BoF Article ” The Gatekeepers of Japanese Fashion”

Photo: Undercover Aoyama

As I’ve learned more about fashion, my personal tastes have gravitated towards many labels based in Japan. To me many Japanese brands appeal due to the quality of product, but also due to the unique perspectives that designers from there provide. Many Japanese labels have had little opportunity (or in some cases interest) in expanding past the island’s borders. An article published yesterday on the Business of Fashion explores the phenomenon of ‘madoguchi’ who are essentially the gatekeepers of business in Japan to the international market. As I post many Japanese lines here, I think this article helps explain some basic issues that are unique to the fashion business there.

The excerpt from the article below does a good job of summarizing the role of madoguchi in the fashion marketplace.

In Japanese business culture, the ‘madoguchi’ (literally, ‘window opening’) was traditionally someone who sat as the designated contact person funnelling all dialogue between two companies. Over time, it has also come to refer to a host of independent specialists who – to varying degrees – act as scout, market researcher, mediator, cultural ambassador, interpreter and deal broker between Japanese and international markets. As in most other sectors, they are usually bicultural and bilingual but ‘fashion hunters’, as they’re sometimes playfully cast in our industry, are an especially diverse, valuable and enigmatic bunch.

“There are so many Japanese brands at the moment. They come and go, so it may be difficult to understand what’s relevant and what’s not, if your ‘madoguchi’ isn’t based here in Tokyo,” says Hidetaka Furuya, chief editor of The Fashion Post, a rare online source of fashion and lifestyle news published both in English and Japanese.

Furuya himself has operated as a ‘madoguchi’ – or “Japanese ambassador” as he prefers to call it – for LN-CC, an East London concept store which has since become one of the few places outside Japan to buy cult labels like SASQUATCHfabrix, Blackmeans, Nonnative, Unused and Sunsea.

“The thing is, I sometimes get the impression that Tokyo streetwear brands are consciously trying to be less visible on the scene [while others ] are not as visible as they should be because they’re shy, anti-mainstream or too-cool-for-school,” he continues. “Their attitude kind of reminds me of this Japanese proverb that means ‘a skilled hawk hides its talons.’ They often say they’re just making what they want to wear, producing really well-made things in Japan. They present their collections when they are ready; not during the Japan Fashion Week period. However, all this makes it difficult for foreign buyers to visit Tokyo to buy good Japanese labels.”


Read the entire article by Robb Young on “The Gatekeepers Who Hold the Keys to Japanese Fashion