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Destructive creation: An interview with Takashi Imai

Takashi Imai

Discover Japanese footwear brand Timai

Disruptive, fascinating, and powerful, these are all words that first come to mind when looking at Timai’s collections. The Japanese brand is widening and breaking all aesthetic boundaries when it comes to shoe design since it first started.

Takashi Imai, the founder of the brand, talks about a “repeated destructive creation” process that seems to guide the concept and manufacture of his brand’s shoes. In an insightful interview, Takashi Imai shares his path, the footwear industry and more.

Read below.

Takashi Imai
Takashi Imai

What is Timai?

First of all, the naming originates from my own name.(Takashi Imai)

About TIMAI PHILOSOPHY:

10 years passed since I started making shoes. A few years ago, some subtle changes occurred inside of me. To trace the matter to its origin, speaking frankly, I lost interest in what I was doing.

From a different point of view, I could say that I started seeing things that I didn’t see before. I also realized that I was only seeing things in a very blind way.

In the past, my creative method for shoes was surely based on an HIP HOP approach. Cutting the original sound source (inspiration) and pasting them together was, in other words, the same method as ‘sampling’ or ‘remix’.

I truly believed that this would overthrow the existing values and create new values. As a result, I began to be immersed in such work.

However, in the past few years, I started becoming blind to the real nature of such work. No matter how much you knead around something that has been around already, it will never become original in a true sense.

No matter how hard I struggled, I realized that my soul would never attain self-fulfillment. It was as if this was a puzzle game and I was just a ‘gamer’ playing the game of shoe creation.

As the years passed, my crave for fundamentality increased more than simply enjoying the game. It was surely an aspiration for ‘originality’. How would I convert my self-expression into shoe creation?

How would I completely express my inner projection? As I came to realize this, I started to attempt reconsidering the basics of shoe creation.

When thinking about the ideal form of a shoe, the first thing that came to my mind was ‘comfort’. It had to be easy to wear and intuitively comfortable. And most of all, it had to have an added original concept.

How would I be able to drive in a wedge to the universality that a shoe carries? With this in the forefront of my mind, I decided to establish my new shoe brand.

A boundless horizon without imitation. Repeated confrontation with myself. Establishment of self-expression in order for ‘me’ to be ‘myself’. Endless trial-and-error, but the adventure of creating my own shoe continues forever.

How did you become a footwear designer?

I started out as a shop staff and then became a buyer, shop director and from 2000, with an urge to produce sneakers, I started out learning by imitation. As soon as I started out, I was enchanted by the profundity and fun in shoemaking and decided that this was going to be my life work.

What can you tell us about the concepts presented in your collections?

That is a question I get all the time. People ask me ‘Why a squid?’… In the process of shoemaking, my main thought was to make a shoe in a basic and minimal design whilst trying to see if I could integrate something soliciting within a simple structure.

I am not pure enough to make a simple presentation of a simple thing. Without having some sort of twist to my creations, they would have sunk into oblivion among countless products in the market.

So, I wanted to go back to the basic roots of a shoe, which was ‘comfort’ and firmly establish the basic parts of shoemaking.

I spent a lot of time being afflicted with a proposition of how to express this part. Simply saying that the shoe was comfortable didn’t have an impact and there are countless shoes alike.

Furthermore, there is a presupposition that comfort in a shoe is something ordinary. It was then that I realized that the shoe needed to have an added value which would make people want to wear it, and actually try it on.

I started asking myself if I could incorporate a sort of fantasy in ‘comfort’ itself. What would be the conceivable comfort? During the development of the shoes, I realized that adding a squid’s acetabulum to the insole created increased comfort.

The question was how to express this for solicitation. Thus leading to the creation of the following copy; ‘Reproduction of that feeling when you step on a squid with your bare feet’.

This was an unrealistic approach and of course, no one (well, maybe a few) have this experience. But this copy creates a situation where the mind enters a blank area creating an unexplainable interest towards trying the shoe on.

A very mysterious feeling implicates the mind, and this, of course, is the world of fantasy. If declared, that becomes the stereotype and that outlook becomes so strong that people will start craving the experience.

I selfishly convicted myself to believe so and started my challenge to produce a comfort shoe pursuing that feeling of stepping on a squid.

I actually did presentations like this and the reaction from people who tried the shoes on was very incomprehensive where they would comment that they had never actually stepped on a squid, but understood that ‘this’ is what I meant.

In other words, the story progresses based on a presupposition about how it feels when you step on a squid.

This, of course, is mainly a work of creation and in the margins outside of reality, lays such stories. There is no need to have any scientific basis for solicitation towards a person’s sense.

Expanding the interpretation of the word ‘comfort’ itself and adding fantasy to that, allows for intuitive amplifying towards the fun of wearing a shoe. That indeed allows for oneself to appreciate the true charm of shoemaking.

Timai

Most of your shoes are really disruptive, namely in terms of design – what can you tell us about that?

I haven’t learned shoemaking to begin with, so I just throw in whatever derives from my rule of the thumb into the designs. Repeated destructive creation is the very thing that opens the door to the next stage.

What are your main inspirations when creating a new shoe?

I gain information from various things and then I digest all the information once by myself and pursue originality in my own way.

What about your views on the future of the footwear industry?

I think that big enterprises will certainly lead the industry, but I can’t help but keep my expectations that some shoe creator that can draw the line between such enterprises and aim for a counterpunch.

I think that even under a small capital, there will be more and more independent companies who will be able to maintain business while at the same time being able to emit individuality.

Is there any artist or brand that you would love to collaborate in the near future?

I don’t have any ideas in particular at the moment, but if there are any offers, I am willing to work with any artist or brand.

Timai is currently only available in Japan – when can we expect distribution to get to even more countries?

Presently, they are only sold in Japan, but in the near future, I would like to be able to sell them in other countries too.

Discover more about Timai.