Bringing the Best of the East to the West: NoKipple
So, you take the guy who came up with the brainwave for the Iron Heart Forum sit him down with the guy who co-founded the Heavy Weight Denim Championship. Shake well and leave to marinate. Naturally something pretty special is going to come out of that mix. The ingredients specifically are Jonathan Joseph and Gavin Smith. And what came out is NoKipple.
The credentials are there to make the offering from NoKipple something very special indeed. We sat down with the guys for a chat about it all. We found two blokes really friendly and eager to share their knowledge and excitement about the brands they are bringing over to Europe. The enthusiasm is contagious; we are very excited to see these brands come West.
Jonathan is good friends with Giles Padmore from Iron Heart and, as well as planting the seed for the forum, he is also a Moderator on there and advises at times. Gavin is probably more widely known as Megatron1505, a well known, well respected regular on all the major forums. And, as we said before, the co-founder of the HWDC – as well as the Mega in the Mega Beatle Buster from Iron Heart.
What is the concept behind NoKipple?
Gavin: “I guess our basic concept is to offer something different, to work with brands that do not currently retail outside of their domestic market and definitely to collaborate with these brands to offer unique products which we believe will excite people and maybe change a few perceptions or misconceptions.”
Jonathan: “Beautiful things made by good people that have insufficient attention in the wider niche brand market.”
Where did the unusual name come from?
Jonathan: “Kipple is a science fiction neologism, it means dreck/unwanted garbage/detritus.”
What are your backgrounds?
Gavin: “My background is extremely normal; I come from a working family from middle England. My world was very much rooted in British life of the 1980s, which was a fun time to be a kid I think. We did not have much access to foreign travel so I always promised myself that I would see Tokyo and New York before I died and I am fortunate that I get to travel to both those cities for work and pleasure quite often these days.”
Jonathan: “I grew up in the South of England, spent some time in Brighton. I lived in London for most of the 90s – I don’t know if you remember Vexed Generation, but their hoodies were probably one of the first things that really got me interested in design and materials – they used to have a small outlet in Berwick Street. Currently, I also work in the software industry, running a small software development company.”
How did you get into the denim business?
Gavin: Quite naturally to be honest. I had an interest in Japanese streetwear, labels such as Wtaps and Bathing Ape for some time and from there I started my interest in Japanese denim. I started reading and contributing to forums like SuperFuture and Styleforum and developed an interest in the heavyweight niche of denim, which inspired me to begin the first Heavyweight Denim Championships (HWDC). Through the HWDC I met friends like Beatle, who introduced me to Giles and Paula Padmore, who in turn introduced me to people like Haraki-San and my current kohei at NoKipple, Jon, and that brings us to where we are now.
Jonathan: “I am friends with Iron Heart UK and some years ago I suggested that they should start a forum – it’s a natural progression for a brand/product type that garners a lot of opinion and discussion. I helped out on the forum as a moderator and occasional adviser. I have always wanted to have my own gig and a serendipitous discussion with Gavin, who had similar interests and ambitions, propelled us forward.”
What brands will NoKipple be bringing over to Europe?
Gavin: “From Japan we will be working with Trophy Clothing, Jelado and Tush Leathers, from Indonesia we will be working with Elhaus and Sagara Shoes. We have open discussions with other brands, some of whom we will more than likely work with in the mid to distant future.”
Why these brands?
Jonathan: “Trophy, Jelado and Tush are pretty well established in Japan but pretty unknown in the West. They represent amazing quality and attention to detail. I feel that they should have a wider audience. Elhaus are a young brand out of Jakarta – they have a nice eye for detail and have some interesting ideas about denim manufacture (our collaboration jean from them is hand woven) and their approach to experimentation fits well with our brand. Sagara is run by Bagus, a young man with a wise old head, he makes traditional products, painstakingly assembled by hand and the quality of his products rival many of the established brands. He deserves wider attention.”
So Gavin, you are the famous Megatron1505 of forum fame and you have your name on the Mega Beatle Buster, any plans to produce your own line?
Gavin: “Never say never, and all that holds me back is a lack of money and talent, but that doesn’t seem to stop too many people these days, right? It isn’t something I have planned but I am definitely interested in collaborating with brands I admire, I have the ideas if they have the talent ha ha. I think that doing it solo is best left to people with the talent to do that, I think that what Beatle is doing with ByBeatle is great, but she is far more creative than I am.”
How did you go about finding the brands you wanted to bring into Europe?
Gavin: “I simply did what I do for fun anyway. I read forums, blogs and publications like Lightning Magazine and Free & Easy where brands like this are discussed, I spoke to friends who do the same thing a shot names around the table, they pointed some really cool brands out to me. From there I looked for aesthetics and materials which fit with our criteria of being high quality, under promoted internationally, and offering something different to what is currently out there in the Western market. I took a list of these brands back to Jon, we discussed who we liked and why and then we made contact. In the case of Trophy I took to personally stalking Masaki Egawa until he couldn’t ignore me any longer, when Trophy agreed to work with us it felt like Christmas to me.”
Jonathan: “Gavin has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the scene, he is embedded. His knowledge was invaluable and pivotal. I have a very clear idea of the qualities that I look for with a brand, these obviously relate to the products but there are many other factors to consider. Our combination of criteria determined (quite clearly) who we wanted to reach out to. Specifically, the brands were selected from research conducted in the forum spaces, other related internet/hard copy output, and we also took suggestions from people we know online. Some contacts we made through brands we had already met, others were more randomly fortuitous.”
What did you look for?
Gavin: “We looked for brands that were established, but not saturated into their market and whose products were a little different to what we are used to seeing. A willingness to expand at a gradual rate into the Western market and to embrace all the challenges which that will present was also essential. No-one should expect to become an overnight millionaire treading this path.”
Jonathan: “Attention to detail, individuality, personality, integrity, materials provenance, humanity.”
Were there any big hurdles you had to overcome?
“I think we’re experiencing the same sort of challenges that any new business faces to be fair. The only specific challenge we really face is educating our customer base about our “non-Japanese” brands. We are all acutely aware that the perception is that goods made in other Asian countries outside of Japan are not of the same standard. We have chosen to work with Elhaus and Sagara because they not only challenge that perception they also do it with pride in their own national crafts, resources and traditions.”
Jonathan: “Gavin and I both felt strongly that face to face meetings with brands that we wanted to work with was very important. This resulted in trips to Japan and Indonesia. Finding the time and the money whilst working full time has been the biggest challenge. I get home from work, turn on a different laptop and pretty much work from morning to bedtime. It’s been a blast though, and now that we’ve launched I anticipate the day to day experience will stabilise.”
Speaking about the Japanese brands for a moment, why did you choose to bring Trophy Clothing and Jelado over to Europe?
Gavin: “Japan is obviously where the majority of quality denim and clothing is designed and produced for our niche market so for us as a retailer it was vitally important that Japanese brands formed a large part of our early assortment. To fit in with our concept we did not want to go after brands which were already easily available in the West, we wanted brands whose product line carried original items, unique twists, subtle detailing and the best quality materials.”
“Trophy Clothing were a company I had seen briefly mentioned on forums but I was not familiar with any of their products, I took a quick look through their website and was totally blown away. Their denim was exactly what I was thinking about when I imagined something a little bit left of centre, their shirts are vintage cut and cleanly designed and their outerwear is better than anyone else’s in my opinion. Also our association with Tush came through Trophy, as Tush is a personal friend of Trophy owner Masaki Egawa.”
“With Jelado we were extremely lucky as we had just about confirmed our brand line up and were in the process of planning a trip to Tokyo to meet Trophy when we first heard from them, we quickly arranged a meeting and visited with brand owner Yohei Goto at the Jelado store in Ebisu and spent a long time talking about our interests, passions and his pride in Jelado, which is very evident in Jelado clothing. Upon our return to the UK we had a few more discussions and decided that we should work together, Jelado and Trophy are very much brands who have the capability to establish themselves extremely quickly amongst the elite.”
Now, lets have a little chat about your personal relationship with denim. What is it you love the most about it?
Gavin: “I like the whole blue collar working man history of it, I like that it transcends social and economic boundaries, and in particular I like the fact that more than any other fabric it carries the scars of your life whilst still looking good.”
Jonathan: “Its longevity and its carapace-like reassurance.”
Why do you think denim has become so popular recently?
Gavin: “I think the reasons are many and varied, the influence of internet forums is huge for educating a consumer base, plus I think that there is a general growing appreciation for things of quality which have good back story. I think people place a genuine importance on knowing where their stuff comes from these days, ethical shopping will grow and grow trust me.”
How do you wear and treat your dry denim jeans – any special routines?
Gavin: “Yes, I only wash them on a full moon when the bats converge around the cherry tree in my garden; I find that produces the best high contrast fades, ha ha. No, seriously I just turn them inside out to either soak or wash them, don’t spin them on a high cycle, and don’t use too much detergent, all the usual good stuff. They’re just jeans, and denim is a pretty tough fabric, if you have to baby wash your jeans outside of what I’ve just said then you should probably buy different jeans.”
Jonathan: “Wear them, wash them if they get smelly. I do endorse a cold soak to a machine wash though.”
Do you collect anything?
Gavin: “I’m not really a collector of anything; my wife won’t let me (laughs). I have a lot of comic books and I love really nice footwear but I can’t justify having lots of it laying around not being worn, so like my denim I tend to rotate 4 or 5 pairs. I used to collect Transformers, hence the forum name. My wife collects Potato Heads, maybe they remind her of me?”
Jonathan: “I like watches, Seiko and G-Shock. I also love books, science fiction in particular.”
Are there any up-coming or unknown brands that you think are worth looking into?
Gavin: “Yes lots, but I’m not sure that I should mention names as we want to work with them ourselves. The names I will throw out there, and hope they’re reading this, are Masterson, White Horse Trading Co., Bluesville, Colimbo Hunting, and Circle A brand, if you’re reading this get back to me guys.”
Jonathan: “Fan Optics are a small UK eyewear company – lovely specs and sunnies. They use deadstock acetates to produce small batch frame styles.”
Where will NoKipple be five years from now?
Gavin: “Hopefully still here finding the next game changer and keeping things fresh.”
Jonathan: “Full time for me definitely. I want more brands but not indiscriminately selected, I also want a wider remit – doesn’t have to be clothes and denim – just awesome gear made by cool people.”
Head over to their site to see the full range of products the guys have brought over for us. We are really excited to see these brands make it over to Europe and to also see some names we have only heard rumors of. Soon we will bring you brand profiles on a couple of the Japanese brands hitherto unavailable from a European stockist. Nice work fellas!