Celebrating its fifteenth year, nanamica looks back over its impressive archive with a new book showcasing the company’s highlights since its launch in 2003. Currently stocked in over thirty countries, the brand’s big name collaborations and an ever-expanding mainline full of accessible techwear have drawn a loyal audience both home and abroad. Managing Director Eiichiro Homma, a keen sailor from a sportswear background, has achieved the rare feat of fusing career and hobby, making marine-inspired silhouettes and graphics a recurring theme through each collection. Creating clothing ready for all eventualities with an understanding that modern life’s challenges are more busy commute than battling the high-seas, nanamica successfully balanced form and function from the outset. Launching the 2003-2017 book in London last week, we caught up with Homma to discover more.
Tell us about your career previous to nanamica.
My career started in 1982 at a sportswear company. I spent nearly 18 years working with outdoors, technical marine clothing. My first role was in merchandising, planning and design, all specifically for sailing clothing. At this time in Japan, outdoors was booming, people’s interest was shifting from athletic to outdoors sports. It became part of people’s lifestyle and while this was more than 30 years ago, even at that time people were beginning to wear these clothes as everyday garments. That’s why we designed, not just for that specific sport or activity but to wear in everyday life. That’s the key point of difference with marine clothing, it was always thought of as casual as well as practical, people in the sailing community always wanted to showcase what they were wearing to each other.
Do you come from a fashion or design background?
No, actually my major was Sociology and Psychology. Before I joined the industry, my interest was in things like organising events and promotions, but the company appointed me brand director for the design team. I was always interested in making people say ‘wow,’ essentially making people happy. There were very few technical clothing designers in Japan at that time, I learned a lot just through my own study and over time it improved, also my design team partner, she was older than me and she taught me a lot.
You see, for menswear especially, we’re not designing anything for a catwalk in Paris, it was mostly about finding a logical solution for a specific purpose: durability, breathability, protection against the weather and things like movement. At that time there were no Mackintosh computers, everything was done by hand, you used sketches to communicate ideas. Making garments was like creating buildings, layer-by-layer.
“You see, for menswear especially, we’re not designing anything for a catwalk in Paris, it was mostly about finding a logical solution for a specific purpose: durability, breathability, protection against the weather and things like movement.”
So is this where you discovered your passion for technical fabrics?
It was. Innovation dictated how garments would be designed, for example, if a fabric doesn’t stretch we have to make room for movement but when stretch was introduced, we could create a more fitted piece that still offered freedom of movement. Good and close relationships with the mills are really important, that’s how you find out about the latest technology.
Had you always planned to create your own label?
When I joined the industry I had a very strong passion to create an individual brand with its own identity. I started out working on Japanese licenses for overseas brands and even if we did something unique and different, it would of course always be seen as part of that established brand. So my first motivation for starting nanamica was to create an own-brand model. It allowed us to develop a business structure that extended to retail, digital communication, visual merchandising, everything combined together to showcase the product. It wasn’t about making one single garment, we had to express a clear image of the brand and its world to the customer.
Do you think your background in psychology has had any influence on what you do now? Do you think it has helped you to understand the consumer?
Honestly speaking, I’ve never thought of it myself but other people have said to me that maybe it has influenced my fundamental interests, perhaps it’s influenced the way I look at the entire landscape, how I come up with solutions.
Do you have a specific customer in mind with nanamica?
In the beginning we imagined someone who had an interest in both fashion and utility, the idea being to make comfortable, life essentials. You know, the ultimate sportswear piece would be the jumpsuit, it offers protection, movement, temperature control, moisture control. But people want things that work well in their everyday life. These are people who are fashion-oriented but for them, it is only one part of their lives. When they do purchase clothing they are not only interested in how it looks but also the background of its development and the technology it offers.
With nanamica, we are a multi-brand store, we buy many other labels to sit beside our clothes. We have four stores in Japan, the concept is the same but each individual store is different, it is designed to fit in each specific location. It’s like a family, they’re all related but they’re not twins, they all look different. The message to the consumer is one of freedom, there are no rules and the nanamica customer is very keen to be free with the ways in which they dress.
This extends right across the business. We really respect the opinions of our store managers and employees. When a new person joins they’re surprised at how much freedom there is. In most companies the CEO lays down very clear direction and rules, but our company is very open, we want to hear people’s ideas and solutions.
How do you decide which brands sit next to nanamica in the store?
The priority is that we like them, not just me but our store workers across all locations because they really understand what will work for our customer. Of course, we closely watch trends and find out what customer’s are currently interested in but the essential point is, would we want to wear these pieces or not?
GORE-TEX has always been a big part of the nanamica offering, why is it such a favourite among the design team?
There are a lot of technical fabrics out there but GORE-TEX is very easy to understand and it communicates its message clearly to its customers. They have spent a lot of time and money developing such a high level of performance, they guarantee the quality both to the consumer and the mill, so they accept any responsibility. People trust it. We understand what waterproof means, what durability and breathability means but GORE-TEX sits separately to all these, it is in a category of its own.
“In most companies the CEO lays down very clear direction and rules, but our company is very open, we want to hear people’s ideas and solutions.”
Tell us about some of the other fabrics you use
Well, right now we have a lot of high-tech fabric mills in Japan. Of course a lot of manufacturers moved to China, Korea etc. but currently we have the top synthetic fabric producers in Japan, especially for things like nylons and polyesters. So it’s easy for us to collaborate with these mills. Of course we have a very close relationship with The North Face and because it’s one of the biggest outdoor brands in the world, fabric mills approach them first with new technologies which is very helpful for us because we share information.
How do you separate The North Face Purple Label and nanamica?
Logically, North Face must be North Face, it’s essentially an outdoor brand so everything is designed with that in mind. It’s guaranteed to be durable and that’s its essential base. It’s a powerful name and sometimes people want and expect certain things from the brand. We must respect that although sometimes the reality is it can be tricky because those demands sometimes extend too far over the collection but that’s internally something we just have to work with. There are of course some very simple, practical differences, for example, nanamica is developed with the overseas market in mind whereas Purple Label is just for the Japanese market so the sizing has to be different.
Did you feel it was important to introduce a women’s line with Purple Label?
Yes, of course. So far we have the same design team for both, maybe one day we will have a separate team for women’s. In my opinion, sports-inspired brands should be no gender, no age. Our garments can be worn by everyone and I think that’s important.
Do you have any favourite nanamica collaborations from across the years?
Well, you know The North Face Purple Label really started out as a collaboration and one of the first things we made under that label were the daypacks in Italian PARA fabric in 2003, they were amazingly popular in Japan. You can see the comparison between our Purple label version and the original 1970s North Face pack in the archive book. We’ve tried to do that across the book, placing inspiration pieces next to our new versions but also showing nanamica garments next to similar North Face purple pieces to show both their similarities and differences as two distinct brands.
Filson Red was our idea. Once we finished the collaboration Filson continued to use Red Label. We made a cruiser jacket with their Tin Cloth and buffalo plaid, combining our core silhouettes with their fabrics. I have good memories of the Clarks project in 2014, working with the classic Wallabee and adding GORE-TEX inside alongside the brick sole. We also reworked the Dr. Martens loafer and officer shoe for Autumn/Winter 2016 with a military last and a new stitch pattern. Those are all my favourites, as well as the Cruiser jacket we did with wings + horns for Ace Hotel in 2014. We’re lucky when it comes to collaborations because generally companies come to us rather than the other way around.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
With a lot of Japanese companies, space is an issue so we don’t keep full archives unlike the big brands in Italy who have warehouses to store their histories like museums. After a while we started to forget all those early pieces, the idea was originally to create the book for our tenth anniversary however we were incredibly busy at that time moving offices and opening the store. Books take a long time to make, years in fact so we eventually decided to do it for our fifteenth anniversary.
You asked me earlier about the difference between nanamica and North Face Purple. North Face has a really strong reputation around the world and a strong demand. Sometimes people recognise us as North Face Purple or North Face Japan, even my friends introduce me as Eiichiro from North Face when I’m abroad because that’s easy to understand and everyone knows the brand. So I was concerned with preserving the nanamica brand and establishing our separate identity. That was part of the motivation behind creating this book.
Sailing is a big part of nanamica’s design code and it’s a sport you have a close connection with…
I love sailing, I try to do it at least once a month but the reality is I often don’t have the time, especially as I travel a lot for work. Sailing needs a small crew for safety reasons so it’s always hard to arrange as everyone is so busy nowadays. I tend not to race anymore but our harbour is located at the south end of Tokyo bay, so it’s easy to cross over to Chiba prefecture where there are lots of fresh fish restaurants. For me now sailing is a social event, it’s about meeting up with friends, having food and just catching up.
To really relax though, I try and have a day where I switch off and just forget about everything, do nothing. Even though sailing is a hobbie it still takes a lot of concentration, it’s a dangerous sport so you must always be focused. It’s really healthy for your mind just to switch off and reset every so often.
What’s next for nanamica?
We’ve been in the overseas market since 2010, we are stocked in 27 countries for this season, even more for Autumn/Winter. Our collection is getting bigger and bigger so we have to communicate the reality of the nanamica world to our global customer which means we should have a retail opportunity in North America or Europe, some kind of showroom rather than a store perhaps.
I’ll certainly be doing more travelling but you know, I don’t have any stress with work because my hobby and my job are combined, some people say that’s a crazy way to live but I really enjoy it.
How would you describe the Tokyo menswear scene at the moment?
When I was young, thirty, forty years ago, Tokyo fashion followed New York or Paris, the global tendency. Then Japanese fashion became more individual – it still looked to the West but it modified these ideas, they became ‘Japanised.’ However, with young people today compared to our generation, fashion is a small part of their life, they don’t care as much about brands, about cars, watches. There is a lot of choice in the market now. I’d say that the Tokyo scene has grown-up. Although of course, Tokyo is Tokyo, it’s a very specific place compared to the rest of Japan.
What’s interesting is that, when I was young, Japanese designers travelled the world for inspiration and ideas to bring back. Now, it’s totally upside down, the rest of the world comes to Tokyo, it’s filled with fashion people from overseas who come with their guidebooks and their list of stores to visit. They know a lot more about the city than us now.