Interview: Fashion Designer Hana Tajima On Her UNIQLO Collaboration & More | CoolJapan

Fashion designer and visual artist Hana Tajima knows diversity and inclusion well. Coming from a diverse background herself — born to a Japanese father and English mother — she was given the opportunity to see the world through a different lens even at a young age. This view evolved when she she found herself drawn to Islam and eventually converted to the religion while at university.

However, even though she fell in love with the simplicity and modesty of the religion, she felt that there are many ways to still improve modest fashion, especially when it comes to functionality and style.

She started off sharing her musings on her blog, Style Covered (which later changed to bear her name, Hana Tajima). Then, she established modest womenswear label MAYSAA after pursuing a professional background in fashion. MAYSAA’s success landed her on the spreads of ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, and more. She left the brand in 2012 and moved to New York to pursue other projects under her name.

Following this series of accomplishments, she has done a number of collaborations with UNIQLO, with the first being in 2015 (launched in Malaysia), and then again in 2016. The collections were well-received, so it came as no surprise when she worked with the brand again in 2019 and 2020. Much to (old and new) fans’ delight, UNIQLO x Hana Tajima Spring/Summer 2021 is also now available.

Below, a peek into her design process, her thoughts on her latest collaboration with UNIQLO, and what it’s like to celebrate one’s heritage through fashion.

How old were you when your affinity for fashion started? What is it about fashion that continues to fascinate and inspire you within and beyond your career?

“As soon as I could draw I started sketching clothes. My mother taught me to sew on an old hand-operated Singer machine, and after that, I started making clothes for my dolls. My sister and I had a ‘dressing-up’ box full of all kinds of found clothes. It was exciting to inhabit different worlds and characters.

It was a revelation when I started to make clothes for myself. I understood that you could create this wearable art. It could change who you were at that moment. If I could make the right clothes I could be anyone I wanted.

Now I design because the translation of an idea into something so tangible is so challenging. You have to be part artist, part engineer, and to get it right you need to erase yourself out of the design enough that the person wearing it can feel like they belong inside it. That process is endlessly fascinating and there’s always something new to learn and to explore.”

How does the mix of culture and ideals in your life influence you as a designer? How do these influences translate into your works?

“We are all the sum of our experiences, and I think I have learned to trust my lens as a designer. Whatever I make I know will draw from the different parts of who I am without me even being conscious of it. In the beginning of the design process, I don’t think much at all, I just start making. Then once I’ve found a design I can start to question it, challenge what it needs more of or less of.

In that way I don’t think of myself as making ‘modest wear’, I just make what I find to be beautiful and interesting.”

How would you define inclusive and diverse fashion?

“Inclusive and diverse fashion means having designers and companies that are made up of people of varying cultures, bodies, and backgrounds. It’s about giving voice to marginalized voices. It’s less about the audience you’re trying to target, and more about who you have in the design room and in positions of power. That’s the only way to make a real change towards inclusivity.”

Did you face any challenge in establishing your style identity as a designer?

“I’m lucky because I never thought too much about my style as a designer. I just knew that what I made felt like me. I’m less interested in what the designs look like, and more interested in the process of making them.

If you have a clear sense of what you’re doing I think it resonates more easily with people. They can connect to it in their own way because you’re not dictating what they should look like, you’re just letting them explore a mood or feeling.”

You mentioned that UNIQLO’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection is meant to “give a sense of space and allow us to transition easily between different parts of ourselves, so we can reclaim a sense of identity.” Can you elaborate on this idea? How do you express your own ‘different parts’ through fashion?

“I’ve always used clothes as a way to connect to different parts of myself. I think when you grow up between different cultures you have a deeper awareness of what identity is. It’s not that clothes are a costume or facade. It’s that wearing those clothes can change your state of mind.

For example, if I wear a simple dress that to me represents my strength as a woman, I will walk taller, and feel grace in the way I move. If I wear a relaxed linen suit, I will carry myself effortlessly. It’s just tuning in to parts of ourselves that are always with us.”

Hana Tajima x UNIQLO Spring/Summer 2021 Collection

Hana Tajima x UNIQLO Spring/Summer 2021 Collection

Your top three (3) fashion tips for people who would like to embrace their heritage more through fashion.

“The first would be to wear traditional clothes. I understand the Japanese side of myself so much more when I’m wearing kimono.

The second would be to try and figure out what those clothes meant to the people wearing them. For example, with the kimono, it changes how you move, and how you carry yourself. That has a profound effect on your own state of mind.

Lastly, take what you have found and let go of what it looks like. Try and capture that feeling you felt wearing those clothes. You could take a small detail, or one item of clothing, and let that be a link to the feeling. Let it be a part of who you are now in a way that feels natural.”