Tote Trotting in Tokyo

  • Julia Gash
  • 6th December 2013

I’ve just opened my purse and found it awash with little, exotic coins that have holes drilled through their centre.  Ah yes, I went to Japan last week and still haven’t found time to unpack! 

Our own line of totes, “Talented” has found immediate success in the Far East and so I went to visit our distributor and a key retailer before I had finalized our next collection.  Apparently our bags are selling like “pancakes” and so I wanted to find out the secret to our success and to get to know more about the retail environment in Japan.  I had visited Japan a couple of times in the 1990s when my eponymous fashion brand was likewise a great hit and I joined a British business trade mission in March of this year when we were just getting Talented (Totes) off the ground.

In the four days that I was there I discovered that the Japanese love their totes!  Big, slouch style cotton totes were slung across slim shoulders, mini canvas bags were loved by ladies that lunch (perfect for bento boxes) and guys embraced the trend for totes too.

I even came across a young woman who was sporting one of the canvas bags that we've made for a customer.  I stopped her in the street and showed her my business card and pointed to the inner content label, which carried the same logo. I get a real buzz from spotting totes that we've printed and she thought she had met a famous designer from England so we both went away happy!

I spent hours wandering the narrow streets of Harajuko taking pictures of people carrying totes.  I did lose my way more than once in bustling Sibuya but discovered something new and interesting each time!  

I met up with Super Fashion Blogger, Mizuho Nishiguchi who gave me lots of background information into the Japanese retail environment. She also provided some insight as to why my particular style of illustration is popular in Japan. 

When I saw the hand written menus in restaurants it become clear.  I work in brush and black ink, combining imagery and text in linear form and ditch the use of Western perspective in preference to a flatter, Oriental style of composition as favoured by the Impressionists. 

So I can now put the final touches to Talented AW14 collection and begin a new label under my own name too with a little help from my friends in Tokyo, to whom I say Arigato and Sayonara!  (I’m sad to say that these are the only two words I learnt whilst I was there despite not speaking to a Westerner for the whole time.)