It’s no secret that in recent decades, Japan has become the cultural capital of street style and fashion innovation. From street to heritage to couture, Japan’s seemingly organic style development in the latter half of the twentieth century is seismic.
Reinforcing this is a sheer dedication and strong undercurrent aligned to sub-cultures and recreational movements. Take selvedge denim for example; when the supply of vintage mid-century 501s wasn’t plentiful enough to fulfill demand, the Japanese created their own interpretation (which some may argue are better than the original) and made their own selvedge on antique shuttle looms.
From there, the ‘Osaka 5’ was born and the face of denim was never the same. The same could be said for sneaker culture with Nike collaborations that are now more sought after than the original blueprints they were built upon, Japan’s obsession with sneakers and streetwear created a world of its own.
While this cultural blend may seem like plagiarism to some, this should be dismissed as a weak argument based on envy. As highlighted in the denim documentary Blue Gold, the Japanese “are more passionate about our Americana and our culture than we are of our own culture”.
It is this dedication, attention to detail and consumption of knowledge that demands respect (and not just for old American blue jeans). It has been the catalyst for so many pivotal moments in fashion and street culture, you only have to glance at Nigo and his enviable collection of cultural objects (see here) which has infinitely influenced his work from Nowhere, to BAPE and Human Made, for evidence of this approach.
The Creation of a Style Genre
So where am I going with this? Well, it’s not only denim and streetwear that have been impacted. Another category that the Japanese do oh so well, is outdoor gear. Appreciating the practical application, functionality and style of outdoor gear, climbing, hiking and mountaineering garments are coveted in Japan.
Early adopters of brands like Patagonia, Gregory, Kelty, The North Face, Columbia, and Arc’teryx, both new and vintage outdoor clothing is a trend of its own, from the streets of Harajuku to the trails of the Yatsugatake Mountains. As a result, Japan has given birth to outdoor brands of their own which have developed a dedicated following outside the shores of their homeland. One such brand, is Yukio Yamai’s Snow Peak.
Mount Tanigawa and the Creation of Snow Peak
Founded in 1958 in Niigata Prefecture of Japan, a mountainous region well known for its stunning peaks. The name itself originates from Mount Tanigawa, a famous Japanese mountain almost 2,000 meters high, sitting on the border of Gunma and Niigata Prefecture.
Yukio Yamai, the brand’s founder, would repeatedly challenge himself on the slopes of the mountain, which has been the cause of over 800 deaths since its early exploration in the 1930s to the present day. Dissatisfied with the availability of mountaineering gear at the time, he took the initiative to create his own offering of superior product which would be suitable for battling thousand foot peaks.
Fortunately, his hometown of Tsubame Sanjo, boasted a number of high skilled metal workers. This was the birth of Snow Peak.
While the appeal and reach of the brand is now on an international scale, the philosophy and guiding principles of Snow Peak remain the same; “Snow Peak creates legacy-grade gear and apparel, prioritizing minimalist and elegant design details so as not to distract from the natural beauty of the outdoors.” And what’s more, the stainless steel, cast iron, and titanium products offered are still made using “a historic craftsmanship process that has been passed down over generations in Niigata, Japan.”
A key function of the outdoor equipment is that it’s designed to function and work together, so that the user can build a fully integrated and independent system for surviving in the great outdoors. With further focus on clean and sophisticated design, Snow Peak want their customers to have restorative outdoor experiences powered by their product.
The landscape of Niigata still acts as inspiration for the brand and is home to Snow Peak’s Global Headquarters. But how did a brand which was started over 60 years ago and based on climbing hardware become a cult Japanese menswear icon known the world over?
Since 1980, Yukio’s son, Tohru Yamai, took on ownership of the company and is largely credited with its global recognition. Bringing the brand to the US in 1999, Tohru continued to carefully craft the brands image as one which inspires people to connect with the outdoors, be mindful of their environment and “find harmony with nature” (as well as making some really solid gear).
Since 1999, Snow Peak has opened two stores on US soil, one in Portland and another in New York City. The brands presence and offering was furthered even more when Lisa Yamai, granddaughter of Yukio, launched Snow Peak Apparel in 2014. Most recently Snow Peak has launched a new three-floor London store (more about that later) which has further cemented its position in style culture for the United Kingdom and Europe.
Snow Peak Apparel
The apparel line of the company has been crucial to the brand’s development in recent years and solidified its presence in the fashion world, as well as a leading outdoor equipment specialist. The brand’s apparel has developed a cult following in both the East and West by applying the same level of attention to detail, high quality components and Japanese style to garments which work as well in the city as they do in the mountains.
Coming at a time when the consumer values the functional, practical and well-made more than ever before, Snow Peak enriches popular silhouettes with a stand out Japanese flare and some of the best fabrics on the market. A new generation of outdoor enthusiasts has been inspired to take the mountains on weekends away from the city in order to perfect the precarious balance of modern day life.
Lisa Yamai trained in fashion design and has noted her inspirations to include Comme Des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto, as well as the world of costume design. Having studied at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, she has remarked that costume design has a certain purpose and intention, combining beauty and function (much like Snow Peak’s wares).
Speaking to Vogue, she notes that “I wanted to make outdoor clothes that you wouldn’t just wear at the weekend—clothes you could wear seven days a week, that will make the outdoors feel more familiar.” While Lisa’s design background and small stature could make you think that she isn’t the outdoors ‘type’ —this couldn’t be further from the truth. With a fondness for fly and Tenkara fishing as well as hiking, Lisa is undoubtedly her father’s daughter.
Her role at Snow Peak has been crucial in shaping the brand’s image in recent years and allowed her to merge her outdoor experiences with a design sensibility, and a desire to use the best fabrics and utilize the functionality which contemporary technology allows.
In just a few years Snow Peak’s apparel line has mustered up an impressive list of collaborators including Danner, New Balance, Journal Standard, Teva, and Staple Design. These haven’t been collaborations for collaborations sake either and while some may seem predictable (like Oregon natives Danner), each partnership has produced something new, something re-worked and something eminently Snow Peak.
Take the New Balance collaboration from AW19; rather than simply offering a new colorway in a popular silhouette (990 anyone?), Snow Peak enlisted the vision and cutting edge approach of NB’s Tokyo Design Studio in order to create a tech wear capsule collection which merges the best of both brands.
Collaborations haven’t just been restricted to apparel either. Snow Peak have partnered up with the likes of Bearbrick, TONEDTROUT, Kengo Kuma, and even coffee giant Starbucks. For the Kengo Kuma collaboration the duo designed a minimalist trailer which utilizes LED lighting, wood paneling and Snow Peak interior elements.
More recently the brand worked with American institution Pendleton Woolen Mills for some collaborative fireside feet warmers in the Stormpattern blanket. Crafted using age old techniques and sporting a tribal pattern that is instantly recognizable as Pendleton, Snow Peak added their touches to make a create a Made in the USA blanket which works well in the campgrounds or at home.
Re-Connecting With the Natural World
Even though Snow Peak uses modern fabrics and materials to enhance the outdoor experience, at the heart of the brand lies an approach which is much more organic and informed by the natural world around us. Lisa notes that “we want our customers to feel closer to nature because of our store(s) and receive a value of happiness from our products” and this is reflected perfectly in the annual event, Snow Peak Way.
The brand invites customers to experience the outdoors with Snow Peak as a thank you and appreciation for their custom. It encourages the development of a close knit community of like minded individuals to meet, talk and eat together.
There is a deeply admirable and very natural approach of Snow Peak that is centered around a vision which recognizes the true power of the natural world on humankind, realizing that through outdoor experiences the human spirit can be actively nurtured, rested, and restored.
Stay tuned for more content on the brand, including a chat with staff from the recently opened London store, as well as some key products to keep an eye out for.