Reiko Sudo

Textiles specialist Reiko Sudo’s Tuesday night talk at Muji’s New York flagship sold out immediately, and the retailer expects her new Reclaimed Wool collection to do the same.

Before an interview at the Fifth Avenue flagship, she previewed the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum’s “Scraps: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse” in advance of Thursday’s opening night party. Well-established with a major concept shop in MoMA’s Design store, Muji will start selling items from its Reclaimed Wool selection to the Cooper Hewitt. Sudo, a multidisciplinary designer and architect, will be back at the Upper East Side museum Saturday for a discussion with Dosa founder Christina Kim and Riedizioni’s Luisa Cevese about “Design Solutions for Curbing Textiles Waste.”

A visiting professor at Central Saint Martins in London and cofounder and design director of Nuno, Sudo’s work has appeared at MoMA, the Cooper Hewitt and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the past eight years, she has worked with Muji and added advisory board member to her responsibilities earlier this year. “Normally, board members stay at the top level but I prefer working with the designers and young staff members from the bottom up,” she said.

Committed to protecting Japan’s artisans and craftspeople, who are still recovering financially from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Sudo organized the second Muji Japanese Textiles Show in May to help them rebound. In the past five years, she has led Muji staffers on nearly 50 weekend trips to find new resources.

The 13-piece new wool line is made from leftover fabrics and scraps from manufacturing and recycled clothing. The practice reduces waste but also keeps prices down. Muji adopted a similar concept in the early Eighties when it started selling dried imperfect shiitake mushrooms, but skipped the shape-sorting step to make them more affordable. Muji USA president Asako Shimazaki said 300 to 400 units of Reclaimed Wool are expected to be sold in the U.S. An $89 balloon skirt, a $120 tapered jacket, $50 rib knit sweaters and $19 earmuffs are part of the assortment.

Making the point that wool was only introduced in Japan in the 19th century, Sudo described Muji’s process of recycling wool as “so precise.” Artisans sort the wool from the cashmere, and store it based on color. It generally takes three or four years to accumulate 100 kg of wool, Sudo said. To illustrate that process, a display table near the store’s entrance features splintered wooden boxes with color-coded donated scraps of wool.

Shoppers at the Fifth Avenue store will also find shirts and dresses from Re-Muji indigo-dyed clothing. The collection, which is sold in Japan but is only for show in New York, is made from recycled Muji clothing donated by customers. The company would like to introduce the concept to the American market, but it has not yet found the right partner, Shimazaki said. Re-Muji ties back to the Japanese expression “Mottai-nai!”, a reminder to not let anything go to waste, an idea dating back to ancient Buddhism.

Through another Muji collaborator, Naoto Fukasawa, Sudo spoke at Harvard University’s Architecture & Design School Monday. (She just finished designing renovation plans for Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental, a hotel she first designed in 2006.) Building on those Boston ties, Muji will open a store there in January, as well as its third location in Los Angeles at that same time.

Sudo follows too many Japanese designers to name, but she did single out Rei Kawakubo. She also has trouble keeping up with the New York pace. Watching the stream of pedestrians passing by on Fifth Avenue, Sudo said. “You can see many colors but at the same time lots of black. People are [dressed] simply but walking very, very fast. I can’t follow them. It’s the New York way — very smart, straightforward and so strong. I get so much energy from the people’s behavior.”

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