said, "I don’t focus on becoming famous or building my brand. I feel greatly honored when someone says to me that one of my pieces is something that they have wanted for ages."
Hiroshi said that he used to think that uniqueness should be expressed through a catchy and striking design so that everyone would instantly recognize his unique work.
He now thinks the opposite. It’s not about the visual look alone. It is about beauty which comes from the whole work, where every part is created in great detail and with great care. Every step counts - making a stitch, the way he polishes leather, the balance of every part, the way in which a line of stitching is made strong, beautiful and straight. All those steps and all that care make his work unique. His uniqueness may not be immediately noticed, but you see beauty in the fine details of his work, both in each part as well as in the totality of each piece. This is the source of his originality. Hiroshi said that he is happy when someone sees the aesthetic results of his efforts.
During our meeting, he said a couple of times that he became a craftsman because of people's encouragement and the connections he makes with everyone he meets.
His story as a craftsman continues. Hiroshi said that he plans to make a space in the Matsuyama countryside which will serve as his atelier, his gallery and his home, a space where he can connect with people who either live there or who visit there.
Just like his brand, qan:savi, we can see the aesthetic value of aged objects. Leather goods from qan:savi provide an opportunity for us to see that beauty.
There is a side story. A long time ago, he stayed in Sydney, Australia for 2 months, just before graduating from university. He said that he has a special attachment for Australia. When he named his brand called “qan:savi” pronounced “kansabi,” he wanted to use “Qa” rather “Ka” in Japanese, because he liked the Qantas airline logo and the sound of “qa.”