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Beams: Showcasing Japanese craftsmanship in global fashion trends

Interview - January 4, 2024

Beams, a renowned Japanese retail brand, embraces Japan's rich cultural and artisanal heritage to deliver exceptional quality and unique fashion experiences. With brands like Beams Plus and Beams Boy, they blend American and tomboy styles, appealing to diverse tastes. Beams prioritizes community and personalized experiences, connecting staff and customers. The company's organic growth has led to over 30 distinct labels, each resonating with changing trends and customer demands. Beams aims to strengthen Japan's global brand identity while fostering creativity and joy through collaborations and partnerships.

YO SHITARA, PRESIDENT OF BEAMS HOLDINGS CO., LTD.
YO SHITARA | PRESIDENT OF BEAMS HOLDINGS CO., LTD.

Over the past 25-30 years, Japan has seen the rise of regional competitors who have replicated the Japanese model of success but done so at a cheaper labor cost, thus pushing Japan out of certain mass markets, however, we know that Japanese retail brands such Uniqlo and Muji have been successful overseas. What do you think are the advantages of Japanese retail brands, and what added value do you think they offer to their customers?

One thing for sure is that when it comes to Japan’s strengths in this industry, we want our brand to be synonymous with the most exquisite quality that Japan has to offer, so in our opinion, “Beams equal Japan.” That is the kind of brand and the kind of image that we want to promote overseas.

Moving forward, when you consider what exactly Japan’s strengths are, I believe it has to do with the long history that Japan has as a country. When you think about Europe, the longest country in existence is a country named San Marino which was established in 301 AD, but Japan has been in existence for much longer than that; roughly 2680 years ago during the reign of Emperor Jimmu. In fact, Japan is one of the oldest countries in existence to this day and I believe that with that, there is this kind of age-old cultural tradition that has been developed over thousands of years. With that comes interesting artistic traditions as well. Japan has forged this essence of culture, artisanship, and craftsmanship that is known to be really meticulous. Japanese people are known for being very highly accurate when it comes to their ability to use their hands, and this craftsmanship spirit is almost on a spiritual level that has been forged in the hardship of the years. It manifests in forms such as the Japanese tea ceremony, flower arrangements, or even calligraphy. Japan throughout the centuries has continued to have these kinds of time-honored traditions that are alive and thriving.

I believe that when it comes to mass production business models or cost competitiveness, Japan may not necessarily have the leading edge, but when it comes to quality and the ability to infuse unique cultural aspects into quality-sensitive products, I think that is the area where Japan can really succeed and even exceed expectations.

When you think about urban environments or different communities, I have had an opportunity to explore all types of different cities around the world. But when I think about all of those locations, I think that Tokyo is really one of those cities that excels no matter what element when it comes to this high level of aesthetic sensitivity. Whatever angle you look at the city, it is quite exquisite and aesthetically appealing from multiple perspectives. That has given rise to this sort of modern-day fashion fetish, and by that, I mean trendy individuals who have a really sensitive understanding of trends and fashion. Such individuals from all walks of life are the ones creating our Beams brand and they are able to produce very interesting creative ideas.  

I believe that BEAMS has a significant role to play in both strengthening the Made in Japan ethos, which remains highly relevant, and expanding as a brand that transcends traditional categories.



Your firm has many different labels under the Beams brand such as Beams, Beams Plus, Beams F, and Ray Beams. All these labels contribute to a different style of fashion, from casual wear all the way up to suits and formal attire. Which labels are you currently focusing on and what strategies are you employing to ensure the successful growth of your labels?     

I would say that, ideally, we are putting effort into all of our brands and strengthening them all together. However, considering the generational trends and when we consider our strategy globally, the two brands that we are really looking to push on a global level are Beams Plus and Beams Boy. Then when you think about labels that cover a smaller portion of the pie, they are quite specific and targeted segments. This includes our new emerging label known as Future Archive and another core label known as Vermeerist Beams. These are the two elements we are really looking to in order to showcase our engineering and design capabilities.

 

Beams Creative is part of the wider Beams Holdings Group, and it is in charge of research planning and product development. Can you tell us more about how you are able to design new and high-quality products consistently? Are there any new products that you are currently working on that you would like to showcase to us today?

First, I would like to clarify what Beams Creative as a company does. It does not necessarily do product development; that is still under the core Beams company. I would say that there are three major elements to Beams Creative. The largest area of activities is strengthening the branding of our labels, which includes advertising and marketing. Second, Beams Creative is involved in interior design. We have an architectural design team that conducts various interior design projects for stores. Finally, we have a B2B business where Beams Creative also conducts different collaborations and partnerships. Now, we have really expanded beyond the category of apparel and begun new and interesting collaborations with businesses that are in completely different sectors. We are talking about hotels, electronics, cars, or even food products.

When it comes to the wide spectrum of collaborations, we promote everything, from Cup Noodle all the way to space travel. There is no limit, and one example is that we have done collaborations with Nissin Cup Noodles but also collaborations for apparel for Japanese astronauts such as Mr. Noguchi, who have promoted our wear in space. 

 

One of your recent collaborations was with Columbia PFG, where you created a multi-pocketed fishing vest. How did this partnership come about? 

When it comes to Columbia, their strength is in fishing and outdoor sports, so something we looked at was ways to really draw upon the specific functional capabilities of the brand. We then look at how we can take those elements and bring them closer to a street brand in order to create something that could be viable for urban apparel and street fashion. That procedure is our strength, and it was why Columbia was interested in collaborating with us. This is something we have rolled out anytime we have conducted these sorts of collaborations.

We are always pursuing and looking for certain brands that have a very specific functionality, and then how that can then become interesting for streetwear. Examples can be seen in mountain gear like mountain parkas can then be used in cities as a jacket. I think this thinking is part of our history through a rich tradition of trial and error.

Nowadays more than ever there are more opportunities to bring sportswear into casual wear or even incorporate working apparel into street fashion; all in interesting and unique ways. I feel that we have continued to help the fashion industry here in Japan break boundaries, break genres, and break categories.

 

Earlier you mentioned how you are looking to push the Beam Plus and Beams Boy brands in overseas markets. Can you please explain what are their unique features and what are you providing to customers when they buy Beams Plus or Beams Boy products?

Actually, when it comes to Beams Plus, the concept is very clear. It is about going back to the origins of American lifestyle clothing, specifically the four foundations of men’s clothing. This traces its roots all the way back to a time when the American economy began to really grow and show its strength worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s.

We have clarified the four types of uniforms for American men. The first is based on White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) fashion, meaning suits and executive wear. The second would be considered blue-collar fashion, and this includes denim, chino, and workwear. Third would be military uniforms and military wear. Last is sportswear. We believe that these are the four basic foundations of men’s clothing in America and the basics of Beams Plus.

It is from these four foundations that you see fashion offshoots in Europe such as high fashion or streetwear. We are looking to see how we can continue to make this American clothing concept relevant while utilizing more new textiles and fabrics that are trendy today. This Beams Plus is a brand that even Ralph Lauren has highly appraised, saying that there are such brands worldwide, including in Japan, that have continued to excel and beyond what the US market can provide. This is something we believe has global relevancy and is a currency that is appealing even in the US.

Beams Boy is also a concept that is very easy to understand. It is basically the concept of tomboy fashion, the fashion of boyish girls, or more simply, men’s fashion for women. Essentially what I like to think we are doing is providing men’s fashion in women’s sizes.

This is something that holds relevance no matter the age or country. There are always going to be certain target audiences that find this sort of fashion appealing. Sometimes people mistake it for children’s clothing, but that is not the concept.



Something that is becoming more important is the in-store experience for customers. What technology is Beams Holdings implementing to create unique in-store experiences for its customers?

When we consider where our position is within the entire spectrum of the apparel industry, we do not really consider ourselves as a super brand nor the level of a fast fashion house. We think of ourselves as somewhere in the middle, and there we really want to be known as a brand that is relevant to the community and to everyday people. We want to be known as a brand that helps to build community and one that people want to be a part of. This is the kind of concept or the kind of feeling that we want to spread to this spirit of community, and this feeling is something that we really hope spreads not only among our staff but our clients and customers as well.

We do believe in order to manifest that goal, what is important is really the people and to continue to create a brand centered around the value of people. We believe that all the people behind our brand are the stars who help our brand function. When creating a brand, you have the designs, and you have the members of the media to promote the brand. That is how a brand begins to spread, and we believe that if we have 100 employees, we have  100 beams spreading our message out to the world. Each and every person is a star capable of shooting out beams of light.

From this concept, we have been rolling out this idea of utilizing the internet and technology to really connect our staff who are stars with our customers who are also stars. From there, we can really consider ideas on how we can provide services for our clients, customers, and staff using the online world. We are currently trialing a lot of these personalized experiences, connecting clients with our staff.

In fact, we have a book series essentially that demonstrates the lifestyles and fashion choices of our staff. The table of contents is each of our staff members and it is amazing to see their lifestyles and their choice of esthetics. Each book features about 100 to 150 of our employees. There are lots of books out there showcasing architects or designers, but we have come up with the idea of showcasing our staff and their lifestyles, hobbies, and interests. In this way, we want to connect our staff with customers who have similar interests as a sort of gateway into Beams. In a sense, our staff is becoming a hub or an influencer where those who are interested in their lifestyle can gather around them.



Do you have a particular fashion style or product that you would recommend to customers?

I do have to consider my age and position, so from that perspective, I am leaning towards Beams Plus or Beams F, which is formal wear like suits. However, I also like the youthful look and I love the ocean, so I do have a number of items from the Beams core brand. I actually adjust my style according to who I am going to meet that day. Today I am meeting with journalists, so I am wearing a suit, and this evening I am meeting with former Prime Minister Suga, so I am wearing a suit there too.



We know that Beams Holdings has locations in Taiwan and the United Kingdom, as well as offices in Paris and New York. Going forward, which countries or regions have you identified as key for growth and what strategies will you employ to expand further?

We are looking to continue to expand the number of stores we have in each region of Asia, for example, more stores in Taiwan, China, and Thailand. When it comes to Europe and North America, we want to continue expanding our distribution channels. We have offices in those regions, but it is actually difficult to open bespoke shops for a singular brand like Uniqlo or Muji. This means that for us the focus is more on expanding through the distribution channels and that requires B2C branding. For that, we are looking to open up stores that specialize in just branding and those locations are still to be decided.

For B2B in the apparel world, we are famous, but on a B2C level there is still not yet large-scale recognition of our brand and that is because there are not our stores in those regions. I think this is somewhere we need to push and strengthen our brand in order to become more widely recognized.

 

Your company has more than 30 different labels. How are you able to ensure the success of each of your different labels?

Well, one of the reasons for having this many labels is because the way in which we have continued to grow as a company is quite organic. It has been all about organic growth where slowly we started with a brand and then grew and developed, with the labels continuing to expand together with the employees. We started as an American lifestyle shop and much of our clothing was based on what you would find in university student dorms on the West Coast before moving to a more East Coast preppy style with Beams F. We were only known for men’s clothing and then women started wearing our products which pushed us to develop Beams Boy, which we mentioned earlier. This continued for each and every label, having this organic growth as our customers expanded and our employees' lives changed over time. The trends of the time and the wants of our customers have really resulted in the number of labels that we have.

While it is true that not all of our labels have been successful, however, no matter what, we have always tried to have one foot in the door of the rhythm of the times and the key trends that are resonating with people.

40 years ago, when I had children, I started to buy children’s clothing whenever I went abroad. I thought that children’s clothing abroad would be more trendy and I felt that there were not that many stores in Japan that were appealing. I had the idea to start a children’s brand under our umbrella to sell children’s clothing. At the time everyone was against my idea because many staff did not have children. Fast forward 30 years and our staff started having their own children and they started wanting this label too. That was when we felt the time was right to establish a children’s brand. As you can see, it is not necessarily about the president or the person at the top making all the decisions, it is more about growing organically together, building from real-life experiences that we can share. I think that is where our core strength really comes from and is something that is near and dear to all our employees’ hearts.

 

For the short term, what would you say is the main goal of this company and what dreams do you have for the future of Beams?

This is something I mentioned right at the start of our interview today. I really want Beams to be a vessel to expand the strength of Japan as a brand globally. I feel that there is a lot that Japan has to offer to the world and there is still limitless potential for how Japan can contribute to the world through its unique strengths. In a way I think that Japanese people have not even fully discovered these strengths, so as a president of a company I want to dig deeper and strengthen the nation of Japan’s brand through the lens of Beams. We believe that now is the best time to promote what is great about Japan worldwide, giving birth to a new culture through the process. Additionally, as a company, I really want to continue to strengthen Beams through our business of creating interesting and unique collaborations and partnerships that bring joy to people’s lives.


Interview conducted by Karune Walker & Sasha Lauture

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