Sean & Ben - handmade leather goods from Japan

Like everything else ever, the online revolution has exposed menswear to a much larger audience, pushing those who make and sell high quality, thought out goods to a huge, super captive audience.

A brand can exist exclusively online because of this, giving people like myself the opportunity to learn about a brand's ethos and products from their earliest days. From a web-based, young brand, you might expect a small run of cheap-to-produce goods to get them off the ground, whether that’s t-shirts, hats or something similar.

I was intrigued by Sean and Ben because they’re such a young operation for the high quality, super soft leather goods they produce. Making something with leather isn’t like learning to screen print - you can’t just buy the raw products and a bit of kit and figure it out, it’s a super skilled craft that you can’t afford to get wrong, which is why we pay premium for the good stuff.

Starting out with what they know best, the guys have a crafted some cool leather wallets and coin purses in interesting colourings. They plan to expand into ceramics and americana influenced workwear in the future, with visions of a Japan store.

The obvious distance and language barriers involved here means that the following feature is strictly Q&A. Check out what Shinobu of Sean and Ben had to say on working with Jeffery Sebelia, the brand's love for American culture and always looking up to Hermes.

OD: First off, tell me about who's behind Sean and Ben?

Me and Kowata started Sean & Ben in 2011, but we’ve known each other since around 2000. We took the same class in Bunka Fashion College and met there. One day in 2011, Kowata hit on a good idea when he was drinking at the bar. “SHONBEN” means pee in Japanese. “Sean & Ben” is  just separated the word “SHONBEN”. It sounds like play tricks.

We used to be naughty boys, right? Me and Kowata love American culture a lot and like to wear American products. We're inspired by them to design and make Sean and Ben products. This excites us like naughty kids. That’s why Sean & Ben is the perfect brand name to us.

OD: What’s your background - have you worked with leather/ high end goods in the past?

After graduating college, I was working at a Leather goods company as a Craftsman for two years. At the same time, I was so into music. I loved DJing and making beats, sampling with my MPC3000. I traveled several times to Los Angeles, the United States to look for vinyls. It was like the movie of Scratch. My ex-girlfriend lived in San Diego, California, then I decided to move to Los Angeles. Nice climate, good music, good vinyl shops over there. Buying vinyls, clubbing, going to concerts - in Japan everything is so much more expensive than in the States. I was crazy to get vintage clothes and vinyls made in the USA.

After I moved to LA, fortunately I found a job as assistant of Jeffrey Sebelia, founder of the clothing label Cosa Nostra.

I’d been working with him for a few years. It was great experience to me, mostly I designed and made custom jackets with vintage clothes. I used to go to a warehouse to get vintage clothes for a custom clothing line. It was so dusty, but just as fun to me as digging for vinyls!

Kowata (Ned Ben) was working at a leather company as a Craftsman for ten years and he got the skill of leather craft there. He has great experience from a range of very well-known clients. 

OD: tell me about your creative and production process?

Our approach is based on vintage stuff, but we’re looking to design something different and new too. The Large Wallet was based on a vintage truckers safety wallet. We added something more; extra card slots and accordion style pockets.

The collar of our Chambray shirt is button-down, which was a symbol of people who played polo in the 1900's. It was rich people’s fashion, now its become popular. We think we are blue-collar, which is why we think it’s funny that a work shirt has a button-down collar. This symbolizes us. I think our creative approach is similar to sampling in music during the early 90's - something new from something old.

All leather goods are made by Kowata in the studio in Chiba. Clothing, I use 2 factories. One factory in Tokyo, the other one in Okayama. There are great factories.

We want to make things more like our hometown. Kowata is from Chiba. I am not from Chiba, but I love Funabashi town. There is a very good vintage clothing store, delicious curry restaurants, a friendly Izakaya bar and a nice music bar. We want to do some interesting thing with those people for fellow neighbors.

The special product of Chiba is a peanut. Our mascot is a peanut in a blue-collar. I am producing the brass of the peanut type and a wooden button and plan on using the item in new Sean & Ben products.

OD: Is there any one company you look up to and aspire to the most?

Hermes. they always work so beautiful. their stitching is amazing and their leather tanning is so sensitive and elegant.

OD: What is your vision for the future of Sean and Ben?

We’d like to have a real store. We drew up a few plans which includes a variety of ideas. We just started to make them possible. Making clothes is the same as wanting to make leather accessories. We love vintage American clothing that are military wear, outdoor sportswear and workwear. We’re already making samples of things like a fishing vest, shorts and also woman's shirts.

Check out what Sean and Ben are currently offering here.