Not a day goes past when you don’t walk around and see some kind of graphic blazoned on the front of a t-shirt. What is a little harder to find is something adorning the front of a garment that you’d actually want there, but graniph buck that trend. One of the original graphic t-shirt facilitators who have a healthy appetite for uncovering and supporting new artists. This month at KK OUTLET they are exhibiting all the winning designs from this year’s installment of their annual design competition and to learn a little more we chatted to one of the team out in Japan, David Smyth.
Hi David, could you tell us a little bit about graniph and why you’ve decided to show at KK Oulet?
graniph is a Japanese brand which is enamored with color, design and enthusiasm. We keep things moving quickly, releasing up to 130 new products a month, a production process which is fueled by collaborations with up and coming designers, musicians and cultural events. We’ve collaborated with loads of British artists in the past and always get a great response to our annual award from British designers, so when KK Outlet touched base with us we we thought it was a perfect way to physically connect with people on the other side of the world.
130 products a month sounds like a huge amount! How is it all produced? How many of you are there?
We have a team of 5 in-house designers as well as a separate team which looks after designing non-tee items. We also get a lot of ideas and input from the shop staff as they deal with the customers and see how people react to certain designs on a daily basis, so their feedback really helps.
Did it all start out in Tokyo?
Yes, in a place called Shimokitazawa. At the time Japan was economically struggling but apart from second hand stuff most brands seemed way out of reach to students and the emerging classes of “neets” and “freeters”, people who chose not to conform to the typical salary man lifestyle so prevalent here. The three founders of graniph met each other in art school and decided to put their passion for art into creating high quality tees which their peers could afford. It started out very small scale, just selling tees to friends and then grew to selling tees on the street. The latter didn’t go down well with the local authorities or the local Yakuza, so the decision was made to set up a legit store which didn’t involve getting arrested or chased!
How do you choose the designers on the site (aside from the competitions)?
We encourage applications through the Design Wanted section on our website and also actively search for new and interesting designs which we think would work well in our stores. This means spending hours going through design blogs, magazines and books – a nice way to spend each morning actually!
Are there any blog, books or magazines that you always seem to call on and like the most?
When looking for new artists I’d often hit up blogs like booooooom, FFFound , The Strange Attractor, as well as going through Myspace pages/ Flickr accounts etc. It’s always nice to stumble upon college students online portfolios which have really original, experimental ideas. Also our founders really love Swiss designers, such as Emil Ruder and Josef Muller Brockmann (who we have a collaboration series based on), so the office is always full of old European graphic design books.
Have you branched out into anything aside from T-Shirts?
Initially we just produced tees but gradually developed seasonal products which fitted in with the color and feel of our stores. This started with the introduction of long sleeve tees during the winter months but now we have expanded seasonal ranges so we do items such as jackets and parkas in the winter and skirts and straw hats in the summer. Everything shares a common theme of color and energy, and of course everything is produced in limited quantities to preserve a sense of uniqueness.
What’s your favourite t-shirt in your wardrobe that isn’t made by Graniph?
Has the be my Guinness tee… I can represent my homeland and show off my hobby at the same time.
Ahhh so you’re from Ireland — what’s the biggest shock you had culture-wise on moving to Japan?
When I first came here I couldn’t read much Japanese so being illiterate was a pretty humbling, and at times hilarious, experience – a lot of strange purchases were made on early shopping trips!
The show runs from Thursday 6 August — Friday 28 August
Private View, Thursday 6 August 19:00-21:00