Urban Living: You set up your own label Masato London in 2011, so in less than two years it will be your ten-year anniversary. Do you have anything planned in terms of launching a collection or celebrating?
Masato Jones: I definitely want to make a collection but I'm not entirely sure I want to do it in a celebratory way. The designs, your mood and concept are always very dependent on your lifestyle – what you see, what you feel, who you meet. Obviously, the ten-year anniversary is going to be here so I will do something to mark the occasion but also, I enjoy people wearing my outfits. I like to think of my customers, my clients, my friends wearing my clothes as an everyday celebration of my work.
UL: You’ve designed outfits for some significant people, such as the singer Beverly Knight, do you have a dream collaboration of someone you’d like to design for or work with?
MJ: I don’t mind making a garment for anyone. I’d be happy to make something for you! When I’m making a garment, it’s always nice to know who it’s for. When I know someone prior to being a customer then I enjoy it more. So, my answer is anyone who is nice, anyone lovely, any size… anyone and I’m happy.
UL: I noticed in your designs that you use a lot of colour, pattern and especially animal motifs. Where do you find inspiration?
MJ: When I draw something, I tend to draw characters. For me, it’s easier to draw life than concrete. I like to draw trees and flowers, they are all part of life. That’s what inspires me more than buildings. Colour is always with me – I don’t really have a black outfit, I always wear colours. I like animals. My home town is now developed but there used to be farms. When you were little you could just go and be with the animals. That’s a childhood that I’m lucky to have had, so I think that’s why I focus on nature. I don’t know why I live in a big city now!
UL: Moving on to your CSR work, when did you first have the idea to set something up and what sparked you to create the Beanies Masato campaign?
MJ: My partner Mike works as a social worker, so homelessness is a subject we talk about. There are a lot of problems in the world and many charity organisations but with homelessness, you see it in everyday life. For me, it makes more sense if I can do something to help people that I actually see. It could happen to me or to you, even someone that has so much money. I've had the chance to talk to people who have lived on the street and realised it’s not always about money but sometimes something deeply tragic happened in their lives and they lost hope. I think we can all try and help make this environment we share better than yesterday.
UL: Once you had the idea for Beanies Masato, how did you recruit your group of Team Beanies volunteers?
MJ: We started it in winter and the idea was that someone could buy something and donate it to an organisation like York Road Project. Then one lady Sue showed an interest in what we were doing. She had a more business way of thinking about how we could make it better, so that we had more to donate. Then via Twitter we got many people asking if they could help too so we said, “why not?” It’s grown organically. We didn’t use any big publicity – it would be a bit silly to spend a lot of money to expand when we could use that money to help people.
UL: At York Road Project, we’re very grateful to be one of the chosen charities supported by Beanies Masato. What made you charities or shelters from across the UK, rather than where you live in London?
MJ: For business we often visit other towns and cities where I’ve seen people in difficulty and realised it’s not only happening in London but everywhere. We visit a lot of charity organisations and sometimes it just feels right. There’s a limit on what we can do so we have to be selective. Also, we’re mentioning the organisation names along with our brand name, so we need to feel proud doing that. I like the people at York Road Project; it’s nice to visit and I’m always made to feel very welcome, plus your activities encourage people gathering together, which is another thing I look for.
UL: What has the public response been to the Beanies Masato campaign so far and what do you think the impact has been?
MJ: It’s had a good response so far. Especially in the winter when people buy more beanies, so we can give more beanies. When someone buys a beanie, they can also send a message asking to send it straight to a charity. We’ve started to recognise names of maybe 10-20 people that have come back two or three times, buying beanies for their family or friends. It’s nice that they tell people about it and those people might tell others. I think that’s the best way. It’s good to have people involved that genuinely want to help rather than because of a trend. There’s a huge difference.
UL: What are the main ambitions you want to achieve, whether that’s personal, with your design work or your CSR programme?
MJ: I want to keep making garments but also help creatives. Often as creatives, we have no idea how to sell and find it difficult to make money out of what we do. I'd like to have a shop like a warehouse space where we could exhibit work and people could come and experience the craftmanship. We’d really like people to see that buying something could be much more special than buying something from the high street that you throw away next year. From my experience of working in fashion, I know it can be very hard. In Japan we have a saying that if you have one chopstick, it’s easy to break but if you have three chopsticks together it’s very difficult. So, when we work together it can be something special. With more people getting involved, I’m sure our Beanies Masato project would grow naturally too.
UL: If one of our clients or anyone reading this has the goal of starting their own business or working in the creative industries, what would your advice be?
MJ: Business-wise it’s very difficult to do it as one person but you can start being creative with just yourself. We need materials when we make something but it doesn’t have to be expensive. I started with a scrap of fabric I could get very cheap and stitching by hand because I didn’t have a machine. Sometimes I feel very Zen when I’m making something, it’s a very nice feeling. I don’t need to think about anything, just concentrate doing something. I think finding that the feeling is the starting point.
Urban Living is York Road Project's quarterly print magazine sponsored by New Heat Solutions.