Any fashion-forward individual would know that if you are looking for high-quality streetwear, Japan is one of the best places to find them. Ever since A Bathing Ape (BAPE) exploded onto the scene in the early 1990s, the world has become more and more familiar with Japanese streetwear brands. You will find them on some of your favorite celebrities, from YouTube stars like PewDiePie to singer-songwriter John Mayer.
Today, we are here to introduce you to some of the best Japanese streetwear brands that you need to know of, whether you are a seasoned aficionado or just looking to get started. (Pssst, if you are looking for denim brands, we got you covered.)
KAPITAL got its start in the 1980s as a denim brand and has since grown into one of the more recognizable streetwear labels in the country. They have a bit of a cult following who love the brand’s unconventional, avant-garde-meets-hobo aesthetic. The owners and designers are father-son duo Toshikiyo Hirata and Kiro Hirata, who take special care to ensure each design utilizes traditional Japanese dyeing techniques and crafts.
KAPITAL’s more famous products include their indigo denim products (not surprising, considering the brand is based in Kojima, the denim capital of Japan), as well as their ring coats. They also have a sub-label, KOUNTRY.
visvim is easily one of the most famous contemporary Japanese streetwear brands on this list. Fans of the brand include well-known entertainers such as Kanye West, John Mayer, Drake, and A$AP Rocky, all of whom have been seen rocking visvim’s most popular product, the FBT. While visvim started off as a footwear manufacturer, they now have a full clothing line which is heavily inspired by founder Hiroki Nakamura’s travels. Nakamura spares no expense in the craftsmanship of his designs as well, using rare textiles and labor-intensive methods to produce truly top-notch products.
cav empt is short for “caveat emptor”, Latin for buyer beware, but there is nothing to beware of with this streetwear label. A favorite of famous YouTuber PewDiePie, the minds behind this brand are Sk8thing, who is a graphic designer at BAPE, and Toby Feltwell, creative director of Pharrell William’s clothing line. It is of no surprise, then, that the style of cav empt is retro-futuristic, with collections that are driven by bold design. We like to think they’re streetwear for an upmarket crowd.
What should two retired J-League professional footballers do? Start a clothing brand, apparently. What started off as the Rock Steady bar in Tokyo eventually evolved into the Japanese menswear brand Wacko Maria. The label is heavily inspired by music, particularly the rockabilly subcultures, as well as Latin American styles. Even so, their designs are unique, kitschy and larger-than-life. In particular, their embroidered bomber jackets are a big hit and an ode to classic Japanese street styles.
If you’re not willing to sacrifice high fashion for punk streetwear, UNDERCOVER is your brand. Their motto, “We make noise, not clothes.” explains their design philosophy -- rebellion and disruption are at its core. Jun Takahashi, the label’s founder, blends pop culture with punk aesthetics to create what is one of the more influential Japanese streetwear brands today. It also boasts numerous high-profile collaborations, including with NIKE, Valentino, Doc Martens, Converse and more.
An offshoot of the Japanese store Nepenthes, the Needles label is heavily inspired by classic American military clothing and casual wear. Their designs are quirky and tend not to be for everyone, but they have a devoted following who love their bold reworks, contemporary designs and quality to detail. The Nepenthes brand, which was started by buddies Keizo Shimizu and Daiki Suzuki, also has other labels that are just as popular, including Engineered Garments.
Yohji Yamamoto is one of the most famous Japanese fashion designers. The label takes Japanese minimalism to the next label, with its timeless designs, simplicity and impeccable craftsmanship. They also tend towards being more draped and having a more layered style, with asymmetric silhouettes, drop-crotches, and oversized fits. If you are looking for a vibrant closet though, this label is not for you. Yohji works primarily with black, even in all his collaborations, which include Doc Martens, Adidas, and more.
KURO, which simply means “black”, is a relatively new streetwear brand, having debuted only in 2010. Founder Yusuke Yatsuhashi puts Japanese craftsmanship at the forefront of his label, ensuring quality by frequently traveling to the factories to make garments himself. His designs tend to be more minimalist and clean-cut, but are magic in its innovation. He is known in the industry for constantly seeking to develop new original materials, sewing methods and preserve Japanese culture through his collections. All of his products are also 100% made in Japan.
If you’re not a fan of the minimalist stylings of Yohji or KURO, then you might just be into FACETASM. The brand chooses not to categorize itself. Instead, each collection is meant to be distinctive from the predecessor, playing off the whimsies of founder and designer Hiromichi Ochiai. Even so, their concept is to express Tokyo street culture in a fun and free way, and if their previous collections are anything to go by, that is exactly what they are doing. Their designs tend to be playful, bold and quirky.
We’re rounding off the list with what is probably the most famous Japanese streetwear brand out there. It has two offshoot labels, AAPE (by A Bathing Ape) and BAPY (Busy Working Lady), but their main label, BAPE, is the most prominent. Odds are, even if you know nothing about Japanese streetwear, you have seen their popular camo patterned clothing somewhere. Other popular products of theirs include the shark hoodies and insulated snow jackets.
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