This piece comes to us from Dylan Mayes, an Australian raw denim fan who’s traveled all over the world in pursuit of his favorite fabric in his Denim Pilgrimage. Dylan begins an internship at Iron Heart International in the UK this fall.
Iron Heart celebrated their ten-year anniversary in 2013. Next year will mark another milestone, the tenth anniversary of the Hachioji x Gosport partnership. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with both Haraki-san and Giles, as well as key members of the Iron Heart Japan crew to discuss the past, present, and future of the iconic denim brand.
Shinichi Haraki, commonly referred to as ‘Boss’, worked in the Japanese garment industry for near twenty-five years before founding Works, Inc. (The Works Japan). His career in denim started at age 23 with Edwin as a pattern maker, progressing to designer and then producer/director in just three years, designing in excess of five thousand jeans for the brand.
Haraki-san left Edwin to start a consulting company at 26, advising others on how to best establish production facilities/factories for the manufacture of denim. It wasn’t until 2003 that Iron Heart was launched; a brand originally aimed at the Japanese-American motorcycle community and inspired by heavyweight 21oz denim.
Giles Padmore, known as ‘UK Boss’ by his Iron Heart family, started working with Haraki-san in 2005. The Gosport native did not come from an industry background like that of his Japanese business partner; he spent three decades travelling the world as an ‘IT Guy’, working for large corporations and small start-ups in Europe and Asia.
Although Giles may not have had experience in the garment trade, his interest in denim went as far back as his early teens. Over the years, he accumulated a collection of Levi’s jeans that would ultimately lead him to Haraki-san and Iron Heart.
The two met in Los Angeles, California, after Giles contacted Haraki-san via e-mail with a proposal to distribute Iron Heart globally. Fortunately for Giles, an English-speaking member of the Iron Heart team was there to reply… Giles still jokes to this day when asked, why Iron Heart?
“Haraki was the only one who responded to my e-mails”.
This unlikely pairing of Hachioji and Gosport has proven to be a huge success for the brand, having increased their market size nearly fifteen-fold since the initial partnership. This did not come easy, however, Haraki-san and Giles both sacrifice a lot of their down time to ensure the brand continues to move forward.
“Basically Haraki doesn’t sleep (laughs).”
Haraki-san is the DNA, the aesthetic of Iron Heart. Giles is the outside perspective, the understanding of the international market. They both share a deep passion and genuine love for Iron Heart as well as a great deal of admiration for each other, making it easy to overcome difficulties that may arise when working together. Giles describes Haraki-san as being very ‘un-Japanese’ in regards to his willingness to listen to suggestions and ideas.
“There is no rigid hierarchy. I find it very easy, on a personal level, to work with Haraki”
This more relaxed and open style of creative thinking has lead to some great collaborations with western brands such as Scotland’s Alexander Leathers and Canada’s Viberg Boot. In addition, Giles has introduced what are now iconic Iron Heart products; The Devil’s Fit 666 slim cut jean and the slim tapered Beatle Buster jean. These are jeans designed for a market that Haraki-san did not identify with before Giles’s suggestion.
“I come up with ideas, occasionally he says ‘no’, or he did in the early days because they were stupid (laughs).”
Although collaborations have played an integral roll in the growth of Iron Heart, it is still very much a Made in Japan brand, with all 21oz denim production coming from one mill. Unfortunately, due to the increasing popularity of Iron Heart, both the mill, which runs non-stop throughout the year, and factory are often filled to capacity and struggle to keep up with demand.
In order to help prevent these limitations in the future Haraki-san has purchased and donated machines to the factory, with the intention of buying the factory in the next few years. Haraki-san acknowledges that this is ‘an-old fashioned’ way of business, that fewer people take risks but he wants to take the risk to help grow his brand as he believes in his product:
“Made in Japan is key to selling all over the world… Protect the ‘Made in Japan’ environment.”
It is clear that Japan will always be the home of Iron Heart’s production but Gosport has become the driving force in sales. Creating a ‘borderless’ market with its online store, popular forum, and an ever-growing network of global stockists… Hachioji and Gosport seem like not such an unlikely pairing.
This interview could not have been possible with out the help of Sarina, Iron Hearts ‘Mini Boss’ and translator. For a closer look at Iron Heart’s production process, check out the videos of their weaving, manufacturing, and screen printing below: