5 Japanese Streetwear Brands That Should Be On Your Radar
In this feature we take a look at some of the best Japanese streetwear brands from the districts of Harajuku to the original motorcycle gangs of Tokyo.
Having lived in Tokyo for half a year, I can assure you that Japan feels like a different world in itself. From fashion, art, music, culture, to almost everything about Japan has some uniqueness about it. While working on my university assignment, I explored the streets of Harajuku with my DSLR (digital) camera to capture the street style & subculture of Japan. The lanes of Harajuku district is where it all started back in the early ‘90s with its flamboyant motorcycle gangs & neon lights. Ura-Harajuku, an area of approximately four blocks of square blocks between the districts of Harajuku and Aoyama gave birth to the modern-day Japanese streetwear aesthetic which has taken the world by storm. Inspired from Western culture, the humble beginnings of these famous Tokyo born brands. Some of the most iconic Japanese streetwear brands were born on these streets.
Brands like Nowhere, A Bathing Ape & Neighborhood opened shops presenting a fresh take on the foreign culture and philosophies to the youth of Japan through their designs, craftsmanship and authenticity. There are multiple definitions and connotations of ‘streetwear’. What really sets streetwear apart from other sectors of fashion is the commitment and dedication towards narrating a story through the clothes to create a sense of belonging which will enable customers to become a part of, to adopt and express themselves in their day-to-day attire.
Founded in 1997, mastermind JAPAN is a high-end Japanese streetwear brand by Masaaki Homma. Famous for its signature skulls and bones logo, mastermind JAPAN draws inspiration from the original biker gangs of Tokyo, the UK’s punk subculture of the late 1970s & the early 90s Japanese streetwear scene. Each item is exclusively made in Japan. Although the majority would categorise mastermind JAPAN as a streetwear label, it distinguishes itself as ‘luxury streetwear’ which is a blend of street and luxury fashion to elevate and form its own unique style. Minimalist dark colours, punk-inspired graphics, decorative detailing with exquisite materials such as diamonds are a few of the unique aesthetics present in Homma’s designs, displaying his love for punk and goth style. Exploring different techniques in his design process and using premium-quality fabric has created a strong appeal in consumer’s mind for the brand which keeps the customers coming back for more.
Just like other streetwear brands, mastermind JAPAN too has collaborated with a range of labels such as Visvim, BAPE, Stüssy, Dover Street Market, adidas Originals, etc. Higher number of collaborations have led to a bigger pool of customers, thereby earning him a cult-like following. Mastermind Japan is the ultimate forerunner of streetwear presenting bold graphic themes, signature visuals, innovative materials, and authentic Japanese craftsmanship.
WTAPs is one of the brands that defined, and stills remains a foundation of the Japanese streetwear scene. The military-infused label, WTAPs (pronounced as ‘double taps’) was launched by Tetsu Nishiyama in 1996. Inspired by the outdoors and the military, WTAPs has advanced into several signature styles such as ‘Trad’, ‘Ivy’, ‘Preppy’ and many more. Known for its collaborations with streetwear brands like Supreme, Vans & Stüssy, WTAPs has gained a cult like status among those in the know.
Similar to other Japanese streetwear leaders, WTAPs’ originated from the roots of the Ura-Harajuku movement during the early ‘90s. The Ura-Harajuku movement is celebrated for the birth of iconic labels such as Undercover, Neighborhood and Bape. While WTAPs arrived a little later than its allies, it quickly made its mark on the Japanese streetwear scene. Today, WTAPs have expanded themselves globally and surpassed the short-lived fashion trends by designing evergreen, classic looks that remains relevant till date.
Over the past two decades, WTAPs owes its success to a “winning formula” of producing high-quality garments consistently alongside offering a sense of belonging and an association with a culture. Even the brands’ slogans ‘Way of Life’ depicts that the utilitarian nature of WTAPs clothing is designed with comfort at its core. Streetwear apparel with elevated design and culture. Weaving various underground styles to unite the rebels of the society, WTAPs is an amalgamation of different fashion genres brought together by its founder, Tetsu, to give a warm personalised feel to the brand and its customers. To a genuine streetwear enthusiast, it is easy to spot a WTAPs piece from a distance, which is a proof of the brand’s committed aesthetic, design and superior quality appeal maintained throughout the years.
Founded in 2005, Wacko Maria is the brainchild of retired J-League football players and friends, Keiji Ishizuka and Atsuhiko Mori. Inspired by American culture, music, art & photography, the brand offers premium quality products. Well-known for its animal prints and bold underground artist collaborations including LA tattooist Tim Lehi and Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, Wacko Maria is one of the staple streetwear labels in Japan.
In the Namakmeguro district of Japan, the brand’s flagship store “Paradise Tokyo” is famous for hosting events for its well-knit community in collaboration with other Japanese brands and artists. Their classic clothing range features intricate graphic embroidery, bold slogans, and the signature Wacko Maria ‘Guilty Party’ lettering. Some of its iconic merchandise includes ornate shirting and outerwear such as Hawaiian shirts, vintage souvenir jackets and classic American varsity jackets. Wacko Maria has carved out a niche for an over-the-top clothing style with a blatantly bizarre twist, making it an exceptional label in the sea of style pioneers.
Human Made, founded in 2010, is the latest venture of the legendary streetwear icon and music producer, Nigo. In the modern contemporary Japanese fashion, the name of Nigo surpasses all the other names. He is the same man behind the revolutionary and trendsetting streetwear label, A Bathing Ape (BAPE) and Ice Cream. Transitioning from ape to human, Nigo aims at a relatively smaller audience in an attempt to selfishly create clothes he would like to wear himself.
Motivated to start a personal project, Nigo launched Human Made to go against the run-of-the-mill fashion trends. His designs are embedded with heritage craftsmanship and nostalgia. Together with graphic designer Sk8thing, Human made focuses on creating whimsical pieces inspired by 1950s American workwear through the process of deconstruction and an analysis of vintage garments from his own archive. While distancing his label from big logos, loud slogans, bright colours, Nigo prioritises to immerse the brand into the world of vintage.
The subtle label has partnered up with some of the biggest names in the hip-hop world, including Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, who rocked the brand and pushed it further to their own followers. Equally good at collaborations, the brand only associates itself with the very best names in the industry. In the recent partnership with adidas Originals, redefined edits of the iconic Stan Smith and Superstar were elevated with the three rows of hearts by Human Made.
Born in 1994, Neighborhood or NBHD is one of the classic Japanese streetwear labels founded by young motorcycle fanatic, Shinsuke Takizara. Originally a part of Ura-Harajuku movement in the ‘90s, Neighborhood drew attention of the upcoming streetwear enthusiasts. Drawing inspiration from classic American culture, the brand produces superior quality motorcycle apparel with a blend of military, workwear, counterculture and outdoor themes. The brand takes pride in crafting product that is luxury in every sense of the word, utilising technical design and premium construction to create truly beautiful garments.
Deep rooted in biker culture, rock and roll, punks, rebels, dirt bags and outsiders, the brand captures the true essence of bringing inclusivity in creating a sense of belonging for its audience. Currently, Neighborhood holds one of the most influential spots in the modern contemporary streetwear scene alongside the aforementioned brands. The collaboration with the New York streetwear brand Supreme in 2007, solidified the brand’s prominence as a heavyweight exclusive streetwear label and has remained the same ever since.
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