Meet Jiro Maestu the Designer Behind L.A.’s Favorite Headwear brand
“I’m so not a moodboard person,” Jiro Maestu, the founder and designer of Poche Studios tells me when asked how much planning goes into the technique of making his signature hats. “It’s hands-on experimentation. I wish I had drawings or a paper trail of the creative process but it's a lot of trust in my intuition.”
Jiro’s improvisational approach makes sense when seeing the pieces in their final form. The wearable assemblages are spared from convention. I get a Facetime tour of Poche’s downtown Los Angeles studio in Little Tokyo where Jiro was finishing an exclusive collection for Terminal27. For a look into the process, he first shows me a rack of raw canvas and corduroy bucket shells that he then “embellishes the shit out of” until the silhouette becomes unrecognizable. The hats are flourished with various cottons and palettes asymmetrically stitched with exposed thread. Silk ruffles and braids snake around the crowns and hang from the brims. All the fabric is from dead stock or donated rolls, recycled knit sweaters, or scraps from previous projects. Each finished piece in the studio is one-of-a-kind; as much a trendy statement piece as an objet d’art, or as Jiro jokingly describes them “globs.”
The new hats for Terminal 27 are, in a word: haunted—all hand distressed and dyed black. It’s not something that many brands would consider for a summer collection, but Jiro isn’t preoccupied with seasonally appropriate aesthetics or following trend forecasts. Whether it’s a compliment or a confused look, wearing a Poche hat is bound to provoke a reaction. Jiro likens the hats to that of antennas—you pick up information about people via their expressions. I asked if the antenna had anything to do with the little bug character on Poche’s logo. He said no, purely coincidental, but he may start running with that. Poche started in 2015 as a womenswear line that dabbled in home accessories. As an experimentation phase, it didn’t catch on. Jiro soon returned to school in Paris, where he originally studied graphic design, and spent a year learning draping and pattern making. In 2018 Poche was relaunched as a headwear brand. The decision happened organically. After making a bucket hat for himself, it caught on with friends and built momentum from there. The hats started out fairly classic: standard styles with standard fabrics. The more time passed, the less conventional and increasingly eccentric they became.
The product changed, but the commitment to sustainability, hand craftsmanship, community, and originality remain deeply ingrained across the brand, from its aesthetic, design process, and business model. In capital F fashion—an industry where overproduction, gatekeeping, presentation schedules often work as a flywheel that perpetuates unsustainable practices—Poche has become a welcome antithesis. “You’ll make a collection, go into production, pitch it to these stores, and find yourself so dependent on their willingness to accept you or buy into your brand,” Jiro says. “As any new brand it’s so fucking hard to sell a collection if you’re not crazy clouted up or have the connections. Then you’re left with all this inventory and designs you poured your soul into, and you kind of equate the rejection with the value of your work.”
Instead, Poche makes just enough product to sell. Once a collection is finished, the studio is empty. And inventory disappears fast.
A tweet from earlier this year sums up the frenzy over Poche’s impish cat-eared beanies. (Though the other claims, I can’t confirm.)
“The vibe report in LA is that the parties are more list-y than ever, everyone is on stimulants, too
horny for their own good, and Poche hats are everywhere.”
As recognition for Poche grows, Jiro’s priorities keep things grounded with his steadfast interest in community building, fostering an IYKYK sensibility rather than an amped-up takeover mindset. Hearing a friend say they wore a Poche hat to the grocery store and got a head nod from someone else in one stirs more satisfaction than seeing one styled on a celebrity on a magazine cover.
In terms of brand expansion Jiro says it’s moving in more fun, wholesome directions. He’s started Little Tokyo Table Tennis (LTTT), a weekly community ping pong club where all the merch is produced by Poche. Those out and about in LA are bound to spot one of LTTT’s embroidered logo caps, which became another one of the studio’s sought-after pieces. A reprieve from the social pressures of fashion events or nightlife scenes, the Tuesday night meet-ups are where who you are, what you do, and where you work don’t matter the way your table tennis game does.
Below we discuss finding inspiration within your local scene, and the intuitive, sustainable, and unpretentious DNA of Poche.
A: I wanted to get more perspective on your formative experience and where your interest in designing clothes came from.
J: I didn’t have a typical upbringing into this industry. I only started really trying to make clothes in my early 20s. Before that I had gone to graphic design school in France. Then I started printing t-shirts and sewing on a home sewing machine. Poche originally started in 2015 as a
womenswear line—without having formal training or anything it didn’t hit that hard—I was still learning and kind of playing it by ear. I moved back to Paris for a few years and went to draping and pattern making school. It was a 3-5 year program but I only did one year. I felt like I got
what I needed out of the French fashion system. I started making hats in Paris around 2018 or 2017 and relaunching Poche as a headwear line—they were mostly selling in LA so I was flying back and forth and decided to move back.
A: How did the decision to focus on hats emerge?
J: It was really organic. The womenswear wasn’t really catching and we tried other things like home accessories. I had one bucket hat at the time that was thrifted and fabric scraps all over the place, so I made a pattern for it and just put it together for myself. It caught on with friends then quickly got to the point where it was the only thing I was doing. I was like, okay, this is it.
A: You were like, oh the hats are fun.
J: Yeah, they only just got really crazy. They were simple for a long time, maybe a year and a half, they were just regular bucket hats with regular fabrics. I think I had a friend who asked me to make a hat for a celebrity once, and they were like, “They need something crazy,” and I was like, “Alright, I’ll go off!” then made one of these embellished, ruffly ones. And that’s kind of how that whole style got started.
A: Can you say what celebrity it was?
J: I think it may have been Steve Lacy and I don’t think he ever ended up wearing it. [Laughs]
A: I’m curious about your process when you’re in the studio. Some of the designs, particularly the more sculptural pieces seem to be so free-form. Are you sketching out the designs or improvising as you create?
J: I wish I could say I was planning and sketching and stuff but I’m really not. I’ll think about it, I won’t just jump right into it, but as I’m working on other things an idea will come to me and then I’ll start playing with the fabric and see where it goes. A lot of the hats end up really fucked up and sometimes. I’ll be like, “This is not right!” But yeah, it’s hands-on experimentation. I wish I had drawings of everything or like a paper trail of the creative process but it’s a lot of trust in my intuition.
A: That’s interesting. The pieces are unique unto themselves and seem to be unhampered by any convention.
J: Yeah and it’s been something that carries. It heavily influences the model of business that we’re following by default because it’s so unplanned. I can’t take these to a factory or anything like, “Hey can you guys remake this?” Some of these hats go through several steps. I’ll work on one, I’ll think it’s done, I won’t like it, and I’ll shelve it for a while. Then I’ll revisit it again later, dye it, or add something to it. So they’re constantly evolving.
A: So you’re not a moodboard person?
J: I’m so not a moodboard person. I come from this place of not having to work with people too much. I don’t work with stores or present collections. I actually think I quit school because I hated mood boarding so much. [Laughs] I was never into having to justify or show like, “Oh this ruffle came from this reference.” It helps obviously, I’m not knocking the process for those that do it.
A: Are you ever influenced by other design or artwork on an aesthetic level?
J: Definitely. I’m looking at stuff mostly among my community of friends. I don’t really look at that many fashion shows or other big designers and stuff—I mean, I’m aware. I’m not floating out here by myself. I look at a lot of art, my sister’s a painter and I’m living in a pretty creative community in and of itself. So however subtle they might be, I have influences that define what
I’m doing in some way or form.
A: What is that like being part of a close-knit creative scene out there?
J: It’s fun. It’s great. I mean, I’m sure I probably take it for granted because that’s the world that I’m operating in so it feels normal. But when I find myself in a different environment I'm
thankful for it. I think LA, especially the art scene, is very capitalistic. But there’s a huge outsider art and outsider designer scene.
A: Would you consider yourself an outsider designer?
J: Umm.. Yeah I think I am. I don’t do wholesale in stores, I don’t do collections, I’m not like following seasons. I do have a semi-formal education at this point—I know how to drape, make patterns, and use industrial sewing machines.
A: I guess if you were being pretentious or supercritical about it you could be like, “Mmm
well he has some formal training so that excludes him from the outsider category.”
J: Yeah, in France it’s very by the book. You finish your school, you do the 3-5 years, you get an internship, you work for some brand for 10 years, you get promoted. It's really about doing the time over there. So I guess in that sense I’m an outsider.
A: And even if you do that there’s a slim chance you’ll get to where you want to go or you’ll settle being some middle management person.
J: Yeah, that’s a whole other conversation about the fashion school formula. [Laughs]
A: Yeah, like that MFA vs. NYC is a whole other conversation. Let’s get back to Poche. The upcycling aspect does feel like a reaction to fashion’s unsustainable practices.
J: I think it ties into what we were just talking about. You think there is this way to go about it. You’ll make a collection, you’ll go into production, you’ll pitch it to these stores and you’ll find yourself so dependent on their willingness to accept you or buy into your brand. As any new brand it’s so fucking hard to sell a collection if you’re not crazy clouted up or have the connections, then you’re left with all this inventory and these designs you poured your soul into, and you kind of equate the rejection with the value of your work. That’s something I have experienced and I was like, “Man, never again.” I’m making this for myself. If it takes making one, I’ll just make one, someones gonna want it, and it grows from there. Then two, then three, then one hundred. Once I’m done doing a collection my studio will be empty. I make enough to sell, which is really important. There’s no overproduction, I’m not milling fabrics, I don’t have all these rolls I don’t use. It’s something that’s really slow to build.
A: Is this what you meant when you said Poche doesn’t have a global takeover mindset?
J: Yeah, I think that would defeat the purpose. It’s built into Poche’s DNA at this point. I feel like the customer knows that I made it and it’ll be different from any other hat. It’s kind of building this community of Poche believers.
A: It’s cool because it's certainly not underground but it’s niche. There was this tweet making the rounds that was like, I’m paraphrasing, “Vibe report in LA: The parties are more exclusive, everyones on amphetamines and Poche hats are everywhere.”
J: Mainstream in a niche community.
A: How does it feel when you’re out and about and catch strangers wearing them?
J: It’s cool. People come up to me and be like, “I was at a Trader Joe’s and I saw someone with a hat.” Or, “I was here and someone gave me a head nod because he was also wearing a Poche hat.” It’s kind of like a mark of recognition. This past year we started a tennis table club, all the
merchandise is produced by Poche, and has gotten a really good response. Ericka and Mason (from Terminal 27) hit me up [to restock on] table tennis hats a lot. It’s had this crazy reach to people that don’t really know what Poche is or like what I do or who I am. They’re just tied into this program we’ve created which gives a whole new facet to the brand in a way. So there are weird ways that we’re expanding. Really cool and wholesome directions.
A: Is spotting them on the street as satisfying as seeing a celebrity wear one on the cover of a magazine?
J: I'd rather see people wearing it in real life. It’s more impactful. I know the person came directly from my website, or got it from a friend. There’s a trail, it's still living within this community I’ve reached. A celebrity is like being fed something that a stylist whose job it is find
something niche. But I’ve had celebrities hit me up directly, and that’s cool.
A: I wanted to ask you more about Little Tokyo Table Tennis and why building a community is important to you and the Poche ethos.
J: It’s grown into a beast of its own. I’m trying to learn how to meet the demand at this point. I’ve played ping pong for years and my studio is in Little Tokyo in downtown LA. This community center recently opened so I went down there to see if they were gonna have a club and they were like, “No, who plays ping pong?” I was like “A few people do! I'll raise the money to start it.” And they were like, “Sure do your thing. Are you sure people will come?” And then it snowballed into this super accepting creative community that’s extremely diverse. It’s a fun meeting place where you can come on Tuesdays and just feel like a kid again. I built this little sub-brand around it to spread that message. I think unpretentiousness is the biggest word for this project because it contrasts so much with what people experience with the fashion world or the night scene. It's so high stress, judgmental, in a way. Now there’s a space you can go to be social, meet people, and chill. Playing this game kind of breaks all those boundaries down.
A: Yeah, and you’re not worried about what editor from what magazine is gonna show up or what influencer with X amount of followers is gonna show up.
J: Exactly, everyones on the same playing field. And those people do come also. People will have so much fun they’ll show up the next week and their fit will change because they came in jeans the first time and they were sweating so now they’re in sports clothes. Everyones coming
and being themselves, their real selves.
A: Are people turning out looks there?
J: Some people are, definitely. Some people come in sweats and shorts. But yeah, it's a really big part of Poche at this point.
A: Can you tell me more about the new collection for Terminal 27?
J: They reached out to do a profile and I don’t know if people really care to know about me or what the brand is about without having the product—the hats speak for themselves in a way—so I thought let’s just make a collection. We have a close relationship and they believe in Poche. It made perfect sense.
A: Was there ever an overall vibe you were going for with these new pieces? Did you ever throw out words like…
J: Haunted. I kept in mind that I was making it for Terminal. I think for their customer black is something that can go with anything. Black and red, I kept it in that realm.
A: You recently did a collaboration with Heaven by Marc Jacobs. How was that experience?
J: They sent me these palettes of fabric they had left over from their sample collections. Which is something I’m trying to figure out how to do with multiple brands because there’s definitely a lot
of waste out there. It turned out to be this really cool working relationship where they give me total freedom. Now we’re all friends. Goes to say, who knows what big brand can be involved in a project like this—whether it’s me or any other small independent designers. I feel like there’s so much resource that’s just being held captive, even unintentionally.
A: You said you’re not a big follower of high fashion, but I was going to ask hypothetically what are some of your favorite designs that you’d like to dip into the deadstock of?
J: Oh man I don’t know. I guess I feel like it’d be more interesting to get into some of those landfills of fast fashion discarded garments. I don’t know about a high fashion design though.
A: I wanted to talk about antennas. Your brand statement likens Poche hats to antennas, then your logo is this cute little guy with them. I’m not sure if the two are related but could
you tell me more about this concept?
J: [Laughs] That’s a great concept, I never connected that dot. I’m gonna use that. Please roll with that. In the language that I use, I’m trying to make it vague but in a very understandable way what a Poche hat can represent but where the interpretation is open. I came to that
conclusion from people’s feedback to me—whether they get weird looks or compliments when they wear them. So the hats act like a receptor for reaction. These little antenna guys.
A: Sometimes there’s not a lot to be said. It's just, “I made this thing, it’s cool” and not highly conceptual. But I think there’s pressure from fashion press too. They want to build a narrative around everything.
J: I grapple with that like every day as more people hit me up for interviews. I'm like, “Shit I
need to hire a copywriter,” because I can write haikus all day but, you know.
A: I did it for the art world. You just pick words like transversal and subversive and sub-dialectal and basically throw darts and turn it into a sentence.
J: Some people need those buzz words for it to sound legit. There was just this artist statement meme with a guy looking at the artist statement, he puts his glasses on, and it just says: Painter paints painting.
A: Yeah, it's funny. You just have to say someones interrogating this at the intersection of this and makes the viewer confront this. It's an adlib.
J: My sister’s really good at that. She’s getting her masters in painting at UCLA. I don’t think she struggles with [art writing.] That’s probably the easy part for her. We’re very similar but she’s the opposite of me in terms of the creative process. She has every single thought drawn out, every reference on a piece of paper. It’s so cool. I wish I could do that.
A: Do you two ever collaborate?
J: No but we draw tons of inspiration from each other. In her painting references I’ll see something from my studio. Or there will be color references from her paintings in the hats I do. They’re really close.
A: What other creative outlets supplement your practice?
J: I've been working with my friend Faso, an art director and photographer, who has been a
constant collaborator with Poche. He’s developing a creative agency called Squeegee. We’re just a content think tank re-examining what content is, what shoots mean, or how a project is represented.
A: Here’s a question everyone hates. How would you describe your own personal style?
J: [Laughs] How do people answer that!
A: They get pretty tripped up. You can interpret that however you want.
J: I shop on Yahoo auction Japan and on eBay only. I don’t really buy new clothes ever. I’ll buy used clothes and I’ll alter them. I’m into quirky old stuff and weird old puma shoes and weird sports brands. I mean, I’m wearing ping pong clothes and a LTTT shirt right now. The brand is
who I am.