Loop & Weft interview: A conversation with Ryota Yamasaki

Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture

The Loop & Weft brand produce the finest cut & sew sweatshirts, hoodies and tees in Japan. Each season, creating completely bespoke fabrics and taking inspiration from classic workwear and military pieces, they create clothing that you’ll never want to take off.

At Those That Know, we were the first European store to offer Loop & Weft and still one of only a handful outside of Japan. Today they’re one of our oldest brands and one of the most popular with our customers.

In advance of launching the new collection, we spoke to Loop & Weft owner Ryota Yamasaki about the brand, his influences, vintage knitting machines and working in the shadow of Mount Fuji.

How did you get started with the Loop & Weft brand?

Before founding Loop & Weft I worked for a vintage reproduction denim brand in Japan. The brand’s denim was thick, hard and durable workwear denim. At that company, I was in charge of production planning for cut-and-sew products, not denim products. Every day, I wore heavy, thick, durable jeans to a busy and stressful job. 

One day, I received a soft T-shirt as a gift from the cut-and-sew factory where I was in charge of production management. The T-shirt was made of soft cotton with a rich texture, and was made with careful, high-quality stitching, making it have a very strong presence.

Organic cotton growing

I was exhausted from my daily hard work, but the moment I put on that T-shirt, I felt very relaxed and good, and realised the essence of knitwear.

Comfortable knitwear that is soft and stretchy to the shape of the body has a very relaxing and positive effect on the wearer. Unlike clothing made from durable fabrics that do not stretch, knitwear is originally a garment that is made to stretch to the shape of the body and not put stress on the body. From then on, I looked forward to wearing that T-shirt almost every day.

I started thinking that someday I would like to work with these craftsmen to launch a knitwear brand that embodies my ideas. That was the trigger. These products are knitwear that is soft and comfortable to wear, and has a vintage-inspired design that takes a lot of time to create.

We also want our products to make the wearer feel relaxed and happy, and to complement the wearer’s life. That is the knitwear brand “Loop & Weft”. 

What made you decide to focus the Loop & Weft brand on creating t-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies?

The reason for this is that sweatshirts and T-shirts have a very rich background. In order to create products with great attention to detail, we believe it is necessary to narrow down the types of products, delve deeper and specialise in one area.

As I experienced daily production management of the cut-and-sew products that I was in charge of, I realised that T-shirts and sweatshirts, which at first glance appear to be simply made, are made with rare craftsmanship and special features. I learned that it was made using a modified machine that took a lot of time and advanced technology. I also became friends with the craftsmen at that factory, and learned about the deep world of knitwear, craftsmanship, and the hardships involved in production.

A vintage circular knitting machine being set up by its operator
A vintage circular knitting machine being set up by its operator

The brand name literally represents the organisation of the knitting.

Apart from that, we also include the following meanings: The loop represents circulation, and the weft represents connections with various people. A cycle is created in which the maker makes a good product, the product reaches the user, and the user wears it and becomes happy. I hope that this cycle will be passed on to people around the world and to the next generation.

Loop & Weft products use a lot of vintage manufacturing processes, for example the Tompkins knitting machines used in the sweatshirts and hoodies from last winter. Why do you choose to use these? How do you decide which of these knitting machines to use?

We love and respect vintage products and knitwear. In modern times, it is difficult and time-consuming to recreate the fabric, shape, sewing, etc. of these vintage products, making them extremely rare.

The reason we developed the range of sweatshirts and hoodies using the Tompkins knitting machine is simple. Because they are  super rare. 

Circular knitting machine
A vintage circular knitting machine

Because of its popularity amongst vintage clothing enthusiasts, what many people want is a sweatshirt made of loopwheel fabric. In fact, there are hundreds of loop knitting machines in operation in Wakayama Prefecture, so they are not that rare. However, the Tompkins knitting machine was old and super rare knitting machine, with only one in operation in Japan*.

*In fact, the FW22 Tompkins knitted sweatshirts and t-shirts will be the last ever produced by Loop & Weft or any other Japanese brand, at least for now. The machine’s operator retired and there’s no one to take his place.

Loop & Weft Tompkins Knit Hoodie - Green
Loop & Weft Tompkins Knit Hoodie
Loop & Weft Tompkins Knit Hoodie - Green
Loop & Weft Tompkins Knit Hoodie

The first sample of sweat fabric knitted by that machine was so soft, warm and comfortable to wear, and I was so moved by its vintage look that I wanted to share this rare and wonderful fabric with as many people as possible. 

Some old sweatshirt fabrics were knitted with Tompkins. However, the sweatshirts sold by modern manufacturers were all made using loopwheel knitting machines. Tompkins fabric is very rare these days, so I wanted to bring it back to the modern world and let as many people know about it. That was the trigger.

Are there any vintage knitting machines or manufacturing processes that you haven’t used yet that you hope to in future?

In our next project, we would like to create new fabrics using old Japanese knitting machines that have not been in the spotlight until now. Although we cannot announce it yet, we predict that we will be able to make it happen.

Vintage knitting machines

Loop & Weft garments are made entirely in Japan using small local factories and workshops. How do you decide which factory to use and how important is it to you that your products are made this way?

We share the same aspirations with the various factories where our products are manufactured. We love manufacturing and strive to create high quality products every day. Since ancient times, the Japanese have been a people who love manufacturing.

The choice of which factory in Japan to choose is very important to us. The criterion for judgment is whether or not we share the underlying feeling of “wanting to create something good”. And factories that can share this have special technology and skilled craftsmen to produce high-quality products.

Sewing Loop & Weft garments with a vintage Union Special machine
Cutting Loop & Weft custom fabrics with a vintage machine

How does Yamanashi Prefecture inspire Loop & Weft products?

The place where we launched our brand was Yamanashi Prefecture, which is home to many beautiful natural areas and famous places, including Mt. Fuji. We love nature and find a lot of beautiful inspiration from it. This is reflected in the texture, color, and shape of the product.

Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture
Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture

Apart from its garment industry, can you tell us a bit more about Yamanashi Prefecture?

Yamanashi Prefecture is located southwest of Tokyo. Mt. Fuji, which many people know, is an attractive place with rich and beautiful nature. The area is approximately 1/100th of Japan’s total area, and approximately 78% of the prefecture is covered by forests, and is blessed with abundant natural tourism resources such as Mt. Fuji, Mt. Yatsugatake, and the Southern Alps.

In addition, the excellent local products such as various agricultural products, wine, jewelry, and silk fabrics grown with the blessings of abundant water and sunlight are recognized both domestically and internationally.

Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

From your Instagram account, we can see that you have an incredible collection of vintage clothing, particularly sweatshirts. How did you get started with vintage clothing? Can you tell us about a couple of your favourite vintage pieces?

In Japan, there has been a boom in used clothing fashion every 20 years since the 1980s. I discovered vintage fashion when I was an impressionable teenager.

Since then, I have loved vintage clothing, and there are many styles that I like, not only vintage styles, but also modern fashion.

There are a number of old clothes that we treasure, but among our favourites is a rare diamond-patterned thermal shirt that seems to have been made in the 1960s.

What are your plans for Loop & Weft in 2024 and beyond?

We can’t go into details, but as always, we will try new products using original new fabrics. It’s always a difficult task, but we want to create great products that everyone will enjoy.

Loop & Weft at Those That Know

A selection of our favourite Loop & Weft pieces is shows below. You can also go to our Loop & Weft page to browse the full collection.

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