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Living in Japan Inspired Me to Open a Fabric Store

The story of Indy Bindy Fabrics, an independent fabric shop that celebrates the worldwide power of textile arts. By Aims Watts.

Posted in: Makers & Crafts • November 30, 2020

I was 16 years old, freshly arrived in Japan, when I realized that three years of study at an Australian high school hadn’t prepared me to communicate in the dialect of my new home. That morning, I put on my new school uniform—a pleated navy and green tartan skirt, a crisp white shirt, and a satiny red neck bow with a navy blazer. I threw on a pair of little white socks before putting on my shoes.

When I got to school, I swapped my shoes for the standard-issue Japanese school slippers, those squishy vinyl ones with straps that let your toes poke out. Standing at assembly—before being introduced to my new Japanese high school as their first-ever exchange student—a girl appeared next to me and kindly told me that one of my socks was inside out.

It took me a second to realize that socks were actually something girls my age in Japan paid attention to. I looked around and saw that all the girls had knee-length billowy socks (held up with special sock glue, I found out later!) that were definitely the right way out. Socks were a fashion accessory.

I’ve never put my socks on inside out again.

Little did I know that the year ahead was about to shape my life in so many other ways. I had a fantastic host family who was warm, creative, and also business owners. I loved the food, began karate, and made true friends—experiencing the thrill of independence and adventure. That year was the start of a life-long connection with Japan and a creative career I love with my whole heart and soul.

My Sewing Journey and the Birth of My Son

I’ve always had a thirst for living overseas and wanting to make a difference, embarking on a career in the humanitarian and development field. I lived and traveled through Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. No matter where I went, my favorite thing to collect was unique fabric that I could not find at home.

In 2013, I was living in the Solomon Islands and pregnant with my first son. Even though my mum taught me how to sew as a child, I really picked this passion up again while living here. There were no clothes shops around me, and I had a fabulous sewing buddy living right next door—so I finally started sewing all those fabrics I’d collected!

When my son Archie was born, I ramped up the sewing, as it was something that was 100% mine—a part of my identity that wasn’t tied to this beautiful but all-consuming little person.

The Birth of My Shop

Over the years, my winding road has led me back to Japan time and again. In 2016, I was living in Japan for the third time. My second son, Indy, was born there—in this country steeped in culture and so many beautiful arts.

The first time I walked around an indie fabric fair in Tokyo—with Indy strapped to my front in a carrier—my eyes were as big as saucers. The different styles, the production methods, and the passion of the designers blew me away. I spoke to as many designers as I could and felt in my heart that this was where I belonged. I knew I had to share the fabrics I found there with the world.

And that was the beginning of Indy Bindy Fabrics!

Over the years, I have cherished getting to know each of the designers I stock at Indy Bindy Fabrics—their families, pets, inspiration, and stunning work.

All of the fabrics in my shop are made in Japan by fabulous artists. My biggest passion is being able to support the artists behind the designs. At the same time, the other thing I love is sparking creativity and inspiration. I feel so lucky to send these fabrics, often not found outside Japan, all over the world for other sewists to turn into their own unique creations.

Meet the Designers

The fabric designers in my shop are based in different areas of Japan—from the beating heart of Tokyo to a balmy beach on the southern island of Kyushu. They are all so unique; from quirky Manri who spent years at a design school in the United Kingdom; to sweet Yumi who lives with her family, close to her parents in the area she grew up; super-cool Kayo who speaks fluent Swedish; and Katsuyuki and Megu who live in the mountains of Aichi! Their environment, their experiences, and their different creative processes influence their distinctive styles.

Mannine designer, Manri Kishimoto, was the first designer I spoke to years ago at that fabric fair. She uses her incredible genius and love for detail to create a theme for every fabric collection. She then brings each character to life with a name, star sign, love interests, and even a family tree! 

Otsukiyumi paints her designs first in watercolor, playing with color and technique. She is heavily influenced by the nature she sees around her.

Kayo Aoyama is efficient and prolific in her art and creates her fresh, cheerful designs with all kinds of painting and sketching methods.

Kana, the designer behind Kanariya, loves to explore different media in a playful way to create her designs. She is known for her work with paper-cut shapes, line drawing, and color.

I had the privilege of visiting the printing house where the couple behind Nocogou have all of their fabrics printed by hand. The printing house has been in Kyoto for 60 years. Each color requires a different print mold, and every piece of fabric is all the more precious in its individuality.

Creativity Comes Full Circle

Knowing that Indy Bindy Fabrics supports each of these amazing designers fills my soul with happiness. And seeing the joy and inspiration that the fabric brings my customers is the ultimate reward.

My fabric shop is a result of the love I have for sewing and creativity. It also comes from my love of Japan and all it represents.

That first girl who gave me the inside info on socks, grabbed my hand, and started chattering away despite how little I understood, is still one of my closest friends. And now, in a fitting update to the story of how living in Japan inspired me to open my fabric shop, her daughter has started her own adventure as a high school student on exchange here in Australia. Worldwide creativity has an amazing power to come full circle.

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