We recently took the time to profile Japanese outdoors brand Snow Peak. Originating in 1958, the brand have become known for their attention to detail, minimalistic style, and high-performance equipment. In 2014 the brand created the apparel arm of the company under direction of Lisa Yamai, Vice President and granddaughter of founder Yukio.
Snow Peak is now internationally recognized as a cult Japanese outdoors brand by both camping gurus and style enthusiasts, merging contemporary design sensibilities alongside age-old craft and modern fabrications.
With stores throughout Japan but only three outside its home shores, the brand continues to steadily grow. Most recently, Snow Peak opened a three-floor storefront in St James’s, London. Its first UK outpost and a stone’s throw from fellow Japanese brand 45R, the store is a Mecca for fans of titanium mugs, pile fleece, taped seams, and technical garment design.
We took the time to chat with Emily Dillon (Wholesale Manager) and Kenya Mitsui (Business Development Manager and Japanese transplant in London) to discuss the opening of the store, how things are going and what’s next for the Snow Peak in its newly adopted European market.
The basement of the London outpost is dedicated to Snow Peak tents, shelters, and camping equipment (image via Snow Peak)
Having worked in the industry for a number of years and experience with Nigel Cabourn and Filson, Emily’s role focuses on wholesale management and building the brand’s image with independent retailers here in the UK. Passionate about the outdoors and with key links to Snow Peak in Japan, we wanted to understand what drew Emily to the brand and how its transition into the UK and European market has gone so far.
Heddels (H): Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You recently took on the role of Wholesale Manager at Snow Peak, having worked in the industry for a while. What drew you to the brand?
Emily Dillon (ED): After I left Filson, I spent a lot of my time outdoors. In between quite varied freelance jobs I walked across Spain, I spent four months in a surf camp in Morocco and spent most of my time living, quite literally outside. I wasn’t sure that there was a brand that combined my love of the great outdoors and traveling along with considered design. To be honest I wasn’t considering returning to the fashion industry but then Snow Peak got in touch.
I interviewed with Lisa Yamai, Vice President and granddaughter of the founder of Snow Peak Yukio Yamai, and she just amazed me. Not since I first met Nigel Cabourn as a textile student have I come across such an inspiring designer.
I totally respect that she is part of a huge Japanese company but within that created a whole new area of outdoor apparel that led to a new market in technical clothing which is well designed and fit for purpose. The way Lisa talks about form, functionality, and fabrication is so exciting to me. In the same way that Nigel takes reference from military garments and sports that he is enthusiastic about, Lisa has a depth of knowledge in traditional Japanese clothing and a love of camping. I knew from meeting her over a year and a half ago Snow Peak was a company that I really wanted to work for.
One of my favorite things about Snow Peak is that it has such a strong identity as a company. So many outdoor brands are about climbing the highest mountain or running the fastest mile. But at Snow Peak the emphasis is on connecting to the outdoors. Leaving your phone packed away and connecting to nature and the people around you.
In Japan they talk about restoring humanity, which I am not sure translates that well into English but I think that it is really good for everyone’s mental health to take time being mindful and enjoying nature and each other’s company.
H: With the creation of the UK store, the brand is continuing to expand beyond its home shores. Tell us about how you’ve managed this transition and expansion within the UK?
ED: I don’t think I could claim any part in managing the transition! I feel lucky to have been a small part of it. Kei Saito, who I first worked with at Nigel Cabourn over twelve years ago has been the driving force behind the UK expansion of Snow Peak.
He has done an amazing job of finding and negotiating our store in St James’s and building the business with the key wholesale accounts in the UK and Europe. I’m very lucky that I have been able to join the company at a time where so much is happening and be able to be a part of it.
Compared to the 300 employees we have in Japan, the UK is a tiny start up business. I feel privileged to work with a great international team in Japan and to be surrounded by a diverse and talented team in the UK.
H: How has the reception been in the UK (and Europe) to Snow Peak?
ED: Absolutely incredible. Talking about the brand gets me really excited and as many of the retail staff who have experienced my staff training would probably agree, I talk far too much and get very carried away! I also spend a lot of my time at international tradeshows with buyers from all over the world and they recognize how unique the brand is. I’m really lucky that I am working with some of the best stores in the UK.
Although well known in the fashion industry to the camping community in the UK, we are still relatively new, and we are hoping to introduce the Japanese way of camping to the masses! We regularly run events in our store in St James’s Market. Once a month we hold a Snow Peak Day in store which consists of really interesting and hands-on workshops.
Kenya is a natural at tent demonstrations and we host activities the whole family can get involved with. Last month our creative event was trying out Japanese Calligraphy and this month we are teaching people to make accessories out of paracord. If anyone is interested in joining us for any of these future workshops I recommend signing up to our newsletter to hear all about the events we are holding.
They are a really relaxing way to spend an afternoon and our store is really beautifully designed and doesn’t feel like a traditional retail space.
H: What’s on the agenda for this year, anything exciting planned? (Both with the brand generally and in the UK)
ED: All our event plans are on hold at the moment due to Covid-19 but one we’d love to organize – once we’re back to some kind of ‘new normal’ – is a Snow Peak Way! Which is a Snow Peak hosted camping event. In Japan we hold over thirty a year. It is a chance for Snow Peak customers, enthusiasts and staff to come together to enjoy camping together.
Whichever job role you hold within Snow Peak, albeit a board member or retail staff, you attend these events. I was lucky enough to be flown over to Kochi to experience this first hand. There was a typhoon on its way to Kochi when we arrived but that is a whole other story…In short the rain that ensued was biblical but it gave me a first-hand experience of the superior performance of Snow Peak tents.
The fire pit is one of the most iconic Snow Peak products and the word for bonfire in Japanese is ‘takibi’. A key part of the Snow Peak Way is what we call ‘Takibi Time’, which is at dusk, and we sit ’round a fire with customers and discuss their camping needs.
We listen to their suggestions to improvements they think we can make to our products. We then feed back to our R&D team and hopefully a new product is started or an existing line improved. We really hope to host this event in the UK. Eventually we also hope to open a Snow Peak campsite.
Currently, Kenya and I are competing about which one of us should move to the countryside and manage the campsite! (Sadly I think that as Kenya is our camping expert—he has the upper hand.)
There are so many exciting projects planned, and I could talk for hours but one of my favorite products we are releasing this year is our second shoe in collaboration with New Balance. The first shoe was incredible and really comfortable and the second is a feat of footwear engineering.
It is a trainer that contains a camping slipper that can be a high top, or a low top. We’re really excited about the launch and working with the New Balance team.
Kenya Mitsui has worked with Snow Peak in Tokyo and London since 2018. With a passion for outdoor adventure and thirst for exploring the countryside, Kenya spent large amounts of time in the wilds of Japan and a substantial period in New Zealand.
Incredibly familiar with relevant outdoors equipment, his role at Snow Peak London centres around fostering an outdoor community in this new market for Snow Peak. So with such a unique role and experience with the brand in Japan, we thought we’d run a few questions by him too.
Heddels (H): Tell us about your work with the brand in Japan and the UK?
Kenya Mitsui (KM): I feel that my work with Snow Peak is to create communities and environments to go camping, as one of the solutions to take back your happiness from a stressful urban life. I started working with Snow Peak in 2018 at one of our stores in Tokyo as a Sales Associate and I enjoyed talking with customers (perhaps I should rephrase as ‘camping comrades’) about our favorite campsites or gear.
I was fortunate that I had so much time to test our products during camping trips in Japan and was able to enjoy camping with family or friends. It feels very safe and reliable to use the highest quality gear in the outdoor environment, which is a real requirement when you want to have a fun time with your camping group!
I’m happy to see people discovering nature’s potential, for me the moment of being relaxed in nature and retrieving some sensitivity makes my day. Creating these moments for others is the job that I’ve been doing in Japan and what I’ll continue to do here in the UK.
H: What is the appeal of Snow Peak for you?
KM: As a company we have a mission of “restoring humanity” which is directly translated from Japanese. This is expressed through everything we do and reflected by the Snow Peak Way. It is an opportunity to create more connections to the outdoors and foster relationships with our customers.
H: Are there any differences in the Snow Peak customer in Japan and the UK?
KM: It is remarkably different in the UK and Japan; we have more customers looking for clothing in the UK, whereas in Japan it’s quite the opposite where we have more customers for camping equipment.
Part of the reason is that ‘Auto Camping’ or ‘Car Camping’ is very popular in Japan but not so much in the UK, and as we are the first pioneers of this activity in Japan we’ve come to be known very much as an outdoor equipment company (that also has outdoor apparel). But we’ll be proactively creating more access and ways to engage the with the outdoors, so it doesn’t really matter whether that is through apparel or camping equipment.
All our products are developed by outdoor enthusiasts at Snow Peak, intended for peaceful time in nature and even sometimes indoors too.
H: What are your favorite Snow Peak items and why?
KM: It would be the Pack and Carry Fire Pit…or tents, Ofuton sleeping bags, or outdoor furniture. There are many! But one great aspect of the Pack and Carry Fire Pit is that you can sit around the fire with people and enjoying moments in nature.
I love the back story and R&D for this product from 1996, which was to make influence the establishment of a campsite rule which prohibited direct fire to the ground, which nowadays is very common.
Needless to say it’s very durable and versatile for use as a BBQ too, I like how it has a simple pillar of fire thanks to the inverted triangular shape which makes for a beautiful site when camping. The Takibi Vest made from fire resistance fabric is my favorite clothing to wear outdoors, especially for Takibi Time. It’s very convenient with several pockets in the front and a big back pocket to let you have free hands in the outdoors.