Designer Profile: Natsuko Hagiwara of Me & Arrow

Natusko Hagiwara of Me & Arrow makes beautiful, well crafted American inspired totes, accessories and other goods by hand in her Los Angeles workshop. Revolver recently sat down with Natsuko to discuss her vision and passion.

Q: What is your background with design, and how did you begin designing bags?
M&A: I have no design background. I always like playing with Photoshop. So I did some graphic design type of stuff but I’ve never thought I would design bags. My background is more in music and art/ culture. Before I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, I was working in music industry for a long time. I decided to move to LA and my friend got me a job at A.P. C. That was my first job in the fashion, and it lead me to later working in a downtown LA fashion showroom.

While I don’t have design back ground, I did know how to use a sewing machine. So when I had ideas about Me & Arrow, I just did it rather than think too much about it. Once I started it, I became a little to obsessed with it. The ideas became real and happened so fast. If I think and plan too much about it, I probably wouldn’t have finished anything yet. It was my curiosity made me do things without my brain command.

Q: How does your Japanese heritage influence your design?

M&A: Most directly, the bulk of the stores that carry my bags are Japanese. Additionally, I think there are aspects of my designs that are very Japanese: the patterns and colors, and the simplicity and functionality of the bag designs. Even tough I’ve lived in the States for over a decade, my style and taste were established when I grew up in Japan. My aesthetic has not changed at all, but has been blended with Southern California music and fashion from the 60s and 70s. I guess my bags really are a melting pod of my nature and my nurture.

Q: What stands out about the fabrics you use and your process?
M&A: I see M&A as a way to re-discover hidden treasures and bring them back to life, by using all vintage and deadstock fabric and creating new everyday-use bags. For over a decade, I only used to shop for and wear vintage clothes. So looking for vintage fabric came naturally, as an extension of my love for thrifting and vintage treasures. While using vintage fabrics can be more expensive, I’m committed to using materials that excite me, that I feel a connection to, rather than making less expensive mass-produced bags.

I am also inspired by contributing to the green movement by using recycled material where I can. Looking for a new fabric inspiration makes me feel like Indiana Jones on a quest for hidden treasure.

I’ve never worked with or worn much leather, but it’s become a brand new love and obsession since starting M&A. It’s been a challenge to find the perfect soft leather for straps and detailing. I love how fine quality leather gets better with age.

Q: At the moment, you have a modest studio in your bedroom — what are the pros and cons of this type of workroom (quality control vs. limited production, etc.)?
M&A: The best thing about having a studio in my bedroom is that I can be on the go 24/7. Whenever I have ideas I can make them happen right then and there. I’ve done M&A all by my self, including production and designing, graphic and website, etc so it’s definitely convenient. I did a lot of riveting for Spring 10, while watching movies on my bedroom floor. Ha ha.

A con is definitely having limited space. It’s getting harder to organize my materials and run my business from the corner of my bedroom. Also, the smell of the leather, which I love, is beginning to take over. I will be needing a large work table some day very soon.

Q: Do you plan to branch out and design other pieces (clothing, accessories, etc.)?
M&A: YES! I would love to. I have ideas for men’s bag and also wallets & belts. I already make cosmetic pouches and keychains. I’m also doing collaboration with folk singer Big Eagle, for the next collection. It’s just free mp3 give away, but I love the crossover between two different outputs! Another dream project of mine would be making a video of “The Adventure of ME & ARROW”. Kind of like namesake Nilsson’s “The Point” meets “Alice in Wonderland”, with 60s psychedelic flavor in it. This is just idea right now, but I would be nice to make it happen. I just want to see any tiny silly idea come true so I can see it.

Q: What is your favorite detail in a bag?
M&A: I love everything about my bags. I love the arrow detail, which is M&A signiture. I love how simple and basic the shape is. Plus I can fit everything’s in it. I use them everyday!

Me & Arrow is available in at Revolver San Francisco

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