This year’s Naka-Kon in Kansas attracted fans of Japanese anime, music, and culture from both in and out of country. Also in attendance was Hizumi. He’s best known as the former vocalist of hit visual kei band D’espairsRay. When his health forced him to stop singing altogether in 2011, they were pressed to disband.
Shortly after, Hizumi started his own design brand, Umbrella. He designs everyday products ranging from t-shirts to mugs, and even to sunglasses. Hizumi attended Naka-Kon 2015 this year not as a musician, but as Umbrella’s designer.
Interview: Shannon, Yayoi
Translation Assistance: Alicia
Special thanks to Ali Watson
Not for republication.
–What is the basic flow of development like for your brands and the items in them?
Basically, I act as its graphic designer. First, I make the graphic. Then I think of what kind of product it could be changed into and used for, then I make it. That’s the basic flow of it. Basically, it’s inside my head, then I make something that isn’t in the market right now and is something that I want. It’s mainly something that I want.
–What merchandise do you currently have for sale that you’d recommend?
I really like graphics, so my favorite products are the graphic t-shirts.
–Umbrella’s products are mainly sold through its online shop, but there are a few stores where they’re sold. There are also offline store events occasionally. Which stores are your products being sold at right now?
There’s a CD shop called Nagoya five stars. You can also buy apparel there. Not all of the products are sold there, but there are a few.
–Only a few? Ones that you recommend to be sold?
Since the online shop is the main hub, if someone from five stars says “we want this product,” then they let me sell it there.
–Are you planning on having any offline events soon?
There was one at the beginning of March. We’re planning one for next month, on April 19th.
–Where will it be?
At Omotesando EX Room. They’ve allowed me to hold offline events there this year, so I decided to do it there.
–Right now, you’re participating in Naka-Kon. You’ve participated in events overseas before not as a designer, but as a musical guest. This time, it’s as a designer. What are your impressions of this perspective?
This is the first time I’m participating in an event like this. I’ve done it before from a musical perspective, but this time as a graphic designer, there were a lot of things I didn’t understand. I felt very uncertain. I was really out of my element, but in the end I had to try it once in order to figure out what to do next time. For this event, I thought a lot about what I should do and because there was a lot I should do, I should try participating. You never know what it’ll be like until you try it. That’s what went into my decision to participate.
–So that was your motive for participating in Naka-Kon?
That’s how I decided to participate when I thought about future events and how I felt this time. I want to strengthen my overseas promotion this year, so that was one of the main factors in my decision. I wanted to experience it firsthand, so I decided to sign up.
–What has left the biggest impression on you at Naka-Kon, or what was the most interesting thing you saw?
What’s interesting is that I haven’t been to a convention in Japan before. I’ve been to a few conventions overseas before, but I never walked around inside the venue. This time I had some free time, so I decided to do some wandering. I know how it works, but it’s like I walked into a world that I knew nothing about. I know anime, but there are a lot of people who come because they like anime. It was surprising. It wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. (laugh)
–Moving on, Umbrella has been in business for 3 years now. What has made you feel the greatest sense of accomplishment so far?
What made me feel like this job was really worthwhile was when I worked directly with PIERROT, some of my senpai, as the head of merchandise at the end of last year. I wanted to pour more of myself as a designer into those goods. There was another person who was originally a designer there, but that didn’t matter. I wanted to try my hand at it.
–There was another designer?
Yes, there was another designer, but somehow, I don’t know why (laugh), I was allowed to do pretty much everything. I think that was because the members had that much faith in me. I wanted to meet their expectations. So I made something even better than I’ve made before. I had hardly any time. I was told I had about a week to get everything finished — I had absolutely no time, but I was able to do it by concentrating.
–So you started that process as soon as you got the request.
On the other hand, it was probably the most fun [job] I had.
–How many products did you make?
I made about 8 design patterns, but they were for separate things, so I made about 8 different complete designs.
–That would normally take a lot of time, right?
Right. One design usually takes about 1 week. So I think it was pretty successful of me to do 8 designs in a week.
–That means it would normally take you about 2 months to design all those!
Yeah. I wasn’t designing logos, so it’s not like I just designed logos and pasted them on things; I made 8 complete patterns. It was a lot of work. I barely slept that week. I really wanted to live up to my expectations, so I decided not to sleep in order to do it.
–So those were some of your successes last year, but are there any goals you want to achieve this year?
I want to turn towards a more global perspective. I have both online and offline stores, but those are first and foremost in Japan. And since I’m the only person doing it, pretty much everything is done by myself, but I feel like I need to focus on overseas stuff. I can’t do it without more staff. I need to make designs and do a lot of other things. I think I can do that if I focus more on overseas activities. But that means there’s more to do. (laugh)
–Do you have any plans in particular?
It’s a bit different from this kind of convention, but I received an invitation to a design convention. I haven’t answered yet, though. There are a lot of different directions I could go in from there.
–Besides Umbrella, you’ve been a producer, a costume designer, and you’ve done collaborations. Do you have any plans in that sort of field?
Not for now. I’m usually the one people approach, so it only happens if someone asks.
–That’s how it’s been in the past?
Yes. We’ll talk about the idea, and when we think “It’d be cool if we could do this,” then we develop it.
–Lastly, do you have any message for fans and S-T readers?
I want to make designs that surprise people, so if I have another chance to go overseas this year, I want to get direct responses from fans. If you’re in the area, I’d be happy if you could come see me.
Since his return from Naka-Kon, Hizumi has been doing a lot of work to market Umbrella, including the opening of its official Facebook page (in English!). Make sure you give it a Like here. While you’re at it, make sure you’re following Hizumi on Twitter for all the latest Umbrella updates.
S-T will be giving away a poster signed by Hizumi to one lucky reader! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment telling us what you think about Umbrella. What’s your favorite product? Were you at Naka-Kon? What other sorts of products would you like to see in stock? Anything goes. Entries will be accepted until 11:00PM (EST) on Saturday, April 4th.
Update: The contest ended on April 4th, 2015 at 11:00PM (EST). The winner will be announced on April 8th.