- Buyer's Guide
One Under-the-Radar Japanese Brand You Need to Know
Vintage, urban, military-inspired, hand-crafted, inherently Japanese: Harvest Label just might be one of the most iconic under-the-radar urban carry brands on the planet right now.
Some of you may have heard the name before, but don’t get it confused, the Harvest Label brand of bags sold in Japan are different from those sold overseas under Harvest Label Connect (HLC). The HLC bags abroad are based on a casual line sold in Japan under various sub-brands, like Moustache and Heart Made Factory collection.
Harvest Label Japan, now 25 years old, is the original and crafts supreme carry in line with Japanese heavyweights such as Porter and MSPC.
It all began with denim. The year was 1995, and Harvest Corp’s CEO and founder Tatsuya Hige had just launched a bag made out of denim fabric, at the time considered a very new and revolutionary carry material.
Meanwhile, revered designer Koichi Yamaguchi – brains behind the iconic and still super popular Tanker series by Porter – had also been trying to produce a bag using denim, but hadn’t yet managed the feat. Koichi was also on the cusp of moving on from Porter, and so a friendship and partnership began. Harvest Label was born.
“That was how it all started,” says Harvest rep Yuko Obata, underscoring the brand’s fundamental and enduring ethic: “to produce high-quality bags without compromise” – even if the components required hadn’t yet been created.
It’s worth reminding that fabric, materials and other key carry constituents back in the ’90s were nowhere near as lush and abundant as they are now. To produce high-quality bags for its debut lines, including the iconic Flyer’s and Super Harcules series (products that are still coveted by die-hard fans), Harvest had to produce all of its raw materials and components from scratch. No mean feat: an ingenuity and commitment to vision that still drives the brand’s core identity.
Style, Design and Manufacturing
Today, Harvest Label consists of a wide range of products and series within the overarching flagship. What sets these guys apart is that, unlike so many other brands who’ve sent their production offshore, almost all of Harvest Label’s lines are still proudly made at its own local production studio in Osaka: “to continue and maintain the values,” adds Obata, “(and) better quality control.”
On-site, Harvest makes up around 70 employees, spread across sales and marketing, design, production and warehouse teams. The maker team consists of a small group of master craftsmen who have honed their skills over decades of experience in the industry.
“Under design, we have in-house designers and a product sampling team, which allows us more freedom and creativity under the same roof,” adds Obata.
Speaking to its prestige, only the CEO, executive directors and a few select designers are involved in the Harvest Label brand, with former right-hand man Koichi Yamaguchi still a key inspiration on the sampling team he once worked alongside.
As far as Yamaguchi goes, there’s no denying the effect the designer’s presence had on the brand’s DNA early on. An avid collector of vintage military wears and gear (particularly from the US forces from the WWII era), Yamaguchi’s inspiration helped translate design aesthetics, durability and functionality into daily use bags, and he’s still widely considered the first designer to incorporate military aesthetics into Japanese carry.
“Harvest Label is synonymous with mil-spec,” adds Obata. “While different from the same mil-spec term used abroad incorporating MOLLE webbing for example, it resonates with this passion for vintage military gear.”
Each Harvest series has its own unique mil-spec inspired aesthetic, and while functionality is a given, the Harvest design team aim to create bags that are always original and, in the end, just plain cool – “from the fabric to webbings, the majority of the materials used are custom-made for each series to produce a more authentic product to differentiate from others.”
Another key aspect of Harvest’s appeal is how well the bags look over time: from the wear and scratch marks accumulated with use, and the fading of the black metal components to reveal the unique underlying brass – a durability that lasts a lifetime, says Obata: “We feel not many brands approach their products as such to see it as a long journey with the owner.”
Growth and Change
With the shift and turn of markets and consumers’ tastes, Harvest has evolved over the years to adapt to the trends. Harvest Corp. now operates six other brands besides Harvest Label, including entry line Moustache, the all leather collection Doubles, and Doubles Black, a mid-tier range focused on what Obata calls “urban carry-ism” – a collection for its design team to experiment with materials, and dish up a new look every season.
“We continue to build upon these foundations and seek new heights in terms of materials used and quality standards,” says Obata, “especially with a more conscious mindset towards using recyclable and sustainable materials and production methods.”
In the face of globalization pressures, Harvest Label continues to thrive on its home production turf in Osaka. Making matters even cooler, the brand is unleashing its original watershed Flyer’s line to commemorate its quarter century milestone, to the hoops and hollers of its most dedicated aficionados hungry to get their mitts on a piece of history.
“After nearly 25 years from when it was first launched, the design of the Flyer’s series needed no revisions,” says Obata. “It was more about whether we could find or produce materials and components necessary to re-launch (it).”
What sets these products apart is the use of a metal plate to create the shape and stiffness for the top grip handle – finding a supplier to get the right size and strength took a little time for Harvest to source.
Thankfully, the head of Harvest Label’s sampling team, who originally worked side by side with Koichi Yamaguchi back in the day, was on board for the revision, and having the original drawings and specs on file certainly helped to make the process an even smoother one.
Return of an Icon
Ultimately, it was following relentless repeated requests from long-time fans wanting to purchase the original Flyer’s collection that Harvest felt the time was right to reproduce one of the most iconic collections Japan has ever seen.
Materials and components will be updated of course, which can only be a good thing – a big reason for why the original series was discontinued had to do with difficulty in sourcing these pieces in the first place.
Scheduled for April 2020, based on current hype, another round of limited reproduction models could be in store for the end of the year too.
Like Crystal Pepsi, Levis 505s and the DeLorean DMC-12, everyone loves a product comeback, and for the carry world, Harvest Label’s Flyer’s are a unicorn returned, something guaranteed to fly off the shelves. So if you want a piece of history? You know what to do.
But nostalgia trip aside, the brand continues to affix its gaze on the future, staying true to its roots and inherent creative spark to explore new product horizons.
“A bag is not just a tool,” adds Obata, “but an extension of one’s identity within our everyday lifestyle.”
More than just a carry brand, and hidden gem to the West, it continues to deliver products that enhance the quality of the urban day-to-day – and always for the long haul.
Note: Online orders are made through Harvest Corp’s website, and it’s primarily in Japanese. So our readers can contact the team via email direct (firstname.lastname@example.org) to place orders.
Get more details on international orders here.