Published on 20 June 2016
Local designer, Oku Den, loves Japanese people for their caring, cleverness and patience. “From the culture comes an incredible grace, and an attitude towards design,” she says. “A lot of people love Japanese design, and I’m one of them.”
Oku – her chosen name, which means the ‘further inner exploration of self’ – is a success story of The Artisan Hills. After opening a store beneath her studio in ‘the Brown House’ in Hurstbridge, she and her partner in design, Yuki Wallen, quickly found themselves outgrowing the space.
“Yuki and I would sew together and listen to Bach cello suites before we opened up the store. People started coming and we started feeling cramped. It reached the point where we were too busy to actually sew anymore.
“These days I’m able to create patterns and do the design work, while some beautiful women in Preston make my clothing for me.”
A key concept behind Oku Den’s range of clothing is the emphasis on it making wearers feel good about themselves, a very Artisan Hills approach.
“If a woman is dressed in something that makes her feel good, then she’s present with herself,” says Oku. “She’s not trying to fit into something made in a peculiar shape or that’s trying to enhance her body. It’s about deep feelings and personality, of having mindfulness when you create. It’s seeing everyone with compassion. So these dresses are not figure-hugging fashion; they’re meant to be something worn with pride because you like who you are.”
It’s a concept Oku stands behind, one clearly shared with women Melbourne-wide. “I have customers who come from as far as Essendon or Rye,” says Oku, who recently opened a second store in High Street, Northcote to cater for demand.
“It was really about the clothing label having a wider audience. The people of Northcote are of a similar ilk to the people of Hurstbridge; artists, environmentalists, writers, actors; simple folk. Taking these dresses to Northcote was a bit like moving to the big smoke. We wanted to pay homage to Hurstbridge but, truth be known, everybody who came into the Northcote store already knew about our Hurstbridge origins.”
Despite the new store’s hipster address, Oku is indebted to the Hurstbridge community’s support along the way. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she says. “They’re inspirational people. The support I’ve had from locals people, the joy, the laughter out front of Oku Den is amazing. The sharing of stories, the women, the dogs, it’s something very special.”
Oku Den, 802 Main Road, Hurstbridge