Yusuke Nakamura and the Danner Kevlar Light for Hypebeast’s Sole Mates

The nanamica NY store manager talks about trekking in his Danner boots to catch Aurora Borealis, admiring heritage brands and comparing sneaker culture in Japan and the US.

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nanamica New York’s store manager Yusuke Nakamura is a footwear fanatic. He grew up in Japan — one of the world’s most acclaimed fashion destinations — and has lived through the genesis of streetwear in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. As a consumer of the culture and its ever-evolving trends, Nakamura has always been one to zig when others zag. Unlike modern-day sneaker fans who tend to purchase products for the hype, he’s more meticulous about his pick-ups and leans towards material goods that are functional and designed to last. “There’s a romanticism ingrained in Japanese culture, where we’re taught to buy quality items and treat them with respect,” he tells Hypebeast. “ Ichiro would do his best to maintain his baseball bats and gloves, and I bring that same mentality to shoes.”

This mindset is evident in Nakamura’s Danner Kevlar boots — a pair that he’s owned for 25 years and has chosen to highlight for his Sole Mates installment. He admires them for their unique build, versatility to pair with hiking and street-centric fits and stealthy color scheme. He’s even restored the soles multiple times in order to prolong their lifespan.

We sat down with Nakamura to discuss why he gravitates towards heritage brands, the craziest excursion that he’s taken his Danner Kevlar boots on and sneaker culture comparisons between Japan and the US.

Who or what got you into sneakers?

My father introduced me to the concept of buying a quality pair of shoes and wearing them for your whole life. When I was a kid, he gave me a pair of ASICS soccer cleats and taught me how to clean and maintain them.

Do you remember what silhouettes you were into growing up?

When I was in junior high school, my brother started to pick up pairs like the Air Jordan 5, Air Jordan 6 and the Nike Air Pressure and I remember being impressed by those. The first pair of Jordans I ever picked up for myself was the Air Jordan 7, so those will always be special to me.

High tops were big in that era, so I also remember gravitating towards silhouettes like Ewings and Reebok Pumps, which weren’t sold in Japan at the time. I would have to pull pages out of magazines and hand them to my dad, who would often take business trips to Hong Kong and buy pairs for me there.

When did Danner boots first come into the picture for you?

When I was in college in the mid ‘90s, it was the height of Japanese streetwear brands like BAPE, NEIGHBORHOOD and UNDERCOVER. Folks from Japan would fly over to the US and buy products just to come back and sell them through the stores in Japan.

However, this movement didn’t really resonate with me and I gravitated towards outdoor gear like Vibram-soled boots, GORE-TEX apparel and Nike ACG. Additionally, people in my family were huge on outdoor activities. I worked at a sneaker store in Japan called ABC Mart, and they carried made-in-USA Danner boots that were sold exclusively in Japan, so that’s when it started for me.

“[In Japan] we’re educated about streetwear brands, sneakers, Rolex watches and more through magazines and taught that if we’re going to buy expensive items, we must take care of them and wear them forever.”

You wanted to highlight a Japan-exclusive Danner Kevlar Light for your Sole Mates feature. What about these resonates with you?

I love that Danner tried something new with this design by incorporating Kevlar into the shoes. That’s not something that many sneaker brands have done. I once met with a Danner employee at a pop-up flea market and he advised me to hold onto this pair because they were so difficult to produce and it was unlikely that they would make them again. Additionally, I love that these came in a faded black/smokey gray colorway. They were slightly different from the classic Danner Boots that were coming out at the time that mostly were done up with brown leather.

You mentioned that you’ve owned these for 25 years and have re-done the soles to maintain them. Are you the type of person that just prefers your kicks with more worn-in character?

That mindset applies to all of the materials I buy. In Japan, we get a lot of our style influences from magazines like Popeye, Boon, Non-no and GQ. We’re educated about streetwear brands, sneakers, Rolex watches and more through magazines and taught that if we’re going to buy expensive items, we must take care of them and wear them forever.

Since you’ve owned these for over two decades, they’ve definitely been through a lot with you. Do any fond memories come to mind when you look at these?

When I was 22, I traveled to Sweden to catch the Aurora Borealis lights and these were the shoes that I brought with me. It was around negative 20 degrees celsius out there so they didn’t keep me warm, but they did keep my feet dry and protected. I’ll never forget that trip because we had to bounce around to different smaller towns in Sweden and go on long hikes before we finally found the lights. It was one of those “you had to be there” moments.

What are some of your other favorite Danner models?

They sell low-top Danner boots in Japan and I really love those. There’s a specific pair that I’ve been eying with GORE-TEX uppers and Vibram sole units.

If nanamica could do its own Danner collab what would you want it to look like?

It would have to be on brand with the nanamica palette so we’d probably do it with a lower cut and a navy suede GORE-TEX upper.

Danner has been around since 1932, but is now relevant in streetwear culture thanks to boots becoming more accepted in street style and collaborations with brands like JJJJound and NEIGHBORHOOD. Are you a fan of this movement?

I am, especially because heritage brands have so much opportunity nowadays. They became experts in making their own products and this opens up the gates for them to be reinterpreted in new ways. That’s why I love brands like Danner and Levi’s. Their collaborations are so thoughtful and curated. If your whole identity is just collaborating with other brands, then it doesn’t have the same effect.

“I always say that pants are your style and shoes reflect who you are.”

How would you compare sneaker cultures in Japan and the US?

Right now, they’re both very similar because there’s an equal amount of buying and reselling. However, I will say that Japan has always been ahead of the curve, both with style and smaller produced collaborations. When I came to New York in 2000, I will admit that I was pretty underwhelmed with the fashion. People still looked amazing, but Japan was playing a different game. Jeff Staple’s Reed Space was the closest thing I experienced back then in terms of offering a similar shopping experience to Harajuku.

Why are sneakers and their stories important to you?

I always say that pants are your style and shoes reflect who you are. It’s the best gauge to learn a lot about someone in terms of their style. I will also say that as I get older, I’m graduating from being overly judgemental about someone’s style. In a few years I want to be the person that doesn’t care all that much and rocks Skechers.

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