iD magazine recently sat down with Shinsuke Takizawa, better known as Shin, of NEIGHBORHOOD, to talk about his time working with Major Force, touring with Public Enemy and how NEIGHBORHOOD came about. Other topics include his fascination with the British Punk culture, love of motorcycles and his philosophy on clothing. Take a moment to read this in-depth interview for better insight of the man behind the highly respectable Japanese brand.
“My first exposure to fashion was around the time I started getting interested in music whilst I was still a student. London was everything for me back then. It was about the punk music and the fashion coming out of there. So I decided to go to a fashion school in Tokyo after I graduated from high school – which I actually ended up getting kicked out of four months after I started as I didn’t really attend any of the classes. It’s funny to hear that now the school uses my name as an example of a successful graduate to recruit new students!
British Punk was my biggest influence. People find it strange that I wasn’t really interested in American fashion back then because a lot of people think my brand is heavily American influenced. In Tokyo during the 80s, fashion was all about British fashion – London and designers like John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood, to be specific. The influence of American fashion came much later. I used to dream of dressing like the kids hanging out in London clubs who I saw in magazines. I used to look through those magazines that were filled with photos of punk kids for hours on end. I’m still really interested in what’s going on style-wise in London now. When I was 19, right after I got kicked out of school, I visited Paris and London for the first time. I was pretty much backpacking around with no plans or schedule. Prior to that the, Wild Bunch came to Tokyo for their first Japan tour with Morgan & McVey, [pop duo composed of Jamie Morgan and Cameron McVey, who had been integral and influential within the Buffalo movement] and I met Nellee Hooper briefly at one of the clubs, so when I got to London I contacted him and stayed at his flat for a couple of weeks. Around that time, my punk days were over; I was into new wave and rare groove and was hanging out at clubs all the time. Nellee took me around places like the Africa Centre and introduced me to Soul II Soul among others. It was all completely new to me and I probably didn’t fully understand what it was all about, but the experience blew my mind and had such a huge impact on me. I can’t explain what it was but I guess that whole experience is why I am still hooked on British fashion.”
“I started working as a freelance stylist after I returned from London. It wasn’t too serious – I was just hanging out all the time and having fun. Then I came to know Hiroshi Fujiwara through a friend of mine who lived in the same apartment back then. Hiroshi was already kind of an underground hero and was always telling me to get a proper job since I was just hanging around all the time. He introduced me to File records, who were the distributors of his label, Major Force, the first Japanese Hip-Hop label. Those were some of the best days of my life. Club culture was only just hitting the Japanese scene and it became a real platform for communication. Students and famous designers would meet at the clubs and you could feel something big was happening. I met so many people through the club scene. I was playing and working hard at the same time.
It was fun working at major Force, even though Hip-Hop was never really my thing. Before joining Major Force I was always watching American biker flicks from the 60s and was completely fascinated with them. I also had a friend who lived near an American base. It was a district where you could rent American style homes at an affordable price and it became a popular neighborhood for young artists and students. He was your stereotypical biker and even parked his chopper in his living room! It was also the start of the American fashion boom so I was interested in the fashion coming out of the States. I was at Major Force and I was the only guy wearing motorcycle boots with long hair. When I hung out on the Public Enemy Japan Tour, Flavor Flav was always pulling my hair and shouting, ‘What the fuck up is up with your hair?’. I finally got my first Harley Davidson when I was 21 or 22. I was only able to get it through a loan of 48 installments! It was a Shovel Head FLH and was around $8,000. It was also the start of a never-ending customization process. I didn’t have much money then so I had to do everything myself, and a lot of the parts I picked up from Home Depot.”
Plant Your Seeds
“I was heavily influenced by the film Easy Rider. It wasn’t just the motorcycles but the whole story, which had a very American feeling about it. Of course the Hells Angels and the Japanese legendary Native American jeweler, Goro, also inspired me. He has been working out of his own store ‘Goro’s’ in Harajuku for years and used to always ride around the neighborhood on his Harley with no helmet and his dog sitting on the fuel tank – I thought that was so cool and made me realize what a special vehicle the Harley is.
I ended up working at Major Force for seven years. It was there that I learned what society was all about. It was such a tiny label that we had to do everything on our own, from graphics to sales, promotion as well as the packaging and mailing out, etc. – all of which were useful experiences for me later on in terms of the whole process of manufacturing a product. This was also the first time I touched a Mac. I remember it was such a small little Mac with a tiny screen! I needed to learn how to use it as I was handling the whole design side of the label. It was around that time that I was given the opportunity of working on Major Force’s merchandise – making t-shirts and hoodies. Those were the first pieces of clothing that I ever designed and it all sold pretty well. That made me start thinking about the whole clothing business. So, the next obvious move was to start my own store. I borrowed money and opened the first “Neighborhood”. After about a year I was still doing graphics for the label but in the end I only wanted to do the things I liked so I became independent and focused on Neighborhood.”
Let Your Roots Grow
“All my friends were hanging out in the small neighborhood of Harajuku and I liked the idea of it so I named the brand based on that. In the beginning our business was mainly importing clothes from outlet stores in the States. Both TET, my partner and designer of WTAPS, and I were completely amateur buyers so everything wasn’t planned out and was pretty irresponsible. I remember looking at a map of America and we found a city called buffalo and said to each other, ‘Look! This city sounds pretty cool, maybe there’s something between there and New York!’ We ended up driving all the way dropping by outlet malls in between the two cities. We bought a bunch of outdoor related clothing and products all of which sold really poorly. We also bought a lot of RRL [Ralph Lauren] shirts, which were popular and hard to find back then, but they sold poorly as well. We thought to ourselves, ‘Shit we’ve got to do something to get rid of them!’ So we decided to screen print our own graphics on them and that actually worked out really well. I guess that’s what started us thinking about producing our own clothing.”
“My basic idea was to make biker-style clothing. The typical bikers with beards, long hair and the t-shirt with an eagle print influenced me, but then I thought of my own style, which was denim jeans and white shirts and always wanted to be different from everyone else. That was the time when you could experiment and do the things you wanted to. I’ve been running this brand for 15 years now and that period could be divided into two. Back then was an innocent carefree time, and now I have to focus on the business. In the first couple of years, I never really had to care about anything – I just did whatever I wanted, but these days I have to think more about the business especially the way the economy is right now. When we started Neighborhood, we didn’t even have an office! But that didn’t really matter. We had complete freedom and everything we made sold out immediately. We never could hold in to any stock in our store because everything would sell out so fast. We were completely different from the other brands and I guess maybe looked fresh to all the kids. There wasn’t much choice around that time so that’s probably another reason why we were so successful and the kids wanted something new. We were never a big company but slowly we have been growing bigger over the years. The longer you’re in business, the market grows bigger. But when you are in this business as long as we have you may no longer look fresh, so we’ve been fighting to establish and maintain our own identity. Our identity is based on street culture we are outsiders in the fashion industry in Japan, the way we started and the way we operate, the industry has always ignored us. We never do your typical collection shows and are very independent business. I totally understand the value of showing a collection to the whole industry and there are some brands that do that whom I respect, but I also believe that there should be some brands that take another direction and that’s what Neighborhood is all about.”
Feed With Sunshine And Water
“We made our first original piece of clothing – a Vintage wash overall in 1995. When I looked at this jacket now, it may be a little poor in quality and roughly made, but you can still get a sense of our philosophy in it. Clothes that you can get a feeling from, from the first moment you put it on – that is my philosophy. It is different from what other brands are doing so I take a lot of pride in it. I like vintage clothing but the idea that there is only one piece and that nobody can wear it except the owner is a little disappointing. Based on that, I wanted to make products with the same vintage feeling but that were not one-offs. We weren’t the first brand who started to use vintage wash techniques, but we were definitely one of the first and I am proud of that. We started to produce vintage wash clothing when none of the factories even knew how to do it. We were learning as we were going along. I’m still designing everything and have been clicking away on my Mac for the last 15 years! And that won’t change I guess. I have to take care of both the design side and managing the company. I once tried to concentrate only on running the business but I couldn’t keep motivated and felt bored!”
Let Your Garden Prosper
“We started our new line ‘Luker by Neighborhood’ last year and I’ll continue to design everything. What we’ve been doing and creating is already well established within a certain market, but there is still an opportunity to do more. We have a certain image that Neighborhood is known for and that can sometimes also be a problem as the Harajuku perception is too strong to judge our products fairly. The opportunity to show our products is still somewhat limited. We have a lot of confidence in the quality of our products and if we have the chance, we would like to show this to a broader market – what we came up with was ‘Luker’. The set up is a little different to Neighborhood as we are wholesaling to completely different stockists. It’s a big challenge for us but it’s a great opportunity to show our new products designed by Neighborhood with a slightly different theme at differing locations, which in turn may lead to new customers who know nothing about our main brand, Neighborhood. Neighborhood, on the other hand will continue doing what we’ve always done. Our clothes can be worn year after you buy them and you can still feel comfortable wearing them. Our creations are very basic but that’s who we are, adding on new elements and reinterpreting our clothes each season is what Neighborhood is all about.”