We’ve long been fans of the work Yuki Matsuda has been doing with his footwear brand, Yuketen. He's been designing and manufacturing footwear for nearly 30 years - no small feat - and we think that Yuki's success stems from creating an aesthetic that draws inspiration from the past combined with a healthy dose of creativity. Take Yuketen’s handsewn moccasins, for instance. They are built the old-fashioned way, in Maine, each by hand. The leathers, trims and construction all mirror what you’d find on a handsewn moccasin 60 years ago, but the materials and the silhouettes are unmistakably new. Yuki’s most recognized model- the Maine Guide Boot - hearkens back to classic New England outdoorsman styles, and while the DNA of its predecessors is easily recognizable, the Yuketen version has earned its own recognition over time. Iterations over the years have employed new, unexpected materials such as wool and waxed canvas combined with commando, wedge and crepe soles.
We met Yuki Matsuda through our work at Self Edge and, via encounters at trade shows and visits to his Hermosa Beach-based showroom, got to know him and his operation better. Along with his wife, Megumi, and his team, Yuki has built a strong portfolio of brands under the “Meg Company” umbrella that encompass the love for vintage American clothing that he’s carried with him since he was a youth. It was that same enthusiasm that brought him to America at the age of 18 to begin his career as a vintage clothing dealer, and eventually, to begin designing and manufacturing clothing and footwear. Alongside Yuketen, the Meg Company brands include Monitaly (clothing), Chamula (Mexican hand knits and accessories), and Epperson Mountaineering (outdoorsman packs). Given the size of each collection - especially Yuketen and Monitaly - it’s mind boggling to think about how Yuki is able to keep up with the workload. What’s become apparent to us is that it’s fueled by his love of the product and his unending desire to improve the line year in and year out. As a brand that is just half the age of Meg Company, this is a standard that we aim for.
To celebrate our 15 year anniversary, we approached Yuki with the idea of producing a special edition version of their Rocker Ox. This shoe is the perfect example of old and new: while the upper is a traditional blucher moccasin (a more formal version of the well-known boat shoe), the Vibram rocker sole is custom made for Yuketen and based on old orthopedic models that provides soft cushioning and comfort, as well as encouraging straighter standing posture. Paired together, the shoe has a modern creeper look that we love. The upper is entirely handsewn, a costly detail that yields beautiful results. The leather is a soft Horween full-grain roughout leather that molds to the wearer’s foot over time. Many customers aren’t aware of the kind of work that goes into hand sewing a shoe; this Rocker Ox is one of the most labor intensive shoes you will find on the market, and still made in Maine.
The upper on our collaboration shoe is a deep blue, and it's not a dye that is applied by Horween at the tannery; the original color of the leather was a light sand. Our concept for the collaboration was to hand dye each of the uppers in pure indigo (a bit of a continuation off our 10 Year Converse collaboration). We began the process by requesting leather swatches as well as a fully sewn upper from Yuketen, and creating a test vat in our NY design studio to see how this particular leather would take the dye. As we’ve experienced in the past, some leathers don’t react very well to indigo; the process can cause the skin to become brittle, which is not preferable for footwear. Over several days, we ran multiple tests to try and find the optimal ratio of time and number of dips to achieve a color that we felt showed the correct depth, while still maintaining a softness to the leather that would allow it to be lasted and soled afterwards. We then sent one upper to Yuketen to try and attach to a sole, and the results were positive.
Once we were sure that the indigo would take properly, we contacted our friends at Green Matters Natural Dye House in PA to help us with production dyeing on the rest of the uppers. We worked with them earlier in the year to produce resist-dye tees and oxfords, and when we approached them with the idea of indigo dyeing these shoes, they were up to the task. We sent the other upper from our test dye as a reference point, and they went to work. Once the uppers were completed, Green Matters sent them back to Yuketen’s factory in Maine where the shoes were completed. Dyeing uppers in larger quantities is not an easy endeavor; because indigo vats lose strength over time as they're being used, shades of indigo can vary greatly if not monitored carefully. Green Matters made sure to dye shoes in pairs to ensure that the left and right foots were closely matched in hue, and went back and re-dyed uppers that may not have taken the indigo as well as others had when the vats were fresher. With that said, there is slight variance from shoe to shoe and that is part of the charm that comes with organic hand-dyed items. No shoe is alike, and no pair is alike either. Over time, we anticipate that the indigo will crock and the color of the shoe will lighten up significantly.
We spent almost the entire year dialing this collaboration in and are very pleased with the results. What we have with the 15y Indigo Rocker Ox is a highly labor-intensive pair of shoes that have been through countless steps and many sets of hands. From the tanning of the leather at Horween, to the cutting and sewing of the uppers by Yuketen, to the indigo dyeing by Green Matters, to the lasting and soling of the shoes by Yuketen once again, a great deal of care and attention has been poured into each pair and we hope that it shows.
The Yuketen for 3sixteen Indigo Rocker Ox will release exclusively this Friday, November 9th, 2018 via 3sixteen.com at noon EST and the 3sixteen LA flagship store which opens at 11a PST. The collaboration is limited to 60 pairs, and is priced at $600.