Contemporary lifestyle brands in Japan are commonly associated with a vibrant street-culture and the collected seasonal output of high-end labels. Against this grain, a number of young Japanese companies are turning to the rich natural landscapes of Japan to help drive an emerging market for outdoor apparel and accessories that match the technical challenges of the mountains with the aesthetic demands of high-street.
Rapidly establishing itself as a leading cross-over brand, the tarp-shaped, triangle logo of and wander is just as at home in the Japanese alps as it is on the streets of Shibuya. The label’s ability to push past the perceived aesthetic limitations of functional outerwear has resulted in a growing range of fashionable high-performance apparel and accessories.
Established in 2011, and wander already has a loyal, local following, and is generating plenty of interest abroad through collaborations with brands such as Salomon and Barbour. Fashion credentials are in part thanks to the shared foundation of brand founders Keita Ikeuchi and Mihoko Mori who cut their teeth under fashion kingpin Issey Miyake before turning their attention to performance wear and the great outdoors.
More recently, and wander has teamed up with Papersky magazine for the creation of a new gallery called OUTDOOR GALLERY. The small shop in Yoyogi Hachiman (Tokyo) features a gallery space dedicated to art inspired by the outdoors. The location also includes a small shop featuring both Papersky ‘travel tools’ alongside the and wander archives.
“We are hikers.” This statement of authenticity bookends the brand philosophy of mountain-tool makers Yamatomichi. Founded by two couples in 2011, and based in Kamakura, walking is what grounds the brand. Yamatomichi (meaning mountain and road) aim to develop tools that heighten their personal experience of being in the Japanese back-country, before evolving those ideas into their ultra-light and restrained collection of apparel and backpacks that also fit seamlessly into urban environments.
Alongside the production of beautiful garments and packs, the company edits an online journal and engages in the research of the materials and functions of mountain tools. With ambassadors all over japan, it has also spawned the Yamatomichi Hike Life Community / HLC, an events-based team charged with developing a community centered on the idea of ‘life with hiking’.
Ultra-light adventuring and a ‘punk’ spirit inform the design of Tokyo-based brand, RawLow Mountain Works. The label was launched in 2015, by two designers with the foundation of two-decades worth of shared experience as bag designers – and a mutual love for mountain biking. An important driver for the brand is the constant field-testing of the hand-crafted items they develop, with almost-weekly tests conducted in the Suzuka and Chichibu mountain ranges.
Described as a ‘mountain gear brand, centered on backpacks,’ packs, satchels and saddle-bags predominantly make up the range. Their “Bike N’ Hike” saddle bag – originally conceptualized by Papersky’s very own Lucas B.B. – is a clever piece of kit designed to be flexible enough for users who want to switch between modes of transport. Attached via a saddle-mount, the bag can be transformed into a backpack via concealed straps. A “Mountain Kit” add-on allows the wearer to upgrade the straps for more strenuous hiking.
The concept of Kyoto-based, Minimalight is simple: “to bring out the maximum lightness and ease of use from the minimal elements.” Originally a product designer (having also studied electrical engineering), the brand’s founder, Haneji-san previously worked in a design office and for a manufacturing company. While developing products, he grew frustrated with a design process whereby “many people’s opinions added little by little to one product” resulting in an “unbalanced” outcome.
By becoming his own client, Haneji-san was able to resolve this tension and “express the perfect balance,” creating the Play Wallet, Minamalight’s most important, and popular item. The wallet, based on the minimum dimensions of a credit card and a folded paper-note, comes in a leather finish for everyday use and an X-PAC material for use in the mountains.
Alongside collaborations with independent outdoor brands, Papersky has been developing its own range of products or ‘travel tools’ to address a specific function or need while moving about, both in cities and in nature. The Papersky Store presents a curated collection of light, compact and minimal objects and apparel from Japan and around the world, including collaborations with Minimalight, and wander, RawLow Mountain Works, and Yamatomichi.
The Traveller’s Tenugui are an essential outdoor staple – with a multitude of uses. Refreshing the traditional, functional towel with contemporary graphic representations of the prefectures of Japan, the growing series of 27 towels embody the brand ethos of “bending time, culture and nature,” – and look just as good in the concrete jungle as they do in the real one.