In dialect specific to a particular area of Florence, Italy, ‘ganzo’ is something of a slang-like exclamation of delight at the excellence of something.
It is also the name of a company based here in Tokyo that produces a range of handmade leather wallets and accessories with a high degree of skill, meeting the growing demand for items that both fit in to our every day lives but that are also artisanal and unique.
It’s something most of us will have with us every day, so why wouldn’t we want to own a wallet or purse that is both timeless and personal and that has been created with our own needs and desires in mind?
GANZO has sought the best leathers from tanneries around the world that focus on traditional processes that cut no corners in their determination to produce a quality product. It treats the leathers with respect to get the best out of them, and each item for sale has a distinct personality that will age beautifully with use: even if you don’t take advantage of a range of customization services, a one of a kind item is guaranteed.
If not choosing a piece off the shelf, you’ll select your leather from a range of samples, then select stitching and fixture finish in consultation with craftsmen and designers who are in store to answer your questions and advise.
You’ll find “aged samples” of leather are invaluable – the wallet, any leather product, in fact, is something of a living item, such does it age with years of use. Leather will develop its own texture as atmospheric oils gradually seep into the surface, and the company would like you to enjoy that.
A quiet backstreet in Omotesando, just off one of the most fashionable and prestigious main roads in Tokyo, is where you might expect to find a shop selling artisanal products at this end of the market. It is indeed here where GANZO sells its bespoke, handmade wallets, purses and accessories and where Yoshiro Ajioka, director of the company, tells us it can provide a service that suits his philosophy.
That philosophy, and indeed the shop’s design and vintage atmosphere, has roots almost 10,000 km away, where we began, in Florence.
Though Ajioka has the family name of the parent company and is steering GANZO towards the future, he was not always a leather man. He moved to Italy in the 1980s and worked as a chef after training in Italian kitchens in both Tokyo and abroad while his father and then his late brother were at the company’s helm.
When working in a kitchen, Ajioka says, there is something of an “immediacy” of feedback from diners that is somehow particularly satisfying. Not only does it allow the chef to learn from the feedback, it might also keep him on his toes.
“When I was there I saw artisan’s shops, too, and they had this kind of spirit and atmosphere where they are working on the products right there – customers could talk directly with the makers and get ideas for customization and so on,” Ajioka says. He brought more than just a passion for the culinary world back with him from Europe when returning to take control of the company.
“That’s what we’ve modeled this shop on. People come in and, you know, we’ve actually responded to them and adapted some designs to meet their requests and demand.” Ajioka shows off pair of slim wallets with almost identical stitching and compartments but points out that one has a zip – this was so common a request on this particular item that they decided to adapt the design slightly and offer the option as an addition to the range.
The shop is relatively small and is all the more welcoming for it. It’s airy and has an understated feel that at immediately leads you to a central display table laden with products. Wallets and ‘aged samples’ of leather sit side by side and help us to understand how the products grow with age, with special editions given special prominence.
It isn’t long before your eye will be drawn to the craftsmen who are cutting, stitching and stamping leather right in front of you in an open studio space. These people are approachable, and as they form the very the team who will put together your customized wallet should you opt for a tailor made piece, you’d do well to engage them and discuss your ideas.
It is the creative direction and vision of Mr. Ajioka that leads the process of conceptualizing and creating Ganzo’s range, and it is immediately clear that he is a fan of all things vintage, and that he has a clear focus.
Even ‘off the peg’ wallets and purses have been designed with care and attention to detail that is rare to see – there seems to be a level of passion for artisanal craftsmanship that has gone into every product, but also a degree of pushing the boundaries.
Ganzo is a wallet specialist, not a bag company that makes wallets, nor is it a fashion company doing a line in branded purses. This, Ajioka tells us, is the heart of how they can channel the ultra-specialised skills of the highly trained and skilled young generation of technicians into making such pristine products. Every stage follows a bespoke process, from concept to design to execution, and this all shines through in the product, which will last for years and grow with its user.
Looking closely at the stitching you will find highly specialized techniques that have been developed by the team at Ganzo, look under flaps, at different cuts of leather and you’ll spot details that to the layman may not appear immediately obvious, but the sum of these is what gives the pieces such an effortless feel of luxury.
“Each piece of leather has a different thickness and shape, so until you put the panels and pieces together you will never quite know what the final result will be – it’s really analogue, and each craftsman will have something of a natural feel for it.”
Ajioka says matching leathers for the outside and inside of a wallet is almost like thinking of ingredients to put on a plate, or choosing a wine to match a dish.
And it is important to him that these pieces become part of their owner’s life. “Leather will fit into the lifestyle of the consumer. I will choose specific leathers that feel good to touch but that also date well. The sun, of course, oils from your skin and how the piece is used will all alter it and deepen the personal value of the item.”
Mr Ajioka will use the items himself and constantly tweak small details of the design in consultation with his craftsmen to suit his lifestyle. These products evolve over time and are essentially a labor of love, it seems. It all comes down to quality, and a desire to create something that simply wasn’t on the market before Ganzo developed its range.
The road to Ganzo
1917 Ajioka Juntaro is established in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, and opens stores within prestigious department stores in the city.
1951 Expanded business and changed name to Ajioka Shoten.
1977 Established own manufacturing factory and began sales in Nihonbashi.
1999 Seeing the need for its own brand and wanting to get away from the OEM license business, Mr. Ajioka establishes Ganzo, hoping to take the company back to its roots and take advantage of the artisans whose skills he felt were being “wasted”
2008 Ganzo headquarters opens in Tokyo
2013 As well as its flagship Omotesando branch, Ganzo has an online store and hopes to expand its operations. Mr Ajioka says he hopes to pass down skills to a younger generation of specialized workers. His dream is to grow, but “never compromise on quality”
This piece first appeared as part of a promotion in the June issue of Tokyo Weekender magazine.
For more information visit www.ganzo.ne.jp