We first heard about Kiyotaka Shinoki’s deep collection of vintage outdoor gear in 2021 – an article from Gear Patrol highlighted Monroe Garden Outdoor, his incredible basement level archive. With a little luck, we were able to get in touch with Kiyo San and arrange our first visit the next year. Having then moved out of the Brooklyn basement – Kiyo warmly welcomed us into his home for a coffee, chat, and of course digging through his collection.

A few years later and we returned for another chance to chat more about the Monroe Garden Outdoor project; what drives his efforts, how he sources items, which one’s he loves the most, and his hopes for the project going forward.
Sanpo Studios: Kiyo San, can you tell us a bit about MGO and how and why this project came about?
Kiyo, Monroe Garden Outdoor: Throughout the years, we travel freely across America, drawing inspiration from the awe-inspiring nature we encounter along the way. Our project involves collecting and showcasing outdoor gear used in these environments. Unlike new items, these pieces carry a sense of the adventures they’ve been a part of and the emotions they’ve inspired in those who used them. From the 60s to the early 80s, a crucial period for American craftsmanship – The hippie culture, anti-war movements, and backpacking adventures of the youth during that time fostered unique creativity and self-made innovations. Especially in outdoor wear and gear, the latest fabrics and materials of the time were used to create items that could perform well under various natural conditions. The passion and craftsmanship of those who came before us have left us a significant legacy even today. 

SS: What experiences or interests initially inspired you to create Monroe Garden Outdoor, and how has that vision evolved since you started?
Kiyo: Growing up, I spent much time playing in nature and interacting with wild insects and animals, shaping my creative senses. Throughout my life, I have continually drawn inspiration from nature and incorporated it into my work in the city. Additionally, outdoor gear was always present, sometimes even worn in urban fashion. When I moved to America in the 2000s, I traveled and visited vintage shops, noticing that many of the outdoor gear items I admired in my youth had become vintage and were no longer in use. By introducing these items to people, I began to think that recognizing the passion that went into these gears, now somewhat forgotten, could convey something valuable to modern audiences.

SS: Nature is full of inspiration for creative folks. It sounds like there may be a shared appreciation of nature in your work, as in the work of the gear designers’ you now collect.
SS: How do you typically source items? Can you recall a specific occasion or item you found that was particularly exciting? Do you have any criteria for choosing which pieces make it into your collection?
Kiyo: Our family often enjoys playing in nature because I want my sons, who live in the city, to experience the inspiration I felt as a child. During our travels, we visit thrift and vintage shops, and it's fascinating to come across outdoor gear that has aged in those places.

SS: Tell us about these bears - How were these made? What do they mean to you?

Kiyo: I had this teddy bear custom-made by my friend Kumanokoido. The bear's fabric is stitched together from remnants of one of Patagonia's earliest pile fabrics, which were starting to fall apart. This bear is a cherished treasure that is symbolic of how I and why I do my work.
SS: You’ve had a few pop-up sales with your friends at Pilgram Surf Supply. We love seeing these types of collaborations and opportunities for fans of outdoor culture to connect – What have you enjoyed most about these events?

 I think the spirit passed down from the outdoor gear of our childhood resonated with adults of my generation. When people hold vintage outdoor gear, they feel nostalgia and a surge of creativity, which sparks conversations and stories about their experiences. This atmosphere often fills our pop-up store events; sometimes, new products are inspired by these vintage items. It's particularly gratifying when not just adults but teenagers and young adults respond to these events, proving that good things can be passed down through generations.

SS: We’ll have to make it out to your next event – it’s exciting to hear about the energy the attendees bring! You’ve mentioned that there are some items you don’t have much interest in selling – instead keeping them in your archive. Can you share an example?
Kiyo: As I mentioned before, my goal is not just to collect vintage gear but to integrate it into modern life as much as possible. I aim to price items affordably, but there are some I want to keep in my archive, so I mark them with a Not For Sale (NFS) tag. Early in this project, I acquired two very early Patagonia T-shirts (from the Great Pacific Iron Works) and, to highlight their value, priced them at $500 each, thinking no one would buy them. Both were quickly sold to the same person. I hadn't seen another one of these legendary T-shirts for nearly ten years. Some items are essential for telling the story and should stay with me.

SS: Which items are your most treasured and what’s their story?
Kiyo: I have a handmade backpack from the mid-70s exudes warmth from its craftsmanship. The stitches and patches have a human touch. The heavy nylon fabric has an old waterproof coating, now deteriorating with age. Unlike products made for the U.S. market, there's no "Made in USA" label, just an address in Ventura, where Patagonia's predecessor, Great Pacific Iron Works, was based. The logo features a wave by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai, which makes me proud as a Japanese person. The name "Ultima Thule" also reflects the maker's passion. Imagining the landscapes seen by the previous owner on their adventures with this backpack excites me.
SS: Lastly, what has been the most rewarding aspect of Monroe Garden Outdoor?
I don't plan to open a vintage shop because my goal isn't to run this project as a business. Instead, I share my collected vintage outdoor gear with the next generation, inspiring new products filled with the same passion. Handcrafted items carry a soul and warmth. Valuing things means cherishing items made by human hands and using them with love over time. In the wild, gear gets dirty and breaks, but these are memories for the user. I believe those who crafted these items would be moved to see them used and cherished until they are worn out.

We want to thank Kiyo San for all of his effort in building this incredible, unique, and accessible collection of outdoor equipment and creativity. His work really inspired what we’re trying to do in our little corner of the internet – so this opportunity was extra special.

Be sure to follow Kiyo and Monroe Outdoor Garden on Instagram, along with Pilgram Surf Supply to catch their next pop-up. Also be sure to follow us – We’ll do our best to keep you informed and hope to see you there!
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