Hoping to develop her fledgling business through reciprocal appreciation of British and Japanese fashion is milliner Pheigi Sugahara Macdonald.
A newcomer to the Japan market with her start-up Aka Tombo Millinery, the Tokyo-based Scot is seeking to provide ladies with a modern twist on vintage chic.
Macdonald, who has received training from Rose Cory, a holder of a Royal Warrant for hats for the Queen Mother, uses traditional cloth from Scotland and Japan. She specialises in combining Harris Tweed, handmade by islanders in her native Outer Hebrides, with fabric from kimono and obi (kimono sash) to make hats for everyday fashion and special events.
“Japan is the biggest importer of Harris Tweed and it is definitely going through a boom”, she told BCCJ ACUMEN. “Old pastel-coloured obi are so strong in their colouring and so is Harris Tweed, so the two go well together”.
Speaking of her work, Macdonald said the range and quality of accessories available to her, including natural stone, lace, feathers and British vintage brooches from her family in the UK, is a real asset.
“Making hats is like flower-arranging”, she said. “All the bits are beautiful already—the fabric, the feathers—it’s just a case of arranging it like a sculpture”.
Through an e-commerce platform, she has successfully sold her creations around the world, including to clients in the UK, the US, Australia and Jamaica.
In Tokyo, while most of her custom comes from non-Japanese residents, Macdonald designed the hats for the Tokyo International Players production of Little Women in December.
She hopes that the image of the UK as a nation of hat lovers, and an appreciation of the traditional crafts that she supports, will help expand her reach.
“Most of the hats I’m selling to Japanese people are for wearing at weddings so they tend to be quite fancy: the last one I made was a plain, button, kimono hat with a big purple bow”, she said.
Yet, dressing one’s head is not just for formal occasions according to Macdonald. “Every girl should have a little black hat, the same way they should have a little black dress”, she added.