Since the early 80s, Japan has been a wellspring for some of the most influential designers in the world and shows no signs of stopping. BED j.w. FORD is an up and coming Tokyo-based brand started by Shinpei Yamagishi and Keisuke Kohsaka that, with recent stateside stockists like H. Lorenzo and Haven, is part of the next wave of Japanese designers bringing their unique taste and vision to a new audience. We sat down with Shinpei to speak briefly about the brand's history, their inspirations and their views on the current state of fashion from a distinctly Japanese perspective.

How old are you guys and where are you from originally?

Both Keisuke and myself are 31, I grew up in Kanazawa which is sort of the London of Japan. The city is steeped in tradition but there’s always been a rebellious and artistic spirit among the youth. Keisuke is from Gunma, which is sort of the Antwerp of Japan; Jonio (Undercover) and Nigo (Humanmade, Bape) are both also from there so that had a big influence on his early interest in clothing.

What sort of things were you into growing up? Were skate culture and punk rock or hip hop something you were interested in when you were growing up? And did either of you study fashion?

Neither of us went to school for fashion. And we were never particularly interested in any genre of music but we do both share a passion for soccer and movies. Keisuke is a big movie buff with a penchant for spaghetti westerns and Gus Van Sant films. True skate culture was also never that big in Japan, but I do believe it had an influence on the clothing we wore. I grew up on magazines and found my personal style that way as I think a lot of my contemporaries did. I would seek out every issue that Jonio (Undercover) appeared in and was really inspired by the global success of Undercover. I also used to wear Bape and Supreme tees under my school uniforms so you could say I was fully immersed in the scene from a young age. Back then a lot of culture was forced down on us by what appeared in magazines and on TV, these days it’s all about the internet and social media which I don’t fully understand but there seems to be more of a dialogue between consumers and the industry which I think is important.

There are a lot of people who would like to start a brand but don't know where to start, how did you two meet and what made you decide you could start a brand together?

We met through mutual friends and were drinking buddies for years, we initially bonded over our views of fashion and love for brands like Sasquatchfabrix and Shin Murayama back when I was working at a vintage clothing store. Entry level costs to create a clothing line are low in Japan compared to other countries so it didn’t take much financially and Keisuke had been working with other brands for years so he had the connections already, while I was responsible for designing and creating a cohesive vision.

What was the idea behind the brand name?

We get asked this question a lot but it was actually very casual how we chose the name. There wasn’t much thought behind it so I can’t really give a good answer, I think it’s actually better that no one knows.

What would you say is the main inspiration behind your collections?

Tokyo is a really interesting city with a lot of different influences mixing and clashing so we’re able to draw inspiration from our daily life; strangers we meet in passing and the fabric and fit of their clothing. I also take a lot of inspiration from whatever I’m focused on in my personal life at that moment, usually it’s too obscure for words but the complex blend and distortion of cultural movements that occurs in Tokyo and the unique identities they form are what have inspired us the most. In general I think our brand ethos is about dressing up without looking too put together.

How do you go about building a collection? Where do you start?

The first step is conceptual, I start with a rough idea of a person or a silhouette and from there I start sketching to clarify and begin to collect the fabrics and design the individual pieces. After reviewing with Keisuke, we edit the collection further until we feel it’s complete.

I noticed you use a lot of bold and unconventional colors in your collections. Is there a reason for this and do you find these colors are harder to sell to stores?

They’re definitely hard to sell but they’re important to the cohesion of the collection and our brand identity. Colors like mustard, teal and burgundy combined with muted tones like gray and navy always been my favorite since the early days of Nike ACG. If you see my personal style you’ll find that I also wear a lot of black, but it just isn’t as interesting or unique for a brand to sell only black anymore and I don’t want stores to only buy what they see as their vision for our brand or what they believe our customers will buy.

Are there any other contemporary designers you look up to?

I have a deep appreciation for the likes of Yohji, Dries, and Haider. I’ve always been impressed by the amount of artistry they put into their work considering each collection of theirs only lasts one season.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would that be?

We have a lot of ideas, but something with Nike or Adidas would be at the top of our list. At the moment we aren’t looking to do any until our brand has matured more.

What are your favorite things about being based in Japan?

I think in certain ways Japan has a greater sense of freedom than America these days. There’s no hesitation when I want to speak my mind or decide to take part in new activities. As a country, Japan is very small with a more unified sense of identity than America so it’s easier for our brand to get feedback more quickly and adapt more quickly. At the same time I’d say this also makes life here boring and stale at times.

You seem to have a strong advantage with the high quality of the factories here, are you satisfied with their capabilities or is there anything you wish you could make but haven't been able to?

We haven’t worked elsewhere but the factories here are completely different. Japanese people are very careful and detail oriented, but even within Japan there are levels to the quality of the factories so we spend a lot of time choosing the specialized factories we build our relationships with. These days, like the rest of the world, the average age of factory workers is getting older and there are very few young people entering this workforce so I believe it will only get harder to find good quality factories in the future. There are some things we would like to make but haven’t been able to find the right factory in Japan for, so we’re holding off for now, but overall we’re satisfied with the specialized factories we work with and the quality level is much higher than we’d be able to find outside of Japan .

What's next for Bedford? I heard you're planning your first runway show, any plans beyond that?

Our first runway show will be at Tokyo Fashion Week this year, which is a big step for a small brand like ours to gain more exposure and hopefully help increase awareness outside of the Japanese fashion community. I think the runway show will help us to provide a more clear image to the consumer of our vision and help us to get honest feedback on a larger scale. Our goal for the future is to expand globally while staying small and continuing to fill our niche. The worst thing for our brand would be to water down our vision to appeal to a broader audience.

How about your downtime? Do you have a favorite place to vacation and relax when you’re not working?

Lately I find my only desire is to continue working on the brand so I’m not interested in traveling or anything else in my life, but my ideal place to relax would be in my hometown spending time with my family. For Keisuke it would probably be an onsen, I think he’s still planning his honeymoon as he just got married. Keisuke and I would love to go back to New York if we have time, the street culture and music there was the first to inspire us both from a young age.

Tags: bed-j-w-ford, studio-visit