HIZUMI who withdrawn from the music industry has been focusing on his design brand UMBRELLA the past seven years. Recently, HIZUMI and GANSHIN revealed a collaboration which meant UMBRELLA was finally expanding outside Japan, into the European market. This instantly piqued our interest so we got together with HIZUMI and had a long talk about the collaboration and his current lifestyle as a designer. Enjoy!
In our previous interview, we asked if you had plans to expand internationally, and now it is actually happening with the help of GANSHIN! How did this collaboration emerge?
I was contacted by GANSHIN Records as they were keen on doing a collaboration together. They saw a lot of potential in bringing my design brand UMBRELLA overseas as there were a lot of fans who were interested in it.
How did you react when they contacted you?
I have actually always been interested in expanding the UMBRELLA to a bigger scale, but I needed to be realistic and understand the market first. I didn’t quite know where to begin, who to contact, where I could produce my products. So when GANSHIN contacted me, I thought to myself, “Oh, what great timing”.
Other than just expanding UMBRELLA, are there any other goals or achievements you’ve been targeting with this collaboration?
Ah, well, as you understand, nowadays I work as a graphic designer so that’s what I want to be acknowledged for right now, both at home and overseas. Most people who know of me probably still have the image of me being the vocalist of D’espairRay. However, I fully understand why this is the case since as the designer of UMBRELLA, I haven’t achieved the same fame as I did with D’espairsRay.
Does that in any way imply you want to throw away your past as D’espairsRay’s vocalist and only be known for being the designer of UMBRELLA?
I am actually not bothered by it at all. Rather, I am really happy with what I have been able to achieve in the past. With that said, I am currently a graphic designer and do not play in a band, thus, naturally, I would like to be recognized first and foremost as a graphic designer. I will do my best to produce more results in this field!
Of course! That is only natural. However, did you plan on targeting overseas customers when you first started UMBRELLA?
Yes, but I never had a practical idea on how to sell my design overseas, that is what restricted me to do so in the beginning.
With the information we know so far, we’ve been teased about a box including three items, what kind of items can we expect?
Although I have created the graphics work and delivered it to GANSHIN, I actually have no clue what kind of products we can expect to see, that part I’ve entrusted GANSHIN to handle since they know the European market better than I do [laugh].
What kind of theme did you go for?
GANSHIN already knows my preferences in the type of design I create, they wanted me to retain that. Even though this was the case, they were looking to deliver something new which resulted in me rearranging some of my current work. You can expect to find a similar style which I have displayed throughout my previous work for UMBRELLA—but slightly different.
When creating these designs, did you encounter any major creative blocks?
I would not call this a “creative block”, but the initial designs that I’ve rearranged were actually monochrome—black and white. I was asked by GANSHIN to add colors to these designs and I thought to myself “How should I do this?”. Because it was not just changing the existing colors, I had to actually add colors to it while also preserving my personal style. But again, it was not really a creative block from my point of view, it was more of an interesting experience for me.
That is interesting, so what kind of colors can we expect then? Dark colors? Warm colors? Happy colors?
Definitely not happy colors [laugh]. I previously mentioned how the designs were monochrome at first, right? I had to run a trial and error process and try out various color combinations. I thought to myself, “This doesn’t look right, this also doesn’t look quite right” until I reached the answer, “This has to be it!”. I ended up with ashy kind of colors, but it is probably best for you to have a look once it is out!
Would you say these designs are adjusted to the European market perhaps?
Not particularly, I have not adjusted my designs to any region to begin with. Whenever I design, I simply create the designs that fit my personal preference.
While the sales have not begun yet, can we expect more exclusive items to the overseas market in the near future?
Yes, I would love to do that.
Just to round up our talk regarding the collaboration, tell us how you feel towards the progress so far.
I’m excited! I can only understand so much of the messages and comments on the UMBRELLA’s Facebook page, but with the help of my agent, I’ve been hearing a lot of positive feedback!
We’re happy to hear that! Because in 2015, you even went abroad and visited the convention Naka-kon in Kansas to meet your fans in-person. Do you plan on going overseas again in the near future?
If I get the chance I will do it, because I don’t particularly have any reason not to. The time I went to Kansas I was actually looking to get a foot into the European market by looking for connections. I’ve been abroad many times before—for example with my past band—but the time I went to Kansas, that was my first experience abroad as a graphic designer.
Looking back at it, it has already been 7 years since you began UMBRELLA. What significant lessons have you learned throughout these years from a designer’s point of view?
Whenever I design something, I have come to the approach of trying all the possibilities until I land on the right balance.
Even before UMBRELLA, you actually designed your band’s merchandise. What is the difference between designing back then, and designing now?
It’s more or less the same. The biggest difference is how limited I was timewise due to recording sessions and whatnot. Even back then I used a similar approach of “trying every possibility”, not only for design but for writing lyrics as well.
Not only did you design for your own band, but you also helped other bands with their designs. What is the process when working and collaborating with other bands?
The process varies depending on the band. It could be that they already have a concept, for those bands I would turn their ideas into a design. There are bands who don’t have anything in mind at all, in those cases, they leave everything to me and I would create designs that fit the band. I find these collaborations fun and very valuable because it allows me to get inspired by the other party, opposed to when I work alone.
Do you feel your design skills improve a lot by participating in these collaborations?
I would not say so. I mean, I cannot really feel my graphical skill level going up, however, these opportunities allow me to experiment with different techniques. I guess I would say I accumulate more experience with time. After all, it is the people who view my designs who is the true judge of my skills.
Are there any unusual things you want to try designing but haven’t gotten the chance to yet?
There’s a lot of things I would like to try, although I have nothing in mind right now. For me, it is important the things I create are creations my customers want, but also something I personally want too. Creating things only for myself, however, would be a bad move from a business perspective [laugh].
You occasionally open up offline stores (pop-up stores), how often do you do that?
Nowadays it’s about once every two months in Omotesando (a fashionable area located in Shibuya). I’m not sure if I will keep this pace though.
What about the hip area Amemura (America Village) in Osaka?
Perhaps if there is a fitting spot I might give it a chance. However, if you ask me if I would spontaneously start selling my products in Osaka, I’m not sure about that [laugh]. I’m always open to new ideas, I would first need to understand the surrounding and the demand before taking any decision.
The same idea applies even to offline stores overseas?
Yes, that is correct! I’m very open-minded when it comes to trying new things, but I have to ensure it’s practical too.
How is it now as a designer and entrepreneur, compared to being in a band?
If I were to make a comparison, it would be that there were always staff members to help out whenever we needed anything, but now, as an entrepreneur, I’m tasked with everything on my own. It’s quite tiring and troublesome [laugh].
Like paperwork and stuff, right?
Have you gotten used to the lifestyle of being a designer, as it is quite different from being a rock star, right?
Yes, but you get used to the changes quite fast. The biggest difference so far has been my scheduling. When I partook in band activities, there was almost no free time for me to do anything else and I was chased by deadlines. Nowadays, I set my own schedule and decide when a product is considered done on my own. It’s less stressful. Even so, I do get tasked with freelance work from time to time which requires me to follow a strict deadline. Having deadlines is quite important, so I’m not proclaiming it to be a bad thing.
Before we finish up, please leave a final message to our international readers!
With help from GANSHIN, I’ve been able to reach out to my international fans once again, I hope I can receive a lot more of your comments and direct messages with this, let us connect! This collaboration could be an important stepping stone to allow me to go abroad, perhaps to Germany? [Which is where GANSHIN is based.] If this becomes reality, let us meet face-to-face and share whatever thoughts or encouragement you have in mind as that is what keeps me motivated.
We truly enjoyed talking with HIZUMI and appreciate the time he spent with us to give more insight into the collaboration, as well as getting a glimpse of his current lifestyle as a designer. For the time being, we will have to wait until more is revealed regarding the upcoming items he and GANSHIN will bring.