As I sat down with Undercover designer Jun Takahashi in his Tokyo studio, the first question he asked me was if I’ve been running. My brain is suddenly bursting with activity as I try to come up with an excuse on why I haven’t, but I simply responded with a “no” and attempt to cover up my embarrassment with a chuckle. Starting the conversation off on the wrong foot, check.
The idea of running hadn’t really crossed my mind since I last saw Jun in New York for the launch of his Gyakusou International Running Collection for Nike in October during Halloween weekend. In fact, running rarely crosses my mind unless someone else brings it up. As a staunch advocate against running, more the idea, not the actual act of, it’s hard to believe how absolutely excited I was when Demetria White from Nike called to tell me that I’d be running with Jun. I was ecstatic, but dread quickly settled in. Last time I seriously ran was on my high school track team and if memory serves me right, I was quite pathetic. Nonetheless I was still excited. In fact, I started practicing two weeks ahead of time in sheer anticipation. And by practicing I’m referring to my rigorous training that consisted of power walking and trot/skipping around my neighborhood with my friend Connie.
Halloween day saw a small group of us (Jun, two members of G.I.R.A., Jeff from Selectism, Demetria from Nike, and our pace runner) decked out in our Sunday running best gathered together in front of Central Park ready for a brisk four-mile run.
Kitted out in my running gear picked out by my athletic fashion guru, Demetria, I could have easily passed for a runner. I stretched like a runner, I jogged in place like a runner, my early years playing sports gave me the physical appearance of a runner, heck, even my ponytail looked professional, but once we started, the illusion quickly fell apart. I ran, I faltered, I stopped. One cramp, then another, and the burning sensation that began to spread throughout my chest made me I panic. Jun even slowed down to see if I was okay, but all I could do was apologize and inform them that I had to stop. A melodramatic, “Go on without me…” was all I could muster. It was almost like this was a war film and I was the wounded soldier slowing down my battalion. Oh the shame! Oh the humiliation! Thank goodness for Demetria. She was my saving grace who stuck by me and provided solace as I realized I couldn’t keep up with the boys.
Running has never been high on my list. The idea of it pains me and the questions I come up for not running are endless. Where am I going? What’s the point of running around a track like a hamster in a wheel? Should I run on the street so people can stare at me bobbing up and down at a red light like an idiot? Then I realize the reason I make up so many excuses is because I’m truly bad at it. I lack the dedication that so many others have to excel and improve at this sport. I need running guidance.
As I address my physical and mental shortcomings as a non-runner, I talk to Jun about why he runs and his running collaboration with Nike. With a sports background that consisted of dabbling in Kendo, the Japanese martial art of sword fighting, and short distance running as a teenager, one wouldn’t really consider Jun Takahashi, all that sporty, but as he got older, he began to reconsider his options.
SLAMXHYPE – A few years ago you started running. Why?
Jun Takahashi – For my health, just to be healthy.
SLAMXHYPE – Did you turning 40, and the idea of a potential mid-life crisis have anything to do with it?
Jun Takahashi – (Laughing) Yes, a little bit.
SLAMXHYPE – How was it in the beginning?
Jun Takahashi – The first six months was only for half and hour, and then it went from 5K to 6K to 8K to 10K, now I’m up to 20K every other day. The distance grew and things got more serious.
SLAMXHYPE – What drew you to running?
Jun Takahashi – It’s the easiest and most basic of sports. You don’t need any tools to start. I thought it was quite easy to start, but soon found out that it wasn’t easy at all. I learned it was quite hard, but I found a coach to teach me how to run, and it got easier from there.
SLAMXHYPE – When did you get a running coach?
Jun Takahashi – Around one year after I started.
SLAMXHYPE – And your running crew?
Jun Takahashi – Two years.
SLAMXHYPE – How did you find your running crew?
Jun Takahashi – They live near by and I’d see them running. Now we meet in front of my house, and we go running.
SLAMXHYPE – Where’s the best place to run in Japan?
Jun Takahashi – It’s too difficult to run in the city because of all the signals and you have to stop. There’s also too much information in Tokyo. Information overload. So I avoid that by running in the park.
SLAMXHYPE – I thought you ran between cars? (Jokingly referring to the Nike ad campaign)
Jun Takahashi – (laughing) No, they made us do that. It’s not true. I always run in the park.
SLAMXHYPE – I heard the next step for you is to run a marathon in Hawaii. When did the idea first come into play?
Jun Takahashi – When you are able to run a certain distance, running a marathon becomes a goal. I’d like to try to run a marathon. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
SLAMXHYPE – How did you pick Hawaii?
Jun Takahashi – It feels good to run out there. I was out there in July and ran a course. 20K one day and 20K another, but it’s really hot there.
SLAMXHYPE – Some people once they compete in marathons discover that the next thing for them is to participate in triathlons. Is that something you’ve thought about?
Jun Takahashi – Yes, it’s been on my mind. I’m not good at swimming so I’m now learning how to swim. Maybe within the next year I’m going to attempt to do a triathlon.
SLAMXHYPE – What was the biggest problem you ran into, clothing wise, while running?
Jun Takahashi – Running gear doesn’t have many pockets. I usually go out with keys and coins when I run and had to put everything into one pocket, that made too much noise. Another issue was the noise that typical running fabrics make. Every time I ran, an idea of functionality in running wear would come up. I added stretch to certain areas, I put pockets in different areas to try to distribute the weight and keep it close to the body so there isn’t too much pull and noise from running, I added the different fabrics on the sleeve so you could wipe away the sweat, a lot of things.
SLAMXHYPE – You’re signed on to do three more seasons with Nike for running, are you constantly looking for new forms of inspiration?
Jun Takahashi – It’s not that new stuff keeps coming out because the functionality is always the same. I’m just looking to change a few things here and there. Design and color. Usually running gear has vivid colors, but I wanted to harmonize with nature with subtle quiet colors.
SLAMXHYPE – Running gear was originally designed to be that vivid so they wouldn’t get hit by drivers while they ran on the street.
Jun Takahashi – I used some reflectors. (He gestures to the small reflectors on the bottom of the jackets) I run in the morning.
SLAMXHYPE – So you’re safe!
Jun Takahashi – Yes! (Laughing) I didn’t really consider running at night, but maybe next time.
SLAMXHYPE – Do you think of anything while you run?
Jun Takahashi – Relaxing. I switch my mind off of work and family, and just try not to think.
SLAMXHYPE – Do you ever talk about fashion?
Jun Takahashi – Never. It’s usually stupid things, nothing serious.
SLAMXHYPE – Do you listen to music?
Jun Takahashi – During the 1st year while I was running alone, I listened to my iPod on shuffle but my pace would go up and down depending on the songs. From slow to punk rock and I didn’t like it. Then I would listen to the same music like Kraftwerk or other flat music. So I don’t really listen to anything nowadays.
SLAMXHYPE – You have children. Do you think they’ll start running with you in the future?
Jun Takahashi – Yes, two children. My dream is for them to run with me. My daughter who is 8, is not really interested, but maybe my son will, but he’s 3, he’s too young.
SLAMXHYPE – Maybe if you designed a running collection for your daughter…?
Jun Takahashi – Hmm, maybe.
The Gyakusou International Running Collection is only available at 21 Mercer in New York. Any complaints about its limited retail availability can be addressed to Eyjafjallajokul in Iceland. (The volcano prevented buyers from coming out to Europe to pick up the collection for their stores) With inside-out seams a focus for the 2nd installment of the Undercover for Nike “GYAKUSOU” Collection next spring and the promise of a more vivid color palette, I’m sure we’ll all be running, not walking to place our orders.
Words by Joy Yoon.
Photography by Joy Yoon and David Fischer.