Interview & Report

Shinya Kozuka / Shimpei Kajiura

Shinya Kozuka / Shimpei Kajiura

TOKYO FASHION AWARD 2024 winners / JFW DIGITAL GRAND PRIX 2024 Special Award winners

Shinya Kozuka (Designer)
Graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 2013. After returning to Japan, KOZUKA started his eponymous brand "SHINYAKOZUKA" in 2015.

Shimpei Kajiura (Director)
Graduated from Aoyama Gakuin University in 2008. Worked at Isetan Shinjuku Re-style Plus and Sazaby League Co., Ltd Ron Herman Division. After that, moved to New York and worked for V::room. After returning to Japan, participated in "SHINYAKOZUKA" from 2017.

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SHINYAKOZUKA has a unique presence in the men’s market in Japan. The brand is known for its highly narrative-driven collections and is one of the brands that moves your heart with its runway shows that are unique in the Tokyo fashion scene. While such emotional expression is prominent, the brand is also doing well in business, with sales growing at a rate of 30% every year. We interviewed designer Kozuka and director Kajiura about the past and future of the brand.

Please tell us how you started the brand.

Kozuka : When I graduated from Saint Martins and returned to Japan, I was approached by a showroom in Paris to start my own brand. I started the brand from a stage where I knew nothing about the brand business, and for the first five years, I honestly thought I was in hell as I continued (laughs).

However, this year marks the 10th year of the brand. How did you overcome those five difficult years?

Kozuka : I think that changing the concept of collections to “issues” was a big factor. I was under a lot of stress running the brand and couldn’t find joy in anything, so I felt that it was time for me to go back to my roots of honestly creating what I fundamentally thought was good. There were times when I wanted to create my own style in creations, but “My Own Style” is something that all designers are pursuing, and I felt that there was a contradiction in the attitude of seeking originality, as there was no originality at all. So now, I continue to create things that are honest and true to myself. I believe that creating things for myself results in good outcomes for customers and the company.

What are your sources of inspiration for your creations?

Kozuka : Ideas and words come to my mind when I am relaxed, for example when I am drinking alcohol or taking a walk. I think it is important to think in terms of what is good or bad for the brand, rather than my personal likes and dislikes, so I am also conscious of the perspective of not disappointing customers’ expectations. It would be great if the concept and mood of the issue is conveyed to the customer and then it becomes a product that sells well.

Could you also give us an overview of your current business?

Kajiura : We have many business partners, with about 50 to 60 stores in Japan and 20 to 30 stores overseas, mainly in Asia. Sales have been increasing by 30% year-on-year for the past few years.

That’s fantastic! How do you see the growth of the brand?

Kajiura : In the past, most of our customers were in their 20s, but now customers from all age groups love to buy products from the brand. I think the reason for this is that we have broadened the range of our business partners more than before, such as by expanding our business to stores that receive a lot of traffic. As for Japan, we are currently at a stage where we are placing more emphasis on business with existing stores rather than increasing the number of stores, since there are area conflicts in Japan. At the same time, we are looking to expand into new markets, such as fashion for 40s and 50s, women’s clothing, etc.

You also operate a physical store in Tokyo. Please tell us about it.

Kajiura : Since we are a brand with many product numbers, it is like a treasure hunt for our customers to look at our products in the stores of our business partners. To resolve this situation, we opened a store in Tokyo as a place where customers can see our full lineup of products. In FY2023, sales at the Tokyo store tripled compared to the previous year, and have now grown to about half of the EC sales.

How is the response to your overseas expansion?

Kajiura : We have been operating a showroom in Paris since the launch of the brand, and the results have actually been very positive, so we feel that we are getting a good response to our overseas expansion. In the beginning, we had a 50:50 balance between business in Japan and overseas, but now our business in Japan has grown, so the ratio is about 70:30. In terms of overseas business, we are getting into a merchandising style of making proposals by looking at the market and trends, and the silhouettes and products have a high reputation. In the future, we would like to hold shows and other events so that the worldview and concept proposed by Kozuka can be well understood by people overseas.

What significance do runway shows have for your brand?

Kajiura : From my point of view, I feel that runway shows are the best way to represent a brand. In every aspect, runway shows have the power to convey the momentum and mood of the brand.

Kozuka : Since we started doing runway shows, I feel that people are now looking at us as a brand, rather than just a product. A runway show includes the scenery, the sound, the personality of the models and the clothes, so it is the best way to express the attitude of the brand to the fullest. I have a passion for runway shows that I cannot put into words, and every time I do a show, I feel glad that I did it. Also, since I started doing runway shows, I started watching shows of other brands to learn more. There are many unique brands in Tokyo, so I started to think about what position we should aim to be the best among them.

JFW DIGITAL GRAND PRIX 2024 Special Award winners

Are you conscious of being a “Tokyo Brand”?

Kajiura: We are not conscious of being a Tokyo brand, but I think Tokyo is the only city where you can make clothes and fabrics, and where there is a big market and a fashion week. Paris has a fashion week, but there is no production base. We are very lucky to be able to work in Tokyo Japan, so I feel that we have to work even harder so that the city of craftsmanship does not die out.

Finally, can you please tell us about your vision for the brand?

Kajiura: Our first goal is to sustain the brand. To achieve this, we want to improve our profit margin and balance our investments. We also have a plan to increase the number of physical stores in the future in order to capture untapped markets.

Kozuka: I would like to quit completely (laughs). Rather than looking ahead, which also leads to honesty, I would like to make it my goal for the brand to cherish each season, issue by issue.

Interview by Tomoko Kawasaki
Photography by Daichi Saito

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