Beyond UNIQLO: Tips for supporting Japan’s indie fashion designers

By: Daz Skubich May 20, 20200 Comments
two women on the cover of FRUITS fashion magazine

Harajuku has been known as Japan’s fashion centre for decades.Over the years, Takeshita Street has attracted increasing numbers of  tourists, and street styles such as decora, lolita, and fairy kei have spread all over the world. But despite this growing global interest in alternative Japanese street fashion, the brands that began in Harajuku are slowly dying out.

Swimmer, a leading brand in kawaii culture, closed its doors in early 2018. Other brands have done the same, either permanently closing or moving to online-only storefronts. Even iconic publications like FRUiTS Magazine have died out, after documenting the evolution of Harajuku style for two decades. But what’s causing this decline in unique businesses?

Takeshita street in Harajuku

The answer is fast fashion, the mass-produced, affordable clothing often found in shopping malls and high streets. It is influenced by the changing trends of the high fashion and celebrity worlds, and new collections come out at a very high speed (hence the name). There are benefits to fast fashion, such as accessibility to clothing for those on low incomes, but the industry as a whole is extremely damaging. The manufacturing processes cause water pollution, the throwaway culture causes increased textile waste, and the affordability of the clothes comes at the expense of the factory workers, who are overworked and underpaid. 

In the case of Harajuku, fast fashion also kills individuality. Over the years, Takeshita Street has become increasingly commercialised, with stores such as WEGO, H+M, and Forever 21 taking the place of the more out-there brands that began the iconic styles of Harajuku. Many Japanese members of the alternative fashion community will not hang out in Harajuku any more, as increased tourism over the years has made it harder to just be. Tourists will act as if people wearing alternative fashion are spectacles, rather than simply people expressing themselves. 

So how can Western fans of Japanese alt-fashion help keep Harajuku brands alive? Although it is at odds with the current opinion that buying second hand is far better than buying clothes new, we must keep buying clothing directly from these independent brands in order to keep their doors open. Not only will this financially support the businesses, it shows that there is still interest in their products. Brands such as Angelic Pretty, Baby The Stars Shine Bright, and 6%DOKIDOKI  are not a part of fast fashion culture.

Angelic Pretty, for example, only releases limited numbers of every dress they make, and the pieces are high quality and durable. The main issue is the price. Making clothes that last for a long time and ethically manufactured costs significantly more than the alternative, so the price tag for the consumer is higher too. Financial barriers to buying higher-quality clothing are one of the main reasons that people turn to fast fashion in the first place. However, there are ways of supporting the Harajuku fashion scene without breaking the bank!

One of the things that makes Japanese street fashion stand out from fast fashion is its ability to form a community. Most major metropolitan areas will have a J-fashion community – you just might have to do a bit of digging to find them! You can usually find them at a local anime or comic convention, or by searching Facebook and other social media for groups. A common meet-up style for J-fashion communities is the swap meet, which can be  great places to get good deals on secondhand J-fashion! 

Attendees will either sell you their pieces for a decent price (often lower than online due to lack of shipping fees, and also ‘mates rates’), or accept trades for pieces on their wishlist. It’s the J-fashion equivalent of a clothes swap and it’s a great way to refresh your wardrobe! Clothing swaps and standard thrifting can also be a goldmine for finding J-fashion pieces. For more casual Harajuku styles not based on brands such as fairy kei and yami kawaii, you can find suitable pieces in any charity shop or thrift store. I’ve heard stories of people finding iconic 80s pastel jumpers from Adele knitwear in Goodwill for $5, when they usually resell for $75+! 

a pink storefront full of dresses

Secondhand sales and thrifting culture aren’t just a Western thing – there’s been a huge second hand and vintage market in Japan for years. One of my personal favourites is a curated vintage store and indie brand called SPANK! It carries pieces that fit an 80s, fancy pastel aesthetic that is to DIE FOR. There are 80s and 90s vintage pieces, upcycled pieces, and handmade jewellery and accessories; and the owner, Tavuchi, can often be found behind the cash register with a hot glue gun!

There is also a chain of thrift stores dedicated to Japanese street fashion, called Closet Child. These stores mostly carry lolita items and can be a gold mine for finding your dream dress in excellent condition. There are also plenty of online options for buying secondhand in Japan. Websites like Yahoo JP Auctions, (Rakuten) and Mercari are filled with Harajuku fashion pieces. Most of these websites don’t ship outside of Japan, but worldwide customers can use a shopping service to nab these pieces. 

If you’re wary of shopping overseas, there are loads of ethical and secondhand options right on your doorstep. One of the biggest sites for second hand Lolita is Lace Market, which is best described as Lolita eBay. Lolita YouTube LovelyLor made a very informative video explaining all the ins and outs of Lace Market, which I highly recommend checking out. Depop and Facebook sales groups dedicated to Harajuku fashion are also great avenues to check.  These sites all help to show the resale potential of lolita items. 

a rack of clothes with price tags
Closet Child

With fast fashion clothing, if you want to get rid of a piece, it generally ends up in a donation bin or the trash. Lace Market, however, will sometimes have listings for dresses that are still in good enough condition that people are willing to pay good money for them, even with multiple previous owners. The increased price of brands such as Angelic Pretty are worth it when you think of it more as an investment. Plus, many lolitas use the ‘sell a dress to buy a dress’ method, meaning your purchase of their secondhand piece could mean that they can buy something new directly from a brand, and the cycle continues.

Exploring indie brands is also a great way to get into J-fashion. Although most indie brands sell brand new clothing and accessories, a lot of these businesses will put the time and effort into producing their apparel in the most ethical way available to them. For example, one of my favourite artists, GeenieJay, recently founded a company that prints her designs on sustainably-made tote bags.

Indie brands are also more likely to pay their workers properly, if the company is more than one person. As an Etsy seller myself, I can also vouch for the feeling of joy that indie artists get when someone buys something they have made. Seeing people enjoying and wearing my products makes me so happy! You can get some really unique pieces from indie brands, and some places even make customised pieces, so you can really add a bit of yourself into your style.

Two women in punk style on the cover of FRUITS magazine

When I look at the plethora of options available for buying J-fashion, I can’t help but think, “Maybe Harajuku street style isn’t dying after all!” Unique street styles are still as alive as they were a decade ago, but they’re surviving by different means. Whether that’s by inspiring indie brands outside of Japan, or by maintaining a dedicated fan base through a guarantee of quality, they continue to shape the alternative fashion world.

So if you’re thinking of trying your hand at any of these styles, there are plenty of ways to do it that won’t hurt the environment, the workers, or your bank! The J-fashion community is an amazing thing to belong to, and it’s allowed me to make friends all over the world. J-fashion isn’t dying at all. It’s evolving, and thriving. 

About the Author : Daz Skubich

Daz Skubich is a freelance journalist currently working in diversity and liberation in student politics. In their spare time they can be found watching idol anime, playing Animal Crossing and participating in the worldwide Japanese fashion community. They also own an Etsy shop where they make pride flag-inspired pompom earrings, and button badges. You can follow them on Instragram and Twitter @paleghosty for more ramblings.

Read more articles from Daz Skubich

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