The origins of the action figurines lining Fitzroy boutique, URA’s top shelf may surprise you. They’re not relics from Matsu’s (the storeowner) childhood but rather, victories from battles and swaps with children in Japan.
As he brews us a pot of barley tea, Matsu speaks of his penchant for conducting Pokemon card style trades with kids who have very cool figurines. He returns to Japan twice-yearly, making stop overs to his hometown Osaka and nearby Kyoto to scour second hand markets. “I get lots of weird looks when I’m at the market because I’m carrying massive bags of clothes,” he says.
His finds – an assortment of women and mens tailored shirts, vintage Parisian labels, quirky t-shirts, funky sweaters and kimonos all end up on the racks of URA. All are great quality, well priced (almost too well priced actually…we ended snapping up a few pieces shortly after interviewing Matsu) and best of all, don’t smell like your grandma.
Matsu also stocks famed Japanese basics from UNIQLO and Muji alongside a perhaps lesser known basic – the tabi shoe (yes, the ninja boot!), which he tells us are worn mostly by construction workers and elderly folk back in Japan.
“That separation between the toe and the rest helps them to balance on bamboo scaffolding. It’s not only about the design, it’s functional! And also the sole is really flexible. It’s like closer to being barefoot because you can feel the ground which you can’t do with normal shoes.”
The shoes are steeped in tradition and it’s this tradition which Matsu hopes will continue. The tabi he stocks are handmade in Kyoto (it’s the only remaining company in the world who handcraft them), and are his way of supporting the local industry there.
“The company is trying to combine tradition with fashion so the younger generation can appreciate and continue the business. If you go to Kyoto, you might be able to see some cool young people wearing some crazy stuff and they wear tabi.”
After our interview finished, Matsu invited us to a Japanese paper clay artist’s exhibition, which turned out to be an absolute riot. And here is the proof. So, if you’re in the neighbourhood, you should definitely consider popping ’round to URA. You never know what Matsu will have up his sleeve for you.
URA, 28 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Words: Emma Do