Using recycled material to make clothes is important in its own right. Using the clothes we already have for a longer time and wear them across generations, however, is the ultimate sustainability. Despite the long history of used-clothing culture in Japan, it generally feels as if it still has a low position in society compared to Europe, which has a deep-rooted culture of regarding things such as grandma’s hand-me-downs or vintage clothing as fashionable. In the first part of this cover story about sustainability, we will be featuring a special talk session with the fashion director of UNITED ARROWS & SONS and buyer Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi – who also has a reputation as a fashion icon both domestically and internationally – and Yoshinobu Masushio from LOOP Inc. who runs the platform that brought the new value of brand management into secondary distribution: OR NOT. We asked them about their views on the used-clothing culture in Japan and sustainability.
--- Thank you both for coming here today. Kogi has previously appeared in the media of OR NOT (an E-commerce platform centered around archival items from designer brands), run by Masushio’s LOOP. How do you look at OR NOT in your capacity as someone on the front line of the fashion industry?
Kogi: As you know, Japan has a long history of second-hand culture, especially in regard to designer items. However, I think there’s still a strong image of used clothing as something that only poor people buy and that it’s something embarrassing. But overseas, there are reservation-only stores which have assortments of branded vintage clothing aimed toward celebrities, and rappers also wear old designer items.
--- In other words, vintage is considered cool.
Kogi: Exactly. But it hasn’t quite found its way into Japan. I think it’s because there’s almost no second-hand store that does brand management. Out of the major companies, RINKAN is probably alone in trying to change that. Thus far no one has come up with the idea of doing brand management at the same time as handling everything from used designer clothing to new items in one single E-commerce site, so I really find OR NOT interesting for attempting that. There’s actually a bunch of used designer clothing here in Japan including the countryside that people want overseas.
--- Would you say that they feel no hesitation toward wearing used clothing, and that used clothing rather increase their range of enjoyment?
Kogi: Absolutely. I’ve been taught so by people overseas. It’s been common since some time back among people overseas to visit second-hand stores when they come to Japan. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian went to Second Street when they came to Japan incognito last year. I think that sort of trend is interesting. I do think though that it’s a uniquely Japanese sensitivity to mix your outfit with used clothing in an unconventional way, and that we should cultivate that sensitivity further.
--- So they [Japanese people] mix their outfit with used clothing and rather enjoy fashion itself?
Kogi: Yes. Even in primary distribution, I think there are customers who feel like something is wrong with the predetermined structure of having summer sales start right when summer is drawing near, to give one example.
--- You mean that they ask themselves whether it’s really the right thing to jump on the bandwagon and consume more and more?
Kogi: Yes. When I speak to young people in their early twenties, they seem to be looking for brands with potential to become the next big thing after designer brands such as Balenciaga. On the contrary they seem to be embarrassed when everyone is wearing the same thing, which is why there are many who go to RAGTAG or RINKAN to buy used designer clothing from past eras.
--- And now for something different: what kind of task do you [Masushio] feel that OR NOT has in its position of having made conscious efforts at brand management in secondary distribution?
Masushio: As Kogi just mentioned, I think it’s a fact that secondary distribution is still going in the opposite direction of trends overseas, and that there is a group of people that thinks such clothing are frumpy and for poor people. That’s why OR NOT has been acutely conscious of creating and expressing a more refined image of it.
--- In order to show that used clothing can be cool as well.
Masushio: Precisely. We have both E-commerce and media and let people from the fashion industry tell about the charm of archives. As you know, there’s no escaping that fashion exists to be put “on” people. For example, some may get into fashion by seeing a fashion icon such as Kogi wearing archives. That’s why we’re not just looking to enumerate all our products through E-commerce, but also use media to hear what different people have to say and get it out there.
--- Almost like a kind of Enlightenment.
Masushio: Yes. I want to change the current image. There are many small companies in the secondary distribution industry, so it’s difficult to change the industry’s image on your own. That’s how we came up with the idea to become flag-bearers.
--- I think OR NOT is affiliated both with secondary distribution companies and brands. Do you feel any divide between these or any task in that respect?
Masushio: People from the brand community all show interest for archival products and their market, yet the companies currently distance themselves from secondary distribution.
Personally, I think the people who are loyal to a certain brand are not only the ones who buy new products every season. Some people get into a brand through one of their masterpieces, while others have liked the brand since ages ago. This audience, however, has actually not been properly quantified yet, leaving them invisible. We [OR NOT] are going to show who the loyal people really are by obtaining data through E-commerce, and thus shrink the distance to brands.
--- I get the impression that people who like fashion don’t make any distinction between used clothing [and brands], and regard them as the same thing. The brands and the shops, on the other hand, seem to distance themselves [to used clothing]. Where does that divide come from?
Kogi: I don’t think that wall exists to the same extent it once used to. I think one of the reasons for that is that sites such as HYPEBEAST or HIGHSNOBIETY (which often highlight archives) have gained worldwide recognition. For brands it’s important to be recognized to begin with, and I think brands are moving in the direction of building their own recognition through archives.
Also, recently there has been a lot of productions such as Vivienne Westwood’s movie or Margiela’s retrospective exhibition. It’s also impressive to see used clothing from the 80’s by designers from the past who are still active today, such as COMME de GARCONS or YOHJI YAMAMOTO.
--- In other words, you know the real deal when you see it.
Kogi: I do think that these works are imbued with emotion and charm. Also, Japanese brands from the 90’s have been rekindled by the younger generation both domestically and internationally, such as A BATHING APE, NUMBER (N)INE and UNDERCOVER, which are the first generation to produce clothes with the same “musical way of production” that has now been made mainstream by Virgil Abloh. They have some really interesting ideas and ways of producing clothes. I think it’s important to be able to learn by watching the real thing.
Moreover, the technology for alterations have progressed quite a bit. Today I’m wearing a jacket by GUCCI from the era when Tom Ford still used to be their designer. It was oversized when I found it in Nagoya, so I shortened its body length and sleeves to wear it as a loose jacket.
--- “Clothes can be worn in more than one way”. Would you say that people with such an outlook are increasing?
Kogi: I do think so. There is an alteration store in Harajuku called 〈fenice closet〉 and they suggest many various ways on how to wear old items from ARMANI and other brands.
--- So in those places, clothes get remade in a way that fits yourself while still being vintage. Perhaps the enjoyment of wearing used clothing will grow more and more common.
--- I think the fusion of primary and secondary distribution will progress all the more with OR NOT as its starting point. What role do you think the apparel industry has in accomplishing this?
Kogi: I’ve learnt what I know from the Japanese specialty store industry. Speaking from that experience, ‘street-level store’-style business used to be mainstream until the early 00’s. However, stores opening up inside fashion malls kept increasing during the 00’s, and it became necessary to explain what exactly they were doing to developers who weren’t knowledgeable about fashion. All these things led to the emergence of previews and the trend of deciding themes for every season.
Until then, fashion used to be more mysterious and enjoyed by an initiated few, but then it became more and more accessible. I think that caused the original enjoyment of fashion to transform little by little.
Also, I feel like Japan is behind in disseminating sustainability thinking. Overseas it’s considered common sense, and Japanese young people also think that sustainable clothes and such brands are cool. The older generations, however, still don’t seem to get that sort of sensitivity. Another factor is that IT is nowhere close to being sufficiently incorporated.
--- In other words, people overseas are way ahead of us.
Kogi: I once interviewed the founder of HIGHSNOBIETY, David Fisher, and he told me Japanese websites still have a long way to go to fully utilize technology. For example, HIGHSNOBIETY has developed and implemented their own swipe app like the one on Instagram Stories on their website.
--- So we’re also behind from a technological viewpoint.
Kogi: Yes. Japanese fashion has a strong proclivity to stay in a certain way. That’s also important in its own way, but I hear many people who have climbed up from being editors for Japanese web magazines saying things like “I dunno about this stuff so I’ll leave it to you” when new trends like IT pop up.
--- How does the situation appear seen from the IT field?
Masushio: I think this kind of culture is precious in its own way and that it’s important, but there’s no escaping that there are things we need to change. I think Kogi is one-of-a-kind in having such a strong will to pursue change. Perhaps the people that speak with people overseas are still few in Japan. How did you [Kogi] come to be recognized overseas?
Kogi: It all began when I was a street photographer. I was told by a friend of mine that I appeared in the street photo site JAK & JIL run by Tommy Ton (who is famous for his street photos). At first I had no idea why, but it turned out that I got posted on that street photo site when I participated in a fashion week. Eventually that sort of sites gained recognition, and I even ended up getting posted on a mood board for designers (a place where they get inspiration for the latest fashion). And that’s how people all around the world came to recognize and remember me before I even knew it myself, I think.
I was also early in establishing contact with people in HIGHSNOBIETY and HYPEBEAST from their home countries. In Japan they were labeled as “reposting websites”, but we were convinced that there was a demand for this kind of thing, so we sent out press releases overseas. That’s why I keenly feel that it’s uncool if we don’t think about sustainability from now on.
Masushio: You remember that we talked about cardboard boxes before? The world is overflowing with unnecessary cardboard boxes now that web shopping has become this widespread. Kogi said that we would probably be more successful in conveying our message and worldview if we patched together cardboard leftovers when shipping our products. I thought he had a point. This is considered cool in global standards. I don’t think ideas like this come to you unless you have actual knowledge about the world.
--- I think even the people within the apparel industry are having lots of troubles with the ever-changing ways of selling and purchasing. I think the fashion industry would become a more interesting place if we could fuse together in some neat way.
Kogi: I agree. Maybe it would be good if the young culture got further entrenched. I think the emergence of (the artist) VERDY was a very good thing. In America young people keep stepping forward, as well as many interesting rappers.
Although Virgil Abloh is working with Louis Vuitton, he also has a team with which he has made a chat room where he tells young people to get in touch with him if they hear about anything interesting. The people who work with him seem to say that it’s fun to join his projects. I guess designers are originally meant to go to textile exhibitions and hone their design skills, but Virgil travels the world as an artistic director to perform as a DJ and convey culture to young people through music, and if he finds someone interesting, he invites that person right away to make collaborations. He makes allies all over the world and creates fashion trends.
--- Do you think that kind of youth culture has yet to be developed in Japan?
Kogi: Yes. We have a declining birthrate and are headed in the opposite direction. That’s why I think it’s a very good thing that there are people like VERDY who makes friends and distributes his work all over the world. I think things have started to change a little since he appeared on the scene.
--- I think sustainability has many different definitions. How do you [Kogi] look at it?
Kogi: As you know, there were many denim factories that were flooded by the flood damages that occurred in Hiroshima. Denim looks cool even if it gets dirty, yet the big companies wouldn’t use the textiles that got exposed to the flood. I then thought we have many things to change and that’s a good place to start.
--- In other words, some things are just ruled out by default.
Kogi: That was the first time I realized you could think that way. There’s actually a store I’m involved with right now as their advisor, and they’re going to open a sustainability-themed store in September. Sustainability is often associated with stores that just turn into yoga or “hokkori kei” [Japanese fashion trend similar to girl-next-door] stuff, but this store will mix sustainability together with fashion.
--- That seems like quite an interesting project. What is your take on the definition of sustainability as someone engaged in the secondary distribution business, Masushio?
Masushio: It’s difficult to define it, but if I’d think of it in terms of one piece of clothing, it would be something that I’ve worn and no longer need, but which someone else in the world might do. I think that it’s our role to create such a structure that enables us to go beyond the barriers of language and the system in order to deliver clothes to such people.
--- What do you think of the industry’s production cycle that consists of two seasons every year?
Kogi: One part of me wants it to stay that way, but I also think that they’re forcing their concept of what’s cool onto the consumers. I think there must be some other way to entertain the consumers asides from doing something every season.
--- Isn’t taking direct contact with the consumers the only way to accomplish that?
Kogi: I agree. I feel like people overseas are sensitive and quick to do that kind of stuff.
--- What is the difference between Japan and countries overseas?
Kogi: There are many people overseas that invest in culture, whereas in Japan you first discuss the outcome of doing so. I feel like the discussions often stop with “okay, let’s think about it next season”. People overseas are more like “alright, let’s do it!”.
--- How do you think we should approach the consumers and convey to them the value of clothes from here onward?
Kogi: I think the stores should be a place that deliver messages. It should either be clothes with a powerful message, or extremely simple clothes with good quality. There are many discerning consumers in Japan that support clothes such as AURALEE. They can even relate to the added value of clothes such as sacai’s, which have a blend of both design and message, and they can also appreciate simple clothes of good quality. I think that’s one of Japan’s good traits.
I also think it would be nice if people overseas could join in as well. Apparently, the Japanese system has made it difficult for people overseas to do so. For example, they can’t complete registrations for brands that they like just because they don’t have a Japanese address. I definitely think that should be improved.
I don’t think there’s any country that has as many fashion stores clustered together as Japan. I want to borrow the powers of the people in the IT field to change the system, so we can have more people from all around the world to join in on that merit. I think there’s a limit to how far we can get with the brains of the fashion industry only, haha.
Masushio: But the IT field doesn’t know what the people in the fashion industry are thinking, right? There’s a huge distance between the industries. Listening to Kogi made me think that there are many things we can do.
Kogi: People overseas are currently rendering anew the method that was used to invest the fashion that emanated from Backstreet Harajuku culture in the 90’s with a real estate kind of value. We increased the value of old things by investing them with new value. Now people like Virgil and Kim Jones (the artistic director of Dior Homme) are doing the same thing, but on a global scale. In reality Japan was before them, having names like RAGTAG or RINKAN doing precisely that, or Laila Vintage using it as their strategy for branding management. I think there are many people in America now making business out of it.
Japan still doesn’t have any charismatic figure within the second-hand industry like Round Two’s Sean Wotherspoon from LA, and many counterfeits circulate in America, so I think Japan’s keen ability for discernment deserves more recognition. Also, the way genres are classified overseas is somewhat rough around the edges, but in Japan they are sorted into detailed categories. I think that’s also one of Japan’s good traits.
---- That’s a good point. I could feel the potential of the Japanese fashion industry, including secondary distribution, hearing you two today. The key seems to be found in effectively utilizing technology and picking up the culture of younger generations in which sustainability is considered cool.Thank you very much.
Motofumi “POGGY” Kogi
Born in 1976. After starting to work part-time in 1997 at “UNITED ARROWS” and moving on to PR, Kogi opened the boutique “Liquor,woman&tears.” In 2010 he launched “UNITED ARROWS & SONS” where he was also the director. After becoming independent recently, there is growing anticipation for new initiatives from him this year.