“FIST BUMP,” part of the J-VAVE’s radio program “GRAND MARQUEE,” features Tokyoites.
Introduced by former professional BMX rider Hiroshi Uehara, the episode of May 9 welcomes Hiroaki Shitano, the founder of fashion brand WHIZLIMITED which started in 2000, and their flagship store WHIZ TOKYO marks its 20th anniversary this year. Shitano talks about the reason for diving into the fashion industry and what has driven him for the past few decades.
A humble beginning with a Macintosh computer
Celeina (MC): Let me give you a brief profile. Mr. Shitano started the brand “WHIZ” in 2000. The brand name was later changed to “WHIZLIMITED. This year, the flagship store “WHIZ TOKYO” celebrated its 20th anniversary. Furthermore, in 2015, the brand also won the Tokyo Fashion Award.
Takano (MC): Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of WHIZ TOKYO.
Shitano: Thank you very much.
Takano: It has been quite a long time.
Shitano: That’s right. It has become quite a long-established store in the rapidly changing Harajuku area.
Takano: It’s a fierce battleground, isn’t it?
Celeina: First of all, Mr. Uehara said that you are “Tokyo” in one word. Are you from Tokyo, Mr. Shitano?
Shitano: Yes, I am. Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku.
Celeina: I’m impressed. It’s Tokyo within Tokyo. I would like to ask you about fashion. When and how did you first become interested in fashion?
Shitano: My high school was a private school. The high school I went to had a private uniform. I had been listening to Western hip-hop and R&B music since junior high school, and when I entered high school, I was baptized into the subculture of fashion and music.
Takano: I actually went to a high school that had a dress code. It’s not like there was a high school that had a private uniform, but there was something about it. It was like we were all trying our best to be fashionable.
Shitano: Yes, that’s right. At that time, there were still a lot of fashion magazines, and it was the kind of school where everyone would read them together.
Celeina: I actually went to an all-girls high school and wore my own clothes. However, there were many rules. I couldn’t go as far as to enjoy fashion, such as wearing skirts of a certain length or wearing pants only during this season. I thought it was wonderful that everyone in high school was enjoying fashion together. I envy you (laughs). How did you start your brand once you fell in love with fashion?
Shitano: I fell in love with fashion so much that when I graduated from high school, I decided I wanted to make things, so I bought a Macintosh (Mac). At that time, there was no Internet and no one around me had a Mac, but I had the impression that I could design if I bought a Mac. I taught myself and started designing T-shirts.
Celeina: So you are self-taught! You can start from scratch, but the self-taught part requires a lot of effort, doesn’t it?
Takano: That’s right. Where did you start to launch your brand?
Shitano: As for WHIZ, it started in 2000, but after I graduated from high school, I printed T-shirts by myself, sold them to my friends, who wore them, and then their friends saw them, and so on. That’s how I did it for about 5 years.
Celeina: Even in this day and age, there are social networking services, but I think that word-of-mouth recommendations from the people you trust the most are the most powerful. So you were doing this even before social networking.
Shitano: Yes, that’s right: That’s right.
Staying loyal to regular customers. The core value of WHIZLIMITED
Celeina: The flagship store WHIZ TOKYO is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and you recently launched a special item to commemorate the 20th anniversary. What were your thoughts behind this?
Shitano: Not only on that occasion, but when we release a special item on a special occasion, we try not to announce it in advance. I want to sell to the customers who always support me, so I try not to invite other people. I always ask my friends and seniors to help me make something special. So I think that I value those who really like WHIZ.
Celeina: Mr. Shitano, it has been 20 years since you launched your brand out of your love for fashion. I wanted to ask you how you keep motivated to make a career out of what you love, since you tend to forget about it after a long time.
Shitano: I think the most important thing is to keep doing what you love for a long time, rather than making money. I do what I do by taking care of my customers and taking care of my products.
Takano: I see. I heard that you don’t hold sales either.
Shitano: No: We have never had a sale.
Takano: I guess you are thinking of the people who have cherished WHIZ for a long time.
Shitano: That’s right. Since the beginning, I have thought that it is difficult to be appreciated by many people, but I don’t want the people who have bought my products to feel bad about it.
Takano: I don’t want it to go on sale and have people say, “I bought it at this price, but it’s cheaper.
Shitano: That’s right.
Takano: I see. It’s really cool that this non-commercialistic feeling of Mr. Shitano’s beliefs is directly projected into the brand as well.
Celeina: That’s the secret to being loved for 20 years, isn’t it? Do you feel that the atmosphere of the town and the customers have changed in the 20 years since you opened your store in Harajuku?
Shitano: Twenty years ago, there were a lot of young Japanese, but now more than half of the customers are foreigners.
Takano: Harajuku is very popular among foreigners, isn’t it? Now, let’s play a song. I asked Mr. Shitano to choose a song that he would like everyone to listen to together on the radio at this time.
Shitano: It is a song by Kvi Baba, featuring AKLO and KEIJU. All three of them were involved in the project separately, but KEIJU was a model for my Tokyo Collection runway show, and AKLO and Kvi Baba wore clothes in the music video.
Celeina: You mentioned earlier that you also like Western music.
Shitano: I have always loved sports, and I am currently playing soccer and basketball. I like to watch them, but I also like to play them.
Takano: Where do you play soccer?
Shitano: I play with my dad’s friends in my area, and we have a lot of people of all ages, from elementary school students to friends who are almost 50 years old.
Celeina: You play against each other?
Shitano: Yes, we have quite a large number of people.
Celeina: I think it will be a great opportunity to communicate with people in the community.
Shitano: When I walk around town, people often say hello to me and tell me I am their father.
Takano: Who do you play basketball with?
Shitano: I play basketball with friends in the apparel industry, but I enjoy playing soccer in a different place, a place where I am not my normal self.
Takano: I like sports because it is a place where you can interact with a variety of people. Have you always liked sports?
Shitano: I played soccer in elementary school, tennis in middle school, and basketball in high school, so I have always liked sports.
Celeina: You are multi-sporty! FIST BUMP” is a circle of friends connected by “Goo-Touch,” and we ask you to introduce us to your friends.
Shitano: It’s a friend named HIDDY who runs a toy brand called “SECRET BASE” and also runs an octopus dumpling shop in Harajuku. He was originally good friends with a girl in my office. When I found out, I became very good friends with him.
Takano: In a word, what kind of person is HIDDY?
Shitano: The most interesting person in Harajuku.
Takano: HIDDY-san, I may have raised the bar (laughs). Thank you very much. Tomorrow, I will connect you to the most interesting man in Harajuku, HIDDY-san.
Celeina: FIST BUMP” Today we have Mr. Hiroaki Shitano of the apparel brand WHIZLIMITED. Thank you very much.
Shitano: Thank you very much.