BEAMS is a prominent Japanese contemporary fashion chain and label, based in Tokyo, Japan, founded by Etsuzo Shitara in 1976 with Osamu Shigematsu as the store manager, who have managed the Shinko Inc. cardboard packaging business since 1953. In 2005, BEAMS began a push for international expansion, opening up a women’s clothing store in Hong Kong in 2006, and subsequently accounts in Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei and Bangkok. Currently, Yo Shitara is the company’s CEO, with BEAMS boasting over 70 domestic stores and sales profits of ¥44.6 billion JPY in 2006.
Initially called AMERICAN LIFE SHOP BEAMS, the first store -- only 231 square feet and decorated to look like a UCLA dorm room -- was located in Harajuku and specialized in American clothing, becoming an immediate success and leading to the opening of a second store on Shibuya’s “Fire Street” in 1977. In its initial years, BEAMS received valuable press exposure via its relationship with the Heibon Shuppan publishing house, whose extensive coverage of BEAMS’ American menswear offerings in its popular POPEYE magazine helped build the brand’s fanbase. Due to illness, Shitara was replaced by his son Yo in 1983 as the brand’s senior managing director of marketing. In 1989, Shigematsu -- who had been a buyer for BEAMS since its founding -- and 30 other notable employees resigned from BEAMS simultaneously, leaving to found direct competitor UNITED ARROWS. Internal chaos ensued, with the emergency hiring of a fresh crop of buyers slowly returning the company to status quo. During the ‘90s, BEAMS established a relationship with men’s monthly Begin, with the magazine’s additional press leading to increased sales during this period.