Behind the 2023 Collection: Designer's Notes

hand dyeing green and gray fabric

Notes from the designer, Jenny Lai:

I'm very excited to release the new collection which has been in the works for the past six months (and working in the brain for the last year). Before it is released, I wanted to share my inspirations and thought process behind it, in hopes that it will provide my customers and audience a deeper understanding and relationship to the collection.

NOT’s 2023 collection is a balance between energy and stillness - or perhaps, the energy in stillness when we allow ourselves to observe. As such, the color palette is grounded in calm and peaceful tones. Subdued grays, greens and blues suggest stone, plant, and water, while injections of bright green, salmon-pink, and electric blue imbue energy. This collection was inspired by examining the relationship between human and nature that I witnessed all around me while living in Japan last Fall. Wandering through traditional townhouses and temples, I admired the way that machiya architecture composed “view-finders” through which to peer at gardens both within and around the house. Karesansui rock gardens, with its swirling gravel and distinct rocks designed to represent water and mountains, made me feel that there was a human desire to hold nature in our hand. To somehow contain something that is beyond us and continues beyond us. To capture something that can never be captured and is ever-changing. Walking around the old Yanaka cemetery in northern Tokyo, I obsessed over the intricate human creations of take-gaki bamboo fences (at home, I poured over a book on traditional Kyoto snacks packaged in seasonal leaves, rice straw, twine and bamboo), and I felt a unity in the blending of our craft and creativity with nature’s craft and creativity. See mood board photos here.

In Kyoto, I befriended the talented artisan Takeshi Nakajima and fell in love with his hand-dyed fabrics. His fabrics are made into yukatas (lightweight summer kimonos), noren shop entrances, upholstery for contemporary furniture, and more. His expressive and organic strokes made with a brush of deer’s hair, water, and dye captured the invisible energy that I felt around me. Through his strokes, I saw moving water and air. Although I have stepped away from the structure of designing collections for NOT, I felt inspired to create a collection that would grow around Takeshi’s hand-dyed textiles and to express the impact my journey had on me. 

When I decided I wanted to feature Takeshi’s fabrics, I knew I had not just a conceptual and visual challenge, but an engineering challenge to consider. Typically, contemporary designers work with fabrics that are between 56” - 60” wide. Rolls of silk are significantly shorter at 45” wide. The width of the fabric is important because it allows designers to place the garment’s pieces economically on the fabric and thus use less yardage per garment, which of course contributes to the cost. Working with prints and patterns usually creates more waste because, depending on the design, the garment patterns may need to be placed in a certain orientation or location, resulting in a less economical use of fabric. In contrast, for centuries, Japanese kimonos have been constructed from 14-15” widths of fabric. Kimonos are made up of these rectangular pieces that don’t need to be cut, thus producing a garment with no waste. Two lengths each are used for the front, back, and sleeves. In addition, kimono fabrics can include multiple time-intensive and intricately hand-made techniques (such as embroidery, shibori, or foil stenciling, read more here), many of which are placed specifically on the roll of fabric for where it would land on the final kimono. 

Takeshi told me that certain fabric qualities for kimonos are in danger of disappearing as fewer people order them. He wants to support the continued production of these fabrics, so the primary one he uses is a cotton and linen blend at 15” wide. Another reason for this width is that the bokashi technique requires the arm to move the brush steadily across the fabric from one end to the other - this technique would be very difficult to accomplish across a larger width. Long story short - I had the design engineering challenge of working with a fabric that is 1/4 of the width I normally work with. How could I blend this with other materials within one garment? How could I minimize waste? Could I utilize the scraps? How could I let his fabrics speak in as pure and uninterrupted a way as possible? How do I consider the cost of the final garment? These were all challenges I embraced while developing the collection.

In the 2023 collection, I imagined garments that would act as a frame or window through which to observe an ever-changing “scene”. This "scene" is expressed through Takeshi's hand-dyed fabrics, which are presented as a piece of artwork within the garment. Each garment which includes his textiles will be unique; each brushstroke, mixing of color, and the temperature and humidity of the day will result in unique variations. Several styles don't include hikizome fabrics, but these designs capture a meandering path, a meeting of the round and rectangular, or a subtle movement expressed within line and silhouette. I hope that this collection composes a feeling of serenity and energy for the wearer.

One last note about ordering these styles, and this applies to other styles from the online shop as well: I very carefully select fabrics that work with each style. However, I also design with the idea that the style is not bound to that particular fabric or color. Working as I do currently with fabrics sourced locally, styles are often only available in a certain fabric/color for a limited time, but when that is sold out, another fabric/color can be offered. In this way, I hope to design for longevity - each style continues to be offered for as long as it is appreciated, purchased, and worn. Most of NOT's ready-to-wear styles have a turn-around of 1 - 2 weeks. In the capsule collection, any styles that involve hand-painted textiles will be dyed in Kyoto to-order, so there will be a turn-around of 5 - 6 weeks. Please reach out at if you have any questions. 

See moodboard photos from our Visual Diary here.

Tree supported by bamboo.



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