- What kind of impression do you have after NEPENTHES passed its 30th anniversary?
（ KS / KEIZO SHIMIZU, DS / DAIKI SUZUKI ）
- I think NEPENTHES has got closer to what I initially wanted to achieve.
- I feel more like so many unexpected events have happened so far. I do feel old (laughs). Though it seems like a heartbeat ago, 30 years are quite a long period of time. I cannot believe how much things have changed in 30 years. I could never imagine how my company and myself would look today at the beginning. In a way, I kind of feel lucky because everything has turned out as it is now.
- When did you meet each other?
- It was in 1982, when I was 20. I got a part-time job at a company where Shimizu was working. Because I seldom went to school then, I worked there 5 - 6 days a week. He looked really scary at first (laughs). We had a drinking party on my first day at my new job and I met Shimizu there for the first time. I don’t remember what we talked, but can recall that he asked me who I was in a not so polite way (laughs). Shimizu didn’t wear glasses around that time and his hair was long.
- How was your impression of Daiki at that time?
- I think I was around 24 then. He looked so skinny to me (laughs). But I knew what kind of clothes he was wearing, so I thought the newbie was a little different from other people. Most of the people around me were entirely dressed in imported clothes at that time.
- I used to wear homme clothes that could be look like ordinary chinos or a button-down shirt. Most of my clothes were from COMME des GARÇONS then although those might not look so.
- What made you to start your own business while being employed?
- From a pretty early stage, I had been thinking of going independent at least at the age of 30. The company let me manage a branch store after a while since I joined them, and the experience gave me an opportunity to learn store management, making my goals more visible. I Fwas thinking that I would carry not only American clothes but also ones from Europe if I could run my own business.
- Did you know all along that Shimizu would go independent?
- I definitely knew it because he told me about it before. I actually asked him to let me join his business although it would have depended on timing. It was kind of a joke, but I told him that I was ready to move to the U.S. if he really needed me to do so.
- And it came true in 1989, seven years since you met each other. As Shimizu settled in Japan while Daiki moved to America, the brand’s operating system became as it is today. How did you work together in the early days?
- I was living in an apartment in Boston, so phone and fax were the means of communication between us then.
- Through experiences from my previous job, I already had expert knowledge on clothes, like I should visit Minnesota for engineer boots and Texas for cowboy boots. There was no Internet, so we had to travel to such places together and then search local Yellow Pages for possible business opportunities, while scouring for products we were looking for based on information from local thrift stores.
- Daiki then moved to New York from Boston. Why was that?
- I had built sustainable business relationships with various brands during my days in Boston, but such brands only had sales reps in suburban cities. Because those reps had just a few clothing samples, I eventually had to visit the brands’ show rooms in New York to see the entire collections. So, I thought moving to New York would be more efficient.
- At that time, there were buildings and exhibition spaces in the U.S. in which various fashion brands had their show rooms. Those places served as indefinite trade shows. In New York, they had such a space in the Empire State Building. But only few Japanese buyers visited those places back then.
- And what was the reason you moved to San Francisco after that?
- I moved there when I was 31. Actually, San Francisco was the place I had always wanted to live. Because I had got a wealth of knowledge on our business, I thought I might be able to do it in San Francisco. Most of the major brands we carried back then such as MMSW, THINK TANK and JOHNSON LEATHER, were also based in San Francisco. That was definitely a big reason of my move, too. I had an office-cum-store place there.
- We first learned about those brands mostly at local stores. And from their circle of acquaintances, we got information on a brand called ONE BY TWO that later ran a store in partnership with us.
- The store did carry NEPENTHES clothes, but wasn’t quite NEPENTHES as a whole. Because the store was jointly operated, we struggled to express our brand’s identity. And after that, our desire to have our own store got stronger.
- Was that the reason you returned to New York to open the brand’s own store?
- After a discussion, Shimizu and I reached a conclusion that we’d be better off opening a store in New York. We then launched our own outlet on Sullivan Street in Soho, placing our office behind it. Soho was still a cool place back in those days, but we didn’t aware of how different each avenue in the place was (laughs). Back then, we made every mistake we could have possibly made (laughs), although I think it was partly because nobody knew about us and we couldn’t go with the tide. But I believe that our current store has been doing well because of the lessons learned from those mistakes.
- After closing the previous store, EG has made massive growth in New York. How do you feel when looking back on those days?
- If I saw someone wearing our clothes on the street around the time we started the brand, I would run after him to shake hands (laughs). We started the brand with a few clothes to showcase at an exhibition for buyers. Then the number of the items in our collection gradually increased and, finally we built a full-fledged collection to hold a solo exhibition. That’s how we started.
- As the production quality of the brand got improved, EG became a stable brand. We therefore decided to exhibit the brand’s collection at Collective, a tradeshow held in New York, and then Pitti Immagine Uomo in Italy. There we won attention from international customers. I think the style of our clothes were also aligned perfectly with the market’s trend at that time. In my opinion, EG played a crucial role in helping the American classic style become fashionable.
- I’ve heard that even Daiki himself had never imagined that EG would be a brand.
- Though we designed our own products before that as a part of exclusively ordered items, I didn’t think that we could run our business only with our own products. At the beginning, I thought that our own clothes should account for 10% of the products we carried in our store. But now, all the things in our store are made under our brand name. That is very surprising, even for me.
- Then you started to gain much attention as a designer who always have to think about your next collection.
- All I did was doing what I had to do hard. It was fun. I did it while thinking that such a thing would really happen. When I was young, there was no chance to try a thing even though I really wanted to do it. But around that time, I just enjoyed opportunities to do various things. I tried all of those. I guess I simply released all of my bottled-up desires. It was scary to do so, but fun at the same time. I wasn’t sure if it was really possible for me, but I had to do it anyway. I felt really overwhelmed when I designed for WOOLRICH WOOLEN MILLS. If my design for our own brand failed, I would just say “Well, we tried in vain” (laughs), but I cannot do that if the design were for other company.
- I cannot accept that (laughs).
- And then you made another try and opened your current New York store in 2010. What did you originally want the store to be like?
- I wanted to make it the best store in New York, and still believe it is possible. Being best in the city means being best in the world. I always tell our staff that we still have a long way to go, but there are things we can do for that. Our own unique style is essential to realize our aim. We need to have ideas to create such a style, I think.
- Because EG was growing in popularity, I thought our second New York store would go well. The business has been increasing every year, so I look forward to seeing the future of the store.
- Along with EG, NEEDLES has received a lot of global attention these days, with more and more show biz people such as R"B musicians showing their preferences on the brand. How do you see the brand’s current situation?
- In the past, our clothes became popular after we showcased them at exhibitions and then carried in our stores. So, the way our reputation gets around now seems completely different. Because I’ve always focused on those musicians, however, it’s no wonder that they like NEEDLES. I kind of knew that R&B and Hip-hop musicians would understand what I do. The way people like Jazz musicians wear clothes has always attracted me. I find it cool.
- I feel like the world finally catches up with what Shimizu has been doing (laughs). Really, I do think that now people begin to understand NEEDLES. What I do is straightforward and nicey-nice, but Shimizu does the complete opposite. It’s punky. I cannot explain well, but it does look cool. I knew this would have to happen one day.
- Actually, I’m always aware that I should design clothes with foresight. My perspective on creating things hasn’t been changed so much since the beginning. I’m still designing our staple items, including our track pants. I’ve made them for about fifteen years. Though it becomes popular these days, I originally designed it as an item that represents the style of NEEDLES.
- SOUTH2 WEST8, on the other hand, has altered its direction, breaking into a new field of fashion as a brand based on the idea of Tenkara fly fishing.
- Although I also loved the brand’s initial L.L.Bean-like direction, focusing entirely on the concept of “FISH AND BIKE” has led to a good result. While the concept is in tune with the current trends, the collection itself has also been improving.
- When I decided to take up my favorite activity, mountain stream fishing, as the theme, I tried to figure out ways to make it more sophisticated yet enjoyable. Then the idea of Tenkara fly fishing and the concept of “FISH AND BIKE” came to my mind. The clothes I design for the brand have to provide full-fledged functionality for actual use, but, as a fashion professional, I wanted to make them look cool at the same time. It is crucial to balance those. I love both clothes and fishing. Yes, I make my living on what I love to do (laughs).
- In the course of 30 years, EG, NEEDLES and SOUTH2 WEST8 have established their own positions as unique original brands that represent NEPENTHES. Now, how do you see all the changes those brands have made so far?
- At the beginning, we focused on introducing products we imported from other countries to Japanese customers. Though I still am kind of trying to do the same thing (laughs), I originally started it because there was no choice. Once I began, however, it went unexpectedly well and then I became unable to make time to do other things. That’s how it went. I didn’t intend to do it, but didn’t refuse to do it either. Because things altered quite naturally, I didn’t realize such changes of our situation when I was actually facing those. So, it was like I suddenly found those things greatly altered.
- It’s like, we mainly carry imported products at our stores, while making things we cannot find abroad by ourselves. Because I want to produce our own products overseas as much as possible, I’d like to maintain the ratio of products made abroad as it is now. I think the ratio is now almost half and half. With our new London store scheduled to be opened next year, we are planning to express the philosophy of NEPENTHES through both our brands and our stores.
- What made you to open the London store? What is the concept?
- As the number of European retailers that carry our products increases, our position as a fashion brand is gradually established in the area. I then thought that our 30th anniversary would be the best time to implement my idea to open a store in London. In simple words, the London outlet will be a mixture of all other NEPENTHES stores. We’ll open it on an old shopping street in Euston. I’m planning to add some Japanese elements to the traditional English interior, while leaving the original exterior decorations. Clothes from all the NEPENTHES brands will be mixed and showcased at the store. You’ll love it.
- This project is going to be fantastic. Though it had to be started from New York, when it comes to our next destination, it’s definitely going to be London. Such mobility is one of the advantages of NEPENTHES, I think. Shimizu is a fun-loving man who dares to try things only few people do. I love that he always takes up those things ahead of the times.
- Finally, please let us know what you personally want to do at the 30th anniversary of NEPENTHES.
- I’d like to visit places I’ve never been before. Korea, Hong Kong and Taipei, for example, because I have never visited Asian countries at all. I also want to go to Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. I realized how great Kyoto is only after I visited there by chance. I’m also interested in traveling to local cities in Japan. There are so many such places I’ve never been to. Actually, I’m a person who loves traveling and wondering around unknown places. I could visit a lot of places when we often made buying trips, but currently I seldom have opportunities. Traveling occasionally makes my mind active.
- I’ve got to watch the Tokyo Olympics (laughs)! Well, that was just a joke, but I have come this far by doing what I wanted to do. So, if I find other things I want to do, I’ll do my best to do it. I personally want to place more value on Hokkaido as my own base, and am also eager to travel around Japan. I’ve visited so many foreign cities for business, but didn’t have many chances to go to local cities in Japan. Such cities didn’t attract me so much when I was young, but I think my impression of those places may have been changed as I get older. Maybe it’s partly because I love to travel.
- Lastly, please give a message to our readers.
- Thank you very much for always supporting us. Though NEPNTHES marked its 30th anniversary, we will carry on our business in “Conservatively flashy way” just as we’ve been doing in the past. We do appreciate for your continued support and encouragement.
- The 30 years seem to have gone by in a flash, but when I look back, we have actually experienced a lot of trial and error over a long period of time. Now, after 30 years, I’m keenly aware that we couldn’t have made it without our customers who have got interested in and supported us since the time we had no experience at all. Refusing to cater to trends, NEPENTHES will remain unchanged yet uniquely improved. Look forward to it.
PHOTOGRAPHY : AKIRA YAMADA
TRANSLATION : AYA TAKATSU
Born in 1958 in Yamanashi, Japan. The designer of NEEDLES. Lives in Shibuya, Tokyo .
Born in 1962 in Aomori, Japan. The designer of ENGINEERED GARMENTS. Lives in Manhattan, NYC.