Friday, 4 June 2010

Oki-ni's Japan Diary

As The Sunday Best is excitedly counting down to his own trip to Tokyo my irises are turning an ever deeper green hue. We all know that some of the best and most interesting street wear and men's fashion products originate from Japan. Most of us have all felt frustrated by stumbling across amazing products online, only to realise that unless you live in Japan it is almost impossible to get your hands on them. Thankfully, in recent seasons, oki-ni’s search for unique and quality products has seen them building their portfolio by adding more and more Japanese brands. Today they are one of the best known worldwide retailers for rare Japanese products. Under the banner of Yushutstu they offer the likes of Nonnative, Kolor, Hobo, Diet Butcher Slim Skin, Christian Peau and Haversack, in one easy to find place. So, when we heard that Jonny Nash, oki-ni’s Japanese Marketing Coordinator was making the trip over we just had to ask him to keep a diary for us. Below, Jonny introduces us to the brands and characters he met along the way...

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MITA / Taito Designers Village

We collaborated with the owner of MITA sneaker Shigeyuki Kunii a few months ago when we featured his New Balance collection as part of our archives series. Shigeyuki is really well respected and has been working on great collabs for years now, so I really wanted to meet him and to see the shop, which is located near Ueno in a bustling market. He showed me a few forthcoming models including the anniversary edition of the Hectic x MITA Sneakers collab that also made an appearance in the archive section.

A look inside MITA and Shigeyuki Kunii

I also visited "Taito Designers Village" a government sponsored building that used to be a school, now converted into a number of small offices and studios for artists and designers. Apparently the rent is subsidised by the Goverment, and you can stay there for a maximum of three years before they give a new designer the chance to move in. Really cool idea, and apparently Ayame started out there too.

Taito Designers Village

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Masterpiece / Iseten

Master-piece are an Osaka based brand who have been making bags of exceptional quality for the last sixteen years. They occupy a similar space to Porter, but differ mainly in the bright colours and contrasting fabrics that they use. Visiting the Tokyo showroom, I got the chance to ask director Taichi Fujimatsu loads of questions about the brand, its history and its philosophy, all of which was really fascinating. His aim is to make bags that can work to complement an outfit while experimenting with colours and fabrics. This is something that I think they have achieved really well with their recent pieces. They are still using Japanese factories - apparently they are one of only a handful of Japanese bag makers doing this. He also discussed the difficulties of starting up a brand outside of Tokyo and the challenges that he faced in building the brand up to where it is now. I got to see some interesting collaborations including a range with Harris Tweed, and also a great hold-all produced with Mountain Equipment. I'm going back next week to do a really in-depth video interview with him which I'm very excited about...

Masterpiece's concept runs through so many of our favourite Japanese brands.

Sitting down with Director Taichi Fujimatsu

A look at the Tokyo showroom

Also got a chance to briefly pop in to Isetan in Shinjuku. Lots of White Mountaineering on display, their Timberland 7-eye boot was particularly nice, but unfortunately with the current exchange rate, well out of my reach!

The Timberland 7-eye boot that caught Jonny's eye.

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Non-Native / Hobo

Met up with the guys from Nonnative and Hobo, who are based in the Aoyama district of Tokyo. As well as their cozy office spread over two floors, they also have a store called “Vendor”, which recently relocated to a bigger location literally two minutes walk from the office and showroom. Vendor was one of the best stores I visited in Tokyo – the product selection is made up of about 70% Hobo and Nonnative, with the remaining 30% comprising of a “basics” brand, Vendor Things, and the odd few items from non-domestic brands. The shop was decorated with a really homely, almost log-cabin vibe, and what really struck me is the central importance that they place on mixing their clothing with a selection of their favourite music. The aim of Vendor, according to sales manager Fuku, is to give their brands a space in a platform that reflects the lifestyle of the entire team. I think they have achieved this goal perfectly, and really recommend checking the store out if you are in Tokyo.

Vendor was one of the best stores Jonny visited in Tokyo

A look inside Vendor.

I then returned to the office to sit with Director Satoshi , Hobo designer Hide and Nonnative designer Takayuki, for an interview. I was fascinating to hear them talk openly about their thoughts on a wide range of topics including their inspirations, methods of dealing with factories, concept for AW10 and the new Vendor store. The interview will be posted on oki-ni sometime in the next few months.

Director Satoshi , Hobo designer Hide and Nonnative designer Takayuki sitting down for an interview

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Master-Piece factory / Fracap

I took a three hour trip to Osaka to check out the Master-Piece factory. This is the first time I have been to a factory in Japan, and the whole thing was a really interesting experience. The building comprised of three floors, each floor focusing on a different style of bag and different stage of the production process. There are about thirty full-time members of staff, ranging from twenty year old design graduates right the way through to seventy year old veterans of the bag-making industry. Director Fujimatsu said that whenever possible, they try to pair up the experienced craftsmen with young workers to create an environment of mutual education. Seeing each bag being assembled with great attention to detail was a real treat.. I took a video which will go live on the oki-ni site in August. We are also in the process of working on a range of exclusive products with Master-Piece which I’m really excited about...

Pairing up the experienced craftsmen with younger workers to create an environment of mutual education

A veteran crafts(wo)man at work

Masterpiece's Director Fujimatsu proudly inspects the product.

On the way back, I paid a quick visit to the Fracap showroom and checked out the latest models.

A few of the latest models at Fracap.

Two new models at Fracap.

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While teaching us about a number of covetable brands and whetting our product appetite, Jonny's Japan diary has certainly intensified my personal desire to visit Japan. One day.

2 comments:

Mat said...

japan is high on my to-do list and has been pretty much all my life. it's not till after uni i can start saying for that really.

i really like the whole guest stylist oki-ni are doing of late. gives a different take on their items every time.

love love a pair of the lo-fracaps

Syed (dapper kid) said...

Factory shots rock my Uniqlo coloured socks (I should probably up my sock game, but they have me covered for now).

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