Born in Harajuku, Japanese label Whiz Limited is known for its forward thinking designs that blends Tokyo street style with elements of high fashion. Next year marks their 20th anniversary in the business, which is not an easy achievement by any means considering the number of Japanese brands that have closed down over the years.
A key aspect of the brand’s longevity is designer/founder Hiroaki Shitano’s commitment to creating cool stuff that he himself would wear and also never letting the sales or need to make a certain amount of money be his motivation. “Just to be doing not too bad, yet at the same time not too good is enough”, he laughs.
His story in Harajuku began in the 90s, where as a teenager, he was drawn by the vibe and culture of the area. He started working as a shop staff and in his free time he would design his own home-made tees under his first label titled Rookey. He would pack them all in a big bag and sell them at Cat Street. Back then, there were no shops and it was just a park where people would set up tables flea market style.
A lot of people would resell hype items from Urahara (Hidden Harajuku) brands like Bape, NBHD etc. The internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now so that was the only way for small sellers to peddle their wares. However, Shitano-san was just selling his own original goods there as that was the only avenue available to a young kid like him. With pricing starting at 7,000 yen for a DIY tee, this “rookie” wasn’t cheap, but he had support from friends as well as others who liked his designs.
And Whiz is Born
Whatever money he made went back into his small DIY business and finally in 2000 he started Whiz Limited. It was in this first year of operation that he was lucky enough to get his first collaboration with a big brand, he was approached by a pre-bankruptcy era Polaroid to work on an instant camera and they eventually released 10 units.
In 2003, he opened Lump Tokyo Store. For those wondering, Lump is a direct translation of the Japanese word “Katamari”, where things clump together and gradually form a “lump”. Yeah, it sounds a bit like … what? But imagine a snowball rolling down a hill and growing bigger and you’ll basically get the idea.
Over the years, Whiz has gone on to collaborate with Porter, Stussy, Casio, Bape, Mastermind Japan and Bounty Hunter to name but a few, but his favourite collab was back when he first got the chance to work with Mita Sneakers and New Balance on shoes for the first time.
It is something that he thought was not possible as he felt NB were a huge company and in comparison, he was just a small brand owner. The partnership with Mita Sneakers went on to become their most popular collaboration series, teaming up together to release a long list of highly sought after kicks with brands that include Puma, Asics, Mizuno and Reebok.
The Lump Tokyo shop itself has moved around Harajuku 3 times and is currently at its longest serving location. During this time, the economy and Harajuku itself was going through ups and downs, but Shitano-san never once felt like moving to another place. To him, the area is synonymous with breeding cool culture since 40-50 years ago and will always do so. He considers it as a “homeground”.
Not one to dwell on the past, Shitano-san has embraced the changes and hopes to see even more change coming in the future. Although a lot of big companies have moved in and forced many smaller players out, he sees a bit a positive side to this. “In 2000-2005, Harajuku was very exciting and it attracted a lot of young kids, then after that, they stopped coming because a lot of brands moved out. However because of the internet, lots of people came from overseas and it started to bustle, then more big companies came in. So maybe this was good, because in 2005, there wasn’t much people and it felt a bit lonely (laughs).”
With next year being the Olympics, and everyone scrambling to cater for the tonnes of tourists and media that will descend upon Tokyo, we look forward to see what changes it will bring to the area and how Shitano-san reinterprets that new energy into future Whiz collections.