honoyo : Inspirational Stylish Fun

Tokyo hat designer Honoyo Imai’s creations are stylish, fun, and very different…

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Honoyo Imai
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Shibuya based hat designer Honoyo Imai’s creations are both stylish and fun. But honoyo hats also look very different from traditional hats. They break the mold of what hats are supposed to look like. That’s partly because of Imai’s background.

“My mother is a fashion designer, and my father is an architect. So I was born in an artists’ family,” she explains. “My parents all the time told me that if you want something, just make it by yourself. So, making things is really my lifestyle.”

Sports & Theater

Imai’s parents early on encouraged her to do sports. As it turned out, she had a talent for skiing and eventually even joined the Japanese national team and became a professional skier. But skiing and sports could not captivate her for long. She soon turned back to her original love of making things and entered a Japanese fashion school.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work out very well. “The education was really strict,” she remembers, “and I didn’t have time to sleep.” Her worried mother persuaded her to stop and go to the UK instead to study English.

This is where Imai fell in love with the theater. “I had the chance to go and see musicals and plays in the theater. It was amazing.” She eventually started studying theater arts at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. “I studied costume, lighting, stage setting, and how to perform as well. So, I could study everything which was connected to the theater.”

However, after Imai’s return to Japan she soon discovered that it was impossible to find a job with the theater in Japan. But as luck would have it, some of her friends started their own fashion label, and she joined the team. “Mainly I did accessory design. So, I designed head wear, or a necklace, or some decoration.”


But once again, serendipity would change Imai’s life dramatically. Her parents moved to the old city of Kyoto in Western Japan and Imai joined them. While strolling the streets of Kyoto one day, she noticed an advertising sign for a hat making school. “I don’t know why, but I thought Oh My God, this is my way. This is what I want to do. I want to be a hat designer.”

Only a few months into the course, she applied for The Hat Designer of the Year competition, which is held annually in Paris. She had no expectations at all, but to her great surprise she actually won. “I went to Paris and I got the prize, and a lot of magazines had interviews. So, I didn’t make my own brand. I just won the competition and, automatically, the honoyo label [was born].”

Tokyo hat designer Honoyo Imai

Imai now sells her creations on the internet, makes hats to order and leases her creations to entertainers for music videos or TV shows.

She says that she doesn’t want to be called a hat designer, because she feels that this limits her imagination. “A hat is just a hat,” she says. She wants to reach beyond that. “It doesn’t matter what the shape is, how it works, or what materials are used.” She actually finds her materials all around her, in DIY shops, the kitchen departments of discount stores and just about everywhere she looks. “I use metal, resin, plastic, anything.”

The only aspect of her work that she struggles with is the business side. “I’m kind of an artist, so, I make what I want to make.” And that doesn’t always correspond with the needs of her customers. “That gap is the biggest problem in my life, I guess,” she says while bursting out laughing. It may also be why her works are unique, and fully handmade by Imai herself.

Lovingly Hand-Made

When you purchase one of Imai’s creations you can be 100% sure that they are not mass produced at a sweat shop in Vietnam or Bangladesh. They are lovingly created by Imai herself in her little studio in the center of Tokyo’s youth fashion district of Shibuya.

Imai’s dedication to making each item herself, sets her pieces apart and makes them really special. The pride and love Imai puts into her pieces becomes the purchaser’s pride and love in owning one of them. Naturally, it also makes that there are very few of them, because there is a natural physical limit to her output.

If you are looking for something that is unique, rare and made with love, buy yourself a honoyo hat. You can do so at recently launched KIEI TOKYO, an e-commerce site that aims to introduce young undiscovered Japanese designers to the world outside Japan.

Below, some photos of the honoyo Around Head collection. Clicking on the photo takes you to the hat’s page on the KIEI TOKYO site.

Marumaru Green 1Maru Blue 1

Shikaku Pink 1Kakukaku Pink 1

Maru Brown 1Tsuki Blue 1

Sankaku Gray 1Sankaku Green 1

Kakukaku Purple 1Tsuki Brown 1


You can buy honoyo creations at KIEI TOKYO.


JAPANESE STREETS really likes the recently launched KIEI TOKYO site. The site shares our aim to introduce young up and coming Japanese designers to the rest of the world. So, we have decided to introduce some of the designers on KIEI TOKYO. To allow you to easily purchase the designer’s items we link directly to the corresponding pages.


KIEI TOKYO has decided to place an advertising banner on JAPANESE STREETS. But all the designers and items that we introduce from the KIEI TOKYO site are fully independently selected by JAPANESE STREETS without any editorial influence from KIEI TOKYO whatsoever. JAPANESE STREETS does not receive any payment from sales on the KIEI TOKYO site.

Kjeld Duits About the Author

Inspired by the stunningly creative street fashion that exploded on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the late 1990’s, photo-journalist Kjeld Duits launched JAPANESE STREETS in 2002. This makes JS one of the first fashion blogs on the net, and the very first to cover Japanese street fashion.

Recent articles by Kjeld Duits:

Comment (日本語もOK)

Fantastic video, and fantastic hats! :)

Apr 11, 2014 (3050 days ago)

I simply fell in love. She´s so creative and quirky! I am definitely going to be purchasing some of her creations.

Apr 11, 2014 (3050 days ago)

@Cynthia: Thank you, Cynthia. Especially from you, a fellow fashion photographer and blogger whom I respect a lot, that means a lot. ^^

Kjeld Duits (author)
Apr 11, 2014 (3050 days ago)

@Elisabeth: So did I, Elisabeth. Honoyo has a wonderful personality and I really love her unique work. Thank you in advance for purchasing some of her creations and for supporting her. <3

Kjeld Duits (author)
Apr 11, 2014 (3050 days ago)

Beautiful video and artist; so much more to Hoyono after hats for sure. Funny how some people can give you almost the simplest breakdown of their life, and still look like they have so much more to go, I love that!

Mathieu S.
Apr 12, 2014 (3049 days ago)

@Mathieu S.: Thanks, Mathieu. Yes, Honoyo is a very inspiring person. More artist than designer, I think. That attracts me to her hats even more. She gives you the opportunity to wear art in your daily life. I hope my readers will support her in a big way. Either by sharing this interview, or by purchasing one or more of her works. I really want her to succeed! She deserves it. ^^

Kjeld Duits (author)
Apr 12, 2014 (3049 days ago)

I really like how looking his way. (Search for school ,changes etc)
Video was inspiring. :-) You can see that passion of creation.
She is really charming!
(Sorry for my terrible English :-))

Apr 14, 2014 (3046 days ago)

@Baterka: But I can understand your English. ^^

Kjeld Duits (author)
Apr 14, 2014 (3046 days ago)

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