The Compasso d’Oro is perhaps the highest international award for industrial design projects, Vibram has managed to win it with its Furoshiki, turning a dream into one of the most relevant projects in the history of technological innovation and design.
Collater.al met Masaya Hashimoto, the designer who participated in the development of the project from its origins, listening to a story that tells a lot about design and its cultural and social role; starting from the traditions of Japan to create a wrapping sole, an innovative concept that can lead to a new behaviour, a new way of understanding shoes.
How did the Vibram Furoshiki project come about?
In 2011 I was working in the design studio of Isao Hosoe, who at that time was collaborating with Vibram on an innovative concept around the future of the sole, one of the ideas was to reduce the amount of moulds for each sole. Usually there are 10 to 12 moulds for each model, and one of the company’s goals was to optimise production time and costs, thus creating a new product that was more sustainable in many ways. Together with Vibram’s R&D team, we therefore began to think about how to integrate multiple numbers in a single mould, a complex research because the upper usually does not fit different numbers. The prototype that turned out to be successful was made with liquid rubber, a transparent sheet and some fabric, from the intuition of wrapping the foot in a sole coupled with fabric. As soon as we put it on, we knew immediately that it worked.
What was it like working on the most technical details of the design, managing to create a beautiful and durable shoe while still pursuing an essential approach to the elements? Is there anything in particular that inspired the design of Vibram Furoshiki?
I work with the Italian methodology of Gio Ponti or Alberto Rosselli, but my master is Isao Hosoe, the culture of furoshiki is connected to the Japanese one. The shape originates from an object-carrying cloth, which historically serves to contain a gift one brings to someone. Furoshiki is a way to protect and reveal a product with surprise. Each furoshiki is related to the content and the season, they are customised according to the occasion or clothing, a concept similar to the one that makes us choose shoes according to our mood, everyone wears the ones that represent them best.
Vibram Furoshiki has transformed a historically anonymous object, which had to give importance to the content, into an inverse mechanism, with the container becoming the object and the content (the foot) not being revealed, so it is anonymous and, what’s more, it adapts to every conformity and type of foot. Vibram’s role was fundamental from the point of view of technological innovation and for the development of the product from a concept to a sole that envelops the foot; the choice of fabrics was also important, some models for example are made together with a company that produces swimwear, the elasticity of their fabric helped us.
Inventing a product for the first time is tiring but fun, you have to think of everything, from the production method through to analysis and sales. It wasn’t difficult because we were working with trained Vibram technicians. Design is a game, you have to combine technology and culture, if design is not fun it becomes boring, you feel the pain. Design is about creating a new behaviour, leading to a new behaviour. Vibram Furoshiki are this, no longer an object that has to be worn but an object that has to be wrapped, already the gesture is different.
“I have learnt that in the West we try to reason with our heads, but the most important and rewarding decision-making is done with our bellies. The modern world reasons with its head, but the body has a longer historical experience, and the experience it has accumulated comes from deeper needs, related to fear and emotionality. It is important to lower the level of emotion and emotionality so as not to create problems.
In design and creativity the greatest source of energy is emotion, if you deny emotion the design becomes flat. So you have to regulate yourself and channel emotion intelligently to the end consumer. The risk is to do something crazy. Excessive creativity is fine for physicists like Einstein, but he needed it to get away from logic”
The figure of the stylist has been replaced in recent years by the concept of the designer, what do you think about this change in the way of defining who creates a collection, can it lose the sense of design, of the technical study of materials and forms?
In history there are designers who could have won the Compasso D’Oro, such as Giorgio Armani or Coco Chanel, because they created with innovation. Chanel created the idea of a modern woman entering the working society, Armani brought the quality of tailoring into the industrial world. There are fashion products that could win great design awards, but now the fashion world has flattened out a bit, because designing also involves a lot of risk.
Today the market is saturated, before you looked at the world of design in relation to the innovations it proposed, now you look at the philosophy of the brand and its concepts, things on which you don’t have too much entrepreneurial risk but which help you to withstand the wave of products you are called upon to produce. Design has changed from an entrepreneurial point of view and this has also changed the approach to production, it is not easy to come up with innovations.
When you look at Vibram Furoshiki do you feel more fashion design or product design?
Of product, because the product is precisely ‘product’, that is, something created and sold. If I am a cook, I am a product designer, I cook and sell, but first of all I think of it according to the needs of my guests. The designer must accommodate requests and pamper customers in some way, with the tools I have at my disposal.
Did you expect the success of the Vibram Furoshiki when it was designed? Did the 2018 Compasso D’Oro help open up the model to the general public?
Every project I do I try to bring it to the same level, then for me the judgement of the outside world is important, to understand what people think to know if that idea can have potential. I can’t understand it before.
With Furoshiki we also won two important awards, DFA Design For Asia from the Hong Kong Design Center and the DIA Design Intelligence Award. In the latter Vibram was invited as a European project, which was a very hard award to get. These two awards were important because it is the first time that a European shoe approaches all the diversity of feet, the Asian foot shape is different from the Western one and shoes do not fit well. I am sure the shoe and sole culture will change in the coming years.