The seven-year-old brand Battenwear is proof that necessity really is the mother of invention–and that invention can brilliantly straddle the two seemingly opposite sectors of urban and outdoor apparel.
Designed and launched by Shinya Hasegawa, a Japanese transplant to New York City who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology prior to holding positions at the renowned vintage retailer What Goes Around Comes Around and Woolrich Woolen Mills where he was mentored by Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments, the line sprang from Hasegawa’s need for functional, casual, active, outdoor clothing that he could wear to the beach while surfing in the morning. “I used to go to Rockaway Beach before work so I wanted to have clothing that I could wear in Manhattan after coming back from the beach,” he recalls. “That was the idea of me starting this brand.”
This two or three times a week ritual prompted him to create clothes that are aesthetically good looking, comfortable and chock full of practical details. For example, the mesh tote bags are packable and easy to clean, much of the outerwear such as anoraks and windbreakers fold into themselves for compact storage and several shirts include a small fifth pocket that is just large enough to hold a Metro Card and a few dollar bills so that city surfers can access the subway and grab a coffee without having to haul any excess baggage. (Hasegawa reminds me with a chuckle that Rockaway Beach back in the day wasn’t always so gentrified and that leaving a bag on the shore then was basically sending thieves and open invitation to steal it.)
Other basic tenets still guide the brand. For one, Hasegawa still designs mostly for himself, even though his customer base now consists of mostly hip thirtysomething city dwellers. Using himself as his muse will soon be reflected in the items he produces after recently relocating California after 14 years of living in Brooklyn. “I used to say that we made designs for the East Coast but now I live on the West Coast so I want to create something that meets East and West,” he says. “If I combine the two cultures I can create something unique.”
In addition, his love of outdoor and surf clothing from the ’60s and ’70s continues to imbue the collection with a slightly retro look despite the fact that the items are modern and created for contemporary adventures. From the color palette and silhouettes to his choice of old-school fabrics sourced from all over the world, Battenwear definitely exudes a vintage vibe and an accompanying “built to last” construction and approach that is often sadly absent in today’s fashions. “For me the clothing should be like having a relationship with a human being. If you spend time with the clothing it should age well,” he explains. This is why he avoids using Gore-Tex despite its functionality (he doesn’t like the way it ages) and produces the vast majority of his pieces in nearby small-batch factories within a few blocks radius of Battenwear’s headquarters in New York’s Garment Center to guarantee the highest hands-on quality. Yet retail prices average in the $200 range, a true sweet spot.
For me the clothing should be like having a relationship with a human being.
While the explosion of urban outdoor has undoubtedly helped his brand grow–it has respected stockists all over the world and a healthy online business of its own–the transformation has also made doing business a bit more difficult. “The biggest challenge is that the lifestyle is getting popular and now the big companies like Patagonia are starting to make lifestyle clothing so we have to compete with these people,” he says.
One area of growth will be womenswear. Although Battenwear is technically a men’s line, it has attracted a growing female audience from the get-go and now offers sizes as tiny as XXS. And Hasegawa says he is seriously considering creating a separate women’s offering soon.