Nap, Inc. – Entrepreneurship Crafted in Okayama
There are many reasons why we love denim: the fades, the history, and the craftsmanship are the first few that spring to mind. While interviewing many brands, you realize that there’s another underestimated element that actually plays a central role: entrepreneurship.
Levi’s was born out of innovation and entrepreneurship with riveted denim, and so are many brands nowadays. Just when you thought you had seen everything, you can still find brands that have been out there doing things differently, like Okayama based workwear, denim, and lifestyle brand Nap, Inc.–a place all denimheads ought to stop by during their next Japanese denim pilgrimage.
What is Nap, Inc.?
Nap is the mother company of four different brands, and at the same time a restaurant located somewhere in Okayama’s mountains. The main brand is Superior Labor, started in 2007 as a leather and accessories label, which progressively grew into a wider casual wear proposition, including denim.
Hachigahana is their brand that’s all about localism and the mountain lifestyle. Even their catalog is made of clothes and accessories like canvas bags, rain coats made out of dead-stock French military fabric, gardening accessories and bird houses.
Then comes & Things, which is a sort of outlet to express their artistic approach of craftsmanship: they’ll create a single reference because they feel like it, and if someone buys, then that’s great. If not, they can still keep it on their wall. There’s finally the up and coming 40s inspired work wear and denim brand Muller & Bros., which we’ll be covering in a separate article.
What’s so special about it?
Firstly and most obviously, the space. Usually, most denimheads visiting Okayama go to Kojima’s Jeans Street and/or may have the privilege to visit some factories. For those of you that are planning to visit Okayama, then make sure you add Nap, Inc. to your route.
Somewhere in Okayama’s deep countryside, in the middle of the mountains, husband and wife team Makoto and Yoshimi have built a space that’s like an oasis in the desert.
They used to own one factory in Okayama and another one in Kurashiki, but it was both costly and unpractical; so they looked for a land and found the current space, which came with an abandoned elementary school. Makoto comments:
As far as location is concerned, my approach consisted in picturing where cool designers were working. I basically arbitrarily imagined that they all lived outside of the city in interesting places like here.
They renewed the school and turned it into their atelier, where they produce 90% of their collections. Further down the slope, they built a restaurant that also serves as a space to showcase both Hachigahana and & Things.
Purism and localism
Secondly, there’s their work ethics. When you come to Nap, Inc., just by looking at the space and its aesthetics, you know you’re dealing with people with good taste and high expectations. And that’s clearly translated in their brand The Superior Labor’s motto: we take pride in craftsmanship and never skimp on time and effort. On their vision and approach, Makoto and Yoshimi explain:
Brands usually have an idea in mind and request a factory to produce the pieces they’ve designed. Items are usually judged upon criteria such as fabric quality or what sewing machines were used in the process. The problem is that brand owners have no influence whatsoever upon these very factors. […] So what is it that we wanted to do? We like fashion and we wanted youngsters to experience the whole construction process, not just a brand delegating everything to a third party factory.
In Japan, there’s a clear distinction between “kikaku (企画)”, which basically means “project” and stands for the job that consists in managing projects while outsourcing all or parts of the production process. So when you talk to people doing business here, some might insist that they do kikaku and also production. Makoto and Yoshimi add:
We’re a brand, but we’re not just designers. We make samples, discuss all together, fix what we don’t like, improve each piece, bring them to an exhibition, and if they’re popular then we produce the pieces accordingly. Say, If designers are white collars and craftsmen blue collars, that’s something we wanted to avoid and keep things horizontal. Everyone’s doing every step of the work, otherwise we consider they couldn’t call themselves craftsmen. They’re designers and craftsmen.
On top of the respect they hold for their work, they also made sure their business is fully incorporated in their environment. As we wrote earlier in the article, Hachigahana and & Things are the most obvious examples of that local approach.
This approach is also well translated in their food menu, which proposes meals essentially composed of vegetables, meat and dairy products produced by neighboring companies.
So, if you’re planning on visiting Okayama, then make sure to include a stop at Nap, Inc. You will have to find someone with a car to drive you there. Do not rely on the car’s GPS too much, Google Maps seemed to be more accurate when we went.
2395-5 Hachigahana Ueda-higashi Kibi Chuo-cho Kaga-gun
709-2411, Okayama Japan
All photos by Yuri Matsuoka