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Nigo Talkasia Transcript

Lorraine-- Hello and welcome to Talk Asia, I'm Lorraine Hahn. Today's show comes to you from Tokyo, where my guest is fashion designer, DJ and style icon, Nigo -- the man behind cult brand A Bathing Ape.

The BAPE phenomenon began in 1993, with a small shop in trendy Harajuku. Nigo created clothes with his signature ape designs and camouflage prints, then employed the age-old marketing strategy of exclusivity.

He carefully rationed his creations -- producing extremely limited numbers, giving half of them away to trendy club-mates, and selling the other half.

BAPE clothes became the ultimate badge of street credibility, and demand spiked because there was hardly any supply.

In the past decade BAPE has expanded beyond Japan with stores in New York and London, and despite it's sub-cultural roots it is now a business empire that includes not just boutiques, but café's, hair salons and maybe even a hotel.

Block A

Lorraine-- Nigo, welcome to the show. Its very good to meet you. Thank you. I wanted to start by asking you-- BAPE stands for A Bathing Ape. For those of us and the viewers who don't understand the background behind this, could you explain what BAPE really means?

Nigo-- Well, it was meant to be sarcastic.

The name "A Bathing Ape" is short for a Japanese saying "a bathing ape in lukewarm water." It's a reference to the young generation being spoiled, pampered and too complacent.

Lorraine-- So it's very much like a social commentary then?

Nigo-- It wasn't really meant as a social message. It was just something that I felt was right at the time.

Lorraine-- Do you think that today's youth are still the same?

Nigo-- No, actually I think the younger generation today, kids around 18, have a firmer grip on reality and what's going on in society.

Lorraine-- It just seems ironic that, you know, that the kids, the teenagers, the young people that wear your clothes now, seem to be the ones you were teasing before, when you first started.

Nigo-- I think that's funny too.

Lorraine-- BAPE began as an epitome mainly because of exclusiveness, of being underground chic, etc. Is it fair to say that this was the key to your earlier success?

Nigo-- Back in the beginning, I was working as a magazine stylist and a club DJ. The store and clothes were all very much a side job- something I did just for fun. When I started the brand, I would make 50 shirts, give 30 to my friends and sell the other 20, which makes no business sense. So it was really not a business or even a real job.

The exclusivity part...that was unintentional too. I didn't intend to create demand by limiting supply. I just didn't like the idea of a lot of people wearing the same clothes. So since these were my designs, I decided to only make a few.

It really wasn't a conscious decision to cause a demand for the clothes this way, it just happened!

Lorraine-- Were you surprised at the success, then, that you got?

Nigo-- Rather than being surprised by the success and the publicity, I was actually rather annoyed by it all!

I used to refuse to do interviews with magazines who were featuring the boom of backstreet Harajuku fashion or iconic, cult designers. Because I really hated being labeled as part of those trends. So when BAPE first took off, I found things rather troublesome!

Lorraine-- Nigo, you collaborated with a number of big brands, Pepsi, MAC. Is this a way of your positioning yourself in terms of going more mainstream. Is that what we can interpret from this?

Nigo-- Yes, the collaboration with Pepsi was a move in a new direction for me. There are so many new brands being created all the time in Japan, and I was faced with the dilemma of how to differentiate us from the others.

I was very nervous and scared about going mainstream. To be honest I would have preferred staying underground and cool, rather than appealing to the masses. But when I got Pepsi's invitation, I thought about it and realized that it'd be a good challenge to be a major player. So with that in mind, I did the collaboration with Pepsi.

Lorraine-- Any more collaborations in the works?

Nigo-- I'm not really thinking about any now. I get many offers, but I usually turn them down.

Lorraine-- Wow. Is there a conflict, do you think, between lets say, growing a company and trying to maintain its original appeal? For example, being exclusive in, let's say, your case.

Nigo-- No, I don't really think so. What we're doing now is working out well for us.

For each design we have, we are probably able to sell between one and two thousand T-shirts. But I still don't want too many people wearing the same thing, so we're not interested in increasing the number of sales per design.

Instead, we would rather increase the number of designs we have. So we're keeping the production numbers at just a few hundred. Right now, I think that's a good balance.

Lorraine-- So the criticisms, for example, that you're selling out, are unfair?

Nigo-- I don't care at all about criticism, or what other people say. I think it's better to have some comments, whether that is good or bad, than to be ignored.

We're aware that we have to move forward, and we're always trying to always do it in the best possible way.

Lorraine-- I know BAPE is also outside of Japan, and what are your global plans, lets say, to bring NAPE outside further to various countries in the world?

Nigo-- I want to bring more of BAPE to the US, increase its exposure there. And in Asia too, places like Hong Kong would be good.

Lorraine-- Nigo, what is your ultimate goal?

Nigo-- BAPE, to me, is not just a clothing company, but a lifestyle company.

I want to offer services that would make life more convenient for people.

I already run a BAPE hair salon and a café. In terms of the future, I want to have a collaboration with an airline company, maybe even paint a plane with my camouflage designs.

But my ultimate dream is to have a hotel and run it as an example of a cool lifestyle.

Lorraine-- Nigo, we're going to take a very short break. When we come back, we'll talk to Nigo about another big love of his, music. And we'll see if we can get some tips on what's the latest hot craze. So don't go away.

Block B

Lorraine -- Welcome back to Talk Asia. We're in Tokyo and my guest is Nigo. Nigo how did you get interested in the first place with fashion and with design?

Nigo -- There was a popular American rap group called Run DMC. I saw their video and found them very cool.

That's probably when and how my interest in fashion and trends started.

Lorraine -- What about music. How did you get interested in music?

Nigo -- It was the same with music. Through Run DMC I got into hip-hop.

I bought two turntables and a mixer. And it was around that time that I started working as a DJ.

Lorraine -- What about as a child? Did you listen to Japanese music? Or western music?

Nigo -- Well I did also listen to Japanese pop music, just like any other person in Japan. But from about the 6th grade, I got interested in western music -- I started listening to the Beatles, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley and that influenced me too.

Lorraine -- Now this DJ culture, I know you were a DJ and I've seen the wonderful set you have downstairs. It must have been a very unique sort of culture, lifestyle for you.

Nigo -- Oh it's hard to describe, it was great!

The club culture was so new and very fresh at that time. It amazed me because back then, I never thought of making sounds by scratching records. It shocked me that people were doing it!

Lorraine -- From music DJ-ing you got into this business world and developing this phenomenon that you have now. It started, and you mentioned this earlier- very small shop, 1993. Where did you have the money to start this? I mean, I know you started it very small, but it still takes an investment and a commitment on your part, right?.

Nigo -- Well, the money...I borrowed about 4 million Yen from an acquaintance, which took me a year to re-pay. The person had the shop location, and he lent me both money AND the shop! I was lucky.

Lorraine -- Wow. Where did you learn how to do business? Trial and error?

Nigo-- I don't really remember how I did it. Of course, I didn't know anything about business. I just wrote down every sale I made into the account books and I went to the bank everyday.

I guess I learnt to do business by accumulating practical experiences. I went to fashion editorial school, so I really knew nothing about business back then!

Lorraine -- Were there any major obstacles that you had to come across, and overcome?

Nigo -- Difficulties? I do remember one thing. In the beginning, I had put my ape designs clothes at 40 boutiques and shops, but those shops also sold other brands. So I did something to differentiate my products from the others- I pulled my products from those shops and instead set up my own shops nationwide to sell APE products only. The sales dropped dramatically and it was a tough time for me, now the decision has proven to be the right one- and I'm glad!

Lorraine -- You still retain 100 percent ownership and artistic control over the company. Why do you do this? I mean, is it important to be hands on all the time?

Nigo --That's just my personality. If I do something, I really dislike not seeing everything through to the end. After all, I'm doing this for my own satisfaction, not for other people's opinions, since I don't care what other people think.

So I like being involved 100 percent and working only with my trusted staff. That's the only way I can be happy doing things.

Lorraine-- But Nigo, as the company grows and you tell me you want to do a hotel and you want to work with an airplane company, for example, how do you have the time? Do you sleep?

Nigo--I do have time to sleep. In fact, I sleep quite well! Just as I have grown and made progress these last 13 years, my staff -- the people I trust -- has also grown. We can share some of the work load.

I come up with the original idea, check on the production in the middle and check the completed products again at the end.

In between all that, there is time to do other things.

Lorraine-- People call you a trendsetter. Do you see yourself that way?

Nigo-- I completely do not see myself that way at all! The people who have labeled me are just doing so because it's easy and convenient. I don't consciously do anything to set trends -- all I do is think about what I would enjoy doing, or what kind of music I would consider good. The clothes I wear and the music I make or listen to are all based on my own feelings and preferences. To me, trends are just things made up by the media.

Lorraine-- Have you changed? Have you seen yourself change? Not only personally, but maybe through your designs through the years?

Nigo-- I think I'm still good to go as I am for a while longer, at least until I'm 40 years old. That's another 5 years from now. When I pass 40, the way I think or what I like to wear might change. Maybe then I will consider retiring.

Lorraine-- You want to retire at 40 years old? (laugh) That's very young. What will you do with your time.

Nigo-- Well maybe not retiring, I'm thinking more of taking more of a backseat.

Lorraine-- I know you said you weren't, very humbly, that you weren't a trendsetter just now, but what is cool? What should people be looking out for?

Nigo-- That's a very difficult question. I know that trends in fashion tend to get planned far ahead of time. But for me, thinking that far ahead is difficult -- I am a person who, if I like something, I want to have it now, wear it now. So it's always difficult to answer the question of what will be cool NEXT.

Lorraine-- What about now?

Nigo-- I think what I am wearing this because is the coolest look now.

Lorraine-- Al Pacino t-shirt?

Nigo-- This is my design! We got the license for it. And jeans like this, you know, they look like they're used clothing...the sneakers, the diamonds ... big watch...

Lorraine -- It's cool for you Nigo. I don't know if I can see myself wearing that and be cool.

Nigo-- You'd look fine! Don't you think? (hahaha)

Lorraine-- Nigo, we're going to a take very, very short break, another short break. When we come back, we'll find out what Nigo's like at home. Stay with us.

Block C

Lorraine-- Welcome back to Talk Asia. My guest today is the man behind a bathing ape, Nigo. Nigo when you were growing up, were you a cool kid?

Nigo-- I think I was relatively weird as a child. When I was little, I was the sort of child who would cry for certain things that I really wanted!

Lorraine -- What were some of your biggest influences as a child?

Nigo-- That's a hard question too. Maybe toys? Both my parents worked when I was young, so I spent a lot of time alone. But they gave me a lot of toys, so you could say I grew up alone with them. That was a big influence....

Lorraine Were you a loner? Or, did you have a lot of friends? Or did you like to be alone playing with your toys?

Nigo-- I remember playing alone until the middle of elementary school.

Lorraine-- Now, would you consider yourself very Japanese?

Nigo-- Completely japanese.

Lorraine-- Not the way you dress though, right?

Nigo -- Actually, this is a very typical modern Tokyo style. So I'm really very Japanese after all.

Lorraine -- You know there's mystery that surrounds you. Not much is written about, you know. Why is there this mystery?

Nigo -- They say that often. I've also heard that I'm a very scary person. But when you meet me, I'm a pretty normal guy, don't you think?

Lorraine-- Scary guy?

Nigo-- I don't really smile much in pictures in fashion magazines. It seems that people who see those pictures think- they think I'm scary.

Lorraine -- Oh, you should smile more ...because of those teeth! (laugh) you should show off those teeth. Is it... it's true, isn't it? It's lovely. When did you get it done?

Nigo-- 2 years ago. This is also for fashion.

Lorraine -- Real diamonds? Can you eat and do everything normal like normal teeth?

Nig-- I can do everything normally.

Lorraine -- That is amazing. That is one of a kind. I don't know anybody else who would have diamond studded teeth, all the way around. Correct? That is amazing.

Loraine -- You have come across in many interviews, before, as being very quite, very shy. Some people have called you a recluse. Are those fair statements about you?

Nigo-- I guess that's actually true, But it really depends on the people I'm with. When I'm with close friends, I can really talk and laugh a lot.

Lorraine-- Tell me something that people don't know about you Nigo. Is there something that you would share with us?

Nigo-- Well, I'm really just a normal person, a really regular guy. I'm what Japanese people would call an "otaku" -- a collector. I collect all sorts of things -- guitars, cars, watches. I get obsessed with things and I chase them like a maniac. So I'm an otaku, in a good way!

Lorraine-- I know you collect star wars. I see Louis Vuitton, planet of the apes... How did you get started in this collection? For fun?

Nigo-- I've been collecting those for about 17 years. Those are the collections that I started when I came to Tokyo and Ive been adding to them ever since.

Lorraine-- What drives this interest? I mean there's so many things you could collect. Yet you chose to collect certain things, right, you can't collect everything.

Nigo-- For me, there is a really clear divide between things I'm interested in and the things I'm not. The things I like, I tend to like them a lot and like them for a long time, so the collection tends to build up. Sometimes it contributes to my work and designs, so I try to see them as investments too.

Lorraine-- Why star wars?

Nigo-- Well, I really like the movie. I really like the way the characters are set up and the way the story is developed. And I think the way George Lucas directs, how he oversees everything himself, is amazing.

Lorraine-- Nigo, before we let you go. You have done very, very well for yourself. What makes you happy these days? What is important to you?

Nigo-- Well, owning things, I guess! I like buying things. When I go shopping, I buy so much that I often use up all of my money. It sounds weird but that really makes me happy. If I lose this materialistic desire, I think it will be the end of me, as I know myself!

Lorraine-- Nigo, thank you very much for spending so much time with us. Thank you. We've been spending time here in Tokyo with Japanese DJ, designer, and trendsetter, Nigo.

I'm Lorraine Hahn. Lets talk again next week.

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