« My first step into the industry was in Tokyo in 2007 when I began modeling for brands like W-Taps (my first ever shoot was an editorial for W-taps in Warp magazine), Neighborhood, Deluxe and Bedwin but also high couture labels like Issey Miyake, Prada and Comme Des Garçons. Back then, I’d already had a strong interest and appreciation for the Japanese take on streetwear, fashion and western pop culture in general, but it really became a focus in my life once I had the opportunity to be part of it, beginning with my time in front of the camera. As a model I got to spend time with a few of the creative minds I admired and made the best out of my new relationships by creating content for an English-speaking online magazine through a series of interviews and articles highlighting all of the talent of my new friends from the Tokyo scene. In August 2008, my friend Masafumi Watanabe asked me to help develop his brand’s presence outside of Japan. I’d already been wanting to use my growing network in the industry for something I actually believed in, a point that made accepting Masafumi’s proposition one of the easiest decision I could have made.
My role at DLX, the mother company of Bedwin & The Heartbreakers and Deluxe is somewhat difficult to define. I am in charge of P.R. and marketing for both labels outside of Japan, but I also handle, along with my partner Fujie, day-to-day operations with our international accounts and contribute to the creative process, mostly at the copyrighting level.
In November of 2012, I moved to NY and started a new chapter in both my career and personal life. After 7 years in Asia I thought it was time for my wife and I to head back west. It had been a childhood dream of mine to live and work in New York and with my wife’s family being Brooklyn natives, it was an organic and easy decision to make. Concerning my role at DLX, it remains pretty much the same with my relocation, having become, without a doubt, more North America-focused, but I make the effort to stay in close contact with my Asian partners and try to visit them as much as I can.
After I settled down in New York last year I reconnected with the Kinfolk family whom I knew from back in Tokyo where they opened their first bar and bicycle operation in 2008. I was very impressed by the evolution of the company and after presenting me their future plan in New York and Los Angeles I accepted their offer to lead their retail expansion and direct the Kinfolk apparel brand. We are about to open on January 23rd a Menswear store in addition to a new event space / night club. The new space will be located on 94 Wythe Avenue, just a door down from our current Michelin starred restaurant (Aska) and Kinfolk Studios. The Kinfolk store will offer a selection of brands including Maharishi, Lewis Leathers, Bedwin & The Heartbreakers and Deluxe, Metaphore, AXS and Bleu De Paname. In addition to the above selection, our in-house apparel initiative aim to create a line of products based on Classic American Sportswear reflecting the Kinfolk lifestyle here in Brooklyn, blending influences from our native Pacific North West region, our first home of Tokyo and the entire journey that took us all the way from the Far East back to New York City.
After 5 years of experience on the brand side at DLX I’ve learned a lot this year during my debut as a buyer for our Kinfolk store and directing a brand from the ground up. These two new roles allow me to have a broader vision of our industry. In terms of a global offering, menswear has been booming over the past decade. In addition to design and manufacturing, successful brands are the ones that know how to tell their story, to a continuously growing audience especially. During my time in Japan I met a multitude of talented designers producing amazing garments who were unable to turn their operation into a successful business because of their inability to convey their vision to customers. That being said, Japan will always stand out when it comes to quality manufacturing and the efficiency of their industry. With easy access to high-end domestic fabrics, a very integrated and well-organized factory system and the know-how of their textile professionals, Tokyo is, in my opinion, still the best place in the world to develop a ready-to-wear men’s collection. American and European brands, on the other hand, have a better approach of global marketing and storytelling than their Japanese counterparts. My first year here in NY really taught me a lot about the power of popular culture and counterculture within menswear. Brands that know how to sync their story and philosophy with current cultural trends are usually rewarded on the short-term, the challenge being the ability to make it last and stay relevant.
As I, myself, am in the process of building a new brand from scratch I might not be in the best position to give out “advice”. But my experience with past projects have taught me that one needs TIME to build a successful brand in the long term. It takes years to develop a story, refine a brand concept and create original patterns and silhouettes. Starting small, building a strong foundation and finding the right retail partner locally, and globally, to help build up a solid label season after season are, in my opinion, the most important things you can do in this industry. »