“I don’t think a machine can make the shoes we can make,” says designer Yuki Matsuda, the founder of Meg Company, whose brands include Yuketen, Monitaly, Chamula and Epperson Mountaineering. Based in Hermosa Beach, California, Matsuda approaches and reinterprets different aspects of American style with each of his brands. His pieces appear both historic and modern at the same time, appealing to those who both love a vintage aesthetic and long for precise tailoring. And in all of his products, Matsuda strives to achieve harmony between the skilled craftsmen, the best materials and his refined designs.
Born in Osaka, Japan, Matsuda became fascinated with American culture and clothing unique to the states. When he was 18 years old, he moved to California and immersed himself in the world of vintage fashion. “I was a vintage dealer,” notes Matsuda. “I traveled all over the US, buying vintage clothing to sell at the Rose Bowl.” He kept his favorite vintage pieces for himself, but he noticed that the fit was “funny” — a 1940s denim jacket was too short to wear and 1940s pants were too wide. Though altering vintage clothing could produce the desired results, Matsuda eventually decided to it was time to start making his own wares.
With a strong knowledge of how classic vintage pieces were constructed, Matsuda tapped some of the best craftspeople on the continent to start producing his designs. “I’m working with the best of the best guys in the US for Yuketen,” he remarks. “If we don’t have these people, I cannot make my shoes, even if I have a great design.” So with this team of expert craftsmen, he created a foundation of pieces to build from. Matsuda notes, “I have a very important base that not many people have. So I use this base, and every season I change it.” New iterations of Yuketen’s Maine Guide Boot and Monitaly’s Mountain Parka surface every year, refined slightly and tweaked with new influences. This process doesn’t reinvent the style each season; it shows an organic growth in design over the years.
From left: Yuketen, Epperson Mountaineering, Monitaly and Chamula
Though Matsuda’s pieces reference everything from hunting gear to surf clothing, his biggest influence is 1950s American culture and style. “The 1950s are very important for me for the design of the bases,” he confesses. “It’s very American. Before it is more like art nouveau, art deco — it’s still influenced by European influences. I think the ’50s definitely is the time which is really American.” Matsuda references 1950s Harleys and rock and roll when explaining how American culture in the post-war decades became distinct. In the boom after the war, America prided itself on its unique qualities, and people began to look inward for inspiration as opposed to overseas.
“I’m working with the best-of-the-best guys in the US for Yuketen,” he remarks. “If we don’t have these people, I cannot make my shoes, even if I have a great design.”
Matsuda’s first organized clothing endeavor was Yuketen, a footwear brand that specializes in boots and shoes handmade from premium leather. “The mocassin shoes we make in Maine — oh my god. These guys have been making the shoes for 40 years, easy,” says Matsuda. “When you see an 80-year-old guy making the shoes, and you watch how they make the shoes, it’s amazing.” The flagship model for the Yuketen line is the Maine Guide Boot, a design that has developed and evolved for almost two decades. Millimeter adjustments over the years, along with new design ideas each season, have produced what Matsuda describes as “the best example of the harmony between the shoe guy, my patterns and leather artisan people.”
Thick lug or crepe soles are the typical foundation for a pair of Yuketen shoes. For the body of the shoe, moc-toe boots or chukkas are staples in the collection, but more typical lace-up boots, rancher boots, oxfords and wingtips are also offered. Different colorways, straps or accents vary from season to season, but the quality of the leather never falters. “You need to have excellent materials,” affirms Matsuda. “We’re always trying to get great materials — sometimes it’s very hard to get nice leathers. But hey, we have to work hard, we have to fight with the leather tannery to get it exactly how we want it. In the meantime, we have to understand how much they do great work for us; if they don’t make great leather for us, we don’t have great shoes.”
“A lot of companies, I believe, just make the first sample and they go,” notes Matsuda. “We do three or four different fit samples. We don’t just knock off the clothing, we’re trying to make it fit correctly.”
In 1995, Matsuda started Monitaly, a clothing brand that implemented the same quality-driven approach to production fostered at Yuketen. The garments riff on classic designs, but elevate fit and materials, creating a product that wears better than the inspiration. “A lot of companies, I believe, just make the first sample and they go,” notes Matsuda. “We do three or four different fit samples. We don’t just knock off the clothing, we’re trying to make it fit correctly.” The extra effort that is put into the pattern-making and fit samples translates into clothing that seems like it was tailored individually for the buyer, right off the rack. Monitaly’s garments play freely with a wide range of American influences, from military gear and workwear to Southern California Baja hoodies and Mexican ponchos. A special sub-collection features garments — a jacket, a parka and a pair of pants — made from 1950s US Army tent fabric. “I like the 1950s, it’s always what I have in my mind,” reiterates Matsuda.
Chamula and Epperson Mountaineering, Meg Company’s other two brands, have a much more focused inspirational scope. Chamula champions hand-knit garments from Mexico. Matsuda works with an artisan in Mexico who spins and dyes merino wool from her sheep by hand. His designs are then hand-knit by indigenous people. “I like to work with skilled people,” says Matsuda. “Handcraft and folk art is just so beautiful. It’s very simple, but very strong.” No detail is overlooked, and the look and feel of these knits are a blend of rustic and refined. Epperson Mountaineering, founded by Mark Epperson in 1973, fit in with Matsuda’s vision for unique, well-made products. Classic designs, fused with Matsuda’s eye for detail, characterize the Epperson lineup. It’s the height of throwback mountaineering gear, and it’s ready to stand up to adventure.
In the age of machine manufacturing, Yuki Matsuda is a defender and advocate for the artisan, preserving handmade products while adding a bit of his own wisdom into the canon. And his sentiment isn’t solitary; as he notes of the Yuketen craftsmen, “These people, they really care when they’re making the shoes. It’s not a big factory, it’s a very small shop, but people take pride in what they do.”