What’s trending now?
The Retail Specialist
Why it’s important?
Earlier this year, Flux commented on the fact that people are indulging on luxury items, beyond what they can afford and beyond what our economic times call for. This is particularly note-worthy in light of the recent rise of international chain-stores, that market themselves as “affordable”, to our shores – namely, Zara, the Gap and Massmart. Despite the arrival of these mega-stores, international trends B,indicate that our retail fate will not be left up to them and the big chains.
Big retail brands recognize the need to offer their customers luxurious, high-quality and alternative items that remain associated with the brand but offer a more elite feel. Usually this takes the form of a collaboration with a famous designer or, even, a celebrity (think of H&M’s collaboration with Madonna). However, what has emerged is that big retail brands are outsourcing their luxury-goods to reputable craftsmen and specialists. They recognize the need for specialized trades and the role of specialists in the retail industry. These products are sought after because they are not mass-produced but because they are specialized.
In 2008, when Nike wanted to make the all-time best hoodie, they outsourced to Japan’s Satoshi Suzuki. Owner and founder of Tokyo’s famous “Loopwheeler”, Suzuki is the pioneer of the retail specialist. His brand specializes in sweatshirts, cardigans and hoodies made from the highest quality of cotton available. What sets Suzuki apart as a retail specialist is that he, himself, is an expert in sweatshirts.
He launched “Loopwheeler” to save loop-wheel machines from going extinct and hoped to save a measure of the traditional cotton-weaving craft in Japan. He has invested his entire career in perfecting a single item of clothing. It takes him a year to decide on a new sweatshirt and usually he only alters the smallest detail – that would otherwise go unnoticed by us laymen. He quality controls his products by testing them out over a couple of months. He wears them every day, washes them and makes sure they maintain his high standard. His approach to comfort wear is similar to that of a tailor.
There have been many opportunities for Suzuki to expand his product range. He remains adamant that his success has come from his ability to keep things simple and to perfect that which he has learnt over the years. It must be paying off. After years of hounding him for a deal, he finally allowed London’s Selfridges to stock his sweaters. His cult-like following spans the globe and despite the average price of his sweaters being R 1800 -00, this does not deter any of his customers. His most recent pursuer has been the Parisian department store, Colette. Suzuki is in the unique position where his skills are so sought after that he has the biggest retail brands knocking at his door. For something so seemingly simple as a sweater, it is interesting that none of the big brands are able to create their own versions of his prized creations.
What’s the butterfly effect?
Suzuki (and other retail specialists) are not only challenging the perception that as a result of global economic times that the retail industry is downscaling and turning to more affordable mass-produced items, but also, challenging traditional industry practices.
Suzuki doesn’t agree with keeping quiet about his manufacturing techniques or hiding his factories away from the public eye. This is radically different from what big retailers and small design houses do. Their products are usually the focus of all the attention, whereas, Suzuki’s method is to make the manufacturing process and his machinery as visible and spoken about as his sweaters. This is in high contrast to the out-of-sight sweatshops and computer-generated machines that are commonplace these-days.
When you walk into “Loopwheeler” you will notice a loop-wheel spinning in the shop window. These analogue machines are the exact kind that you will find in his main factory in Kanekichi. The labour-intense process is celebrated. Suzuki is proud of his factory and insisted that big-guns, Nike and Selfridges, visit it personally. Both in practice and in premise, the retail specialists are unearthing hard-and-fast traditions of the retail world and introducing the fruits of neo-retail methodologies.
The global hotspots
Globally, there are still product hotspots that are known for their superior quality and availability of commodities. Think of leather from Argentina, Arabica beans from Kenya and extra-virgin olive oil from Tuscany. Retail specialists are becoming synonymous with their own commodities. In addition to countries, they are their own representatives of specific trades and products. Nike’s head-designer, Jarrett Reynolds, knew that outsourcing to Suzuki was an obvious move because “they make the best fleece in the world”.
By: Wendy-Jane Chong
Wendy- Jane Chong is a freelance writer and a keen trend observer. Last year she was an intern at Flux Trends. She launched a kiddie party business called “Imaginary Friends” this year and runs a blog with her husband.
Image credit: Gallo Images/ Getty Images