Secondhand clothes is more than the word itself. It varies greatly for each person depending on where it’s made, the history or the function. For example, when narrowed down to a single item, one may find remnants of the past, another may see it enviously or it may just simply be treated as an old piece of cloth.

These meanings are changing along with the adapting flow of information. And as much as the content itself, this flow also represents the spirit of the generation. There is probably a difference of how fashion in general is perceived by people who spent their youth reading fashion magazines, compared to people who exchange information on social media. Also, the difference with the sense of ownership can’t be overlooked. For example, purchases are made with the intention of sharing or reselling on auction sites and flea market apps. On the other hand, it’s also interesting that there are youngsters keeping a distance from this phenomenon and becoming collectors.

The accelerating information flow on social media is restructuring the relationship between the primary and secondary distribution market. In recent years, the value in the secondary distribution is changing the ways of the primary distribution market. To explore the future of the fashion industry, we spoke to BRING and followed the transition of this high-end secondhand store that identifies the authenticity to set a valid market price and is unfolding a new venture in the mecca of secondhand clothes.

Even during the current coronavirus pandemic, BRING Harajuku had a grand reopening in January 2021. Please tell us how this happened.

The start was actually by chance as there was a sudden availability of the first floor space. Until then, the store was only on the second floor which was quite frustrating. But more importantly, my anticipation for the comeback of the inbound elements after the pandemic settles down, led to the decision. Also, NUBIAN recently opened on Cat Street which gives the impression that the street will become livelier.

The renewed space seems to have only a certain amount of very carefully selected items on each rack.

Of course, a hanger rack is meant to hang a lot of items so it should be full. But when putting ourselves in the customers shoes, we wouldn’t want to buy stuff from a store with items that are jam-packed. Especially if the items are expensive. So, in that sense, our new motive is about how to provide like the primary distribution market. When BRING was established in 2014, it was normal for this market to use existing fixtures. But from day one, our company custom-made all shop furniture and fixtures. Using of materials that fit each store, adjusting details of the whole visual aspect is how our luxuriousness is produced. To be honest, rather than it being a deeply thought-out strategy, I just simply wanted a stylish store.

In recent years, standard value of secondary distribution is starting to impact the ways of primary distribution. What are your thoughts about this trend.

That being said, I still think the new trends are created by the primary distribution market. So, as far as we’re concerned, we certainly hope to become a select shop that has a first-class atmosphere. Along with the items we carry and the store layout, we’ll offer hospitality to the customers that’s unbeatable to the primary distribution market. Also, if compared to the primary distribution market, we handle a wider range of products with staff that are more knowledgeable and have an expertise in their favorite brands. This is an advantage since suggestions can be made from all angles.

Please tell us about the items that make up the renewed shop.

The first floor consists mainly of items that are presently selling. Harajuku is the roots of street culture, so we gather the latest sneakers, and the jewelry section focuses on Chrome Hearts and Goro’s. Other than fashion, we now put more strength into Be@brick, furniture and other lifestyle items. The second floor has more carefully selected items in order to encompass items from all markets. By actually visiting the store, we hope to expand new options for customers who always only wear a specific brand.

As mentioned, the second floor carries more carefully selected items. What kind of lineup it is?

At BRING, each branch carries products that range from a few hundred thousand yen to a few million yen. This store basically gathers all the carefully selected items from within the high-quality selection. The intention of this newly named store is to have a lineup of items that will last a lifetime and be passed on for a long time.

Currently, the word archive seems to be represented by the action of finding out the clothing’s history or vision. What kind of value is presented in the new store name?

The name given is AWESOME and we plan to be particular about items lasting a lifetime. Any fashion lover who makes an expensive purchase is bound to think, “I will wear this outfit forever!” or “I’ll wear this ring forever!” So, we’re ready to accept those thoughts head-on. To be specific, we’ll put together and suggest masterpieces without a revival collection or one-off items. Also, by preparing an environment to repair and care for these items is how we will provide support for a lifetime. We hope these lineups will also link to lifestyle. For example, furniture made by designers or sketches/collages by designers. We want to create a space, where collectors driven by clothing can expand their collection proudly.

Please tell us how that idea came about. When the company was established in April 2014, the Shinjuku branch opened, followed by the Harajuku branch opening in December. In 2014, there was a phenomenon with the number of smartphone users surpassing the number of PC users. At the time of the opening, what was the trend?

In 2014, the popular brands were Givenchy, Maison Martin Margiela and Rick Owens. There was a lot of movement with Marcelo Burlon, Hood By Air and Stampd, also. Supreme was gradually starting to rise. The overall tendency with the customers was coordinating to skinny items. Also, during those times when Instagram wasn’t mainstream yet, many customers would visit the shop with information from mixi or 2channel.

After that, the Shinsaibashi branch opened in 2018. Was there a difference between purchases made in the Kanto and Kansai areas?

In the past, Kansai was almost three months behind. The market fluctuation was very obvious. For example, when Yeezy Boost was really popular, an item that wouldn’t sell if over 30,000 yen in Tokyo would easily sell in Osaka for about 40,000 yen. Currently, there is no difference between the Kanto and Kansai area market prices. The market price gap disappeared since social media started to circulate information all at once. But, for example, Goro’s is only in Tokyo, so Kansai may still feel it to be rare. We’re responsive to each branch’s purchases. Even within the same Tokyo, Shinjuku considers the Kabukicho area and host culture, whereas Harajuku will consider the several other brand flagship stores in the same area.

Please tell us about the distribution structure. From evaluating the price when buying, judging the authenticity, inventory control, the photoshoot, there seems to be a wide range of workflow until it actually reaches the stores. But among all these, the most notable point in the secondary distribution industry seems to be the freely fixed buying and selling price.

I agree. That is the thrilling part about this industry. Moreover, up until 2014, we were able to create the market price. Back then, stores would interact and mingle to initiate the market price. The conversations were open and honest such as, “This item will be out in my store tomorrow. How much are you planning to sell it for at your store?” Also, the information that circulated was still slow so the online store prices were higher than the actual stores. But a few years after, it became natural to set the same price range all over the world. For example, sneakers would be released overseas first. This means Round Two or such stores would share details about the price or release date which could be acknowledged by anyone, even the consumers. In other words, before the item was even imported to Japan, the market price is solidified. The expansion of other companies in the same industry also solidified the market price.

What are the evaluation standards for items with undetermined market price?

Regarding items targeted for collectors, the market price is calculated backwards by finding a seller first. Another way is by looking into the outcome of similar cases from the past and using the buyer’s knowledge to make the overall judgement. Items predicted to increase in asset value is priced with the anticipation of expanding. An increasing pattern of pricing is to calculate backwards, according to the asset value. However, up until now, this type of soaring price range was only possible with specific brands. But now there is potential for all brands, thanks to the spread of private buying and selling.

You must carry an enormous stock, from the latest collection pieces to items from the past. How do you manage store inventory? For example, does old stock continue to pile up?

At our company, we use the term stock freshness. Within our stock, we acknowledge what percentage still has asset value or how much of it is losing asset value. Then we make sure to manage the carried stock according to the company’s specific quantity rule. For example, stock that lost its freshness will go on sale in the clearance section even if it's a loss. We also manage the stock by making full use of the turnover rate or the ratio of gross profit. We quantify each item, so all decisions are made based on statistics.

With the spread of social media, the way of purchasing seems to be bipolarizing. One way of purchase is to find the original historical value. Another way is the value to be the first to find that item everyone wants at that right moment in time.

If anything, the commodity we deal with is the latter. The popular item that everyone wants and knows is what creates most of the profit. But there is definitely an increase in the number of core buyers. This trend can be seen especially with the customers we have a long relationship with. At our stores, when we get a shipment of certain items, it’s rooted in our mind to think, “I need to contact our regular customer, Ms. so and so”.

It seems that the concept of buying from a specific store is fading. 

Those types of stores are definitely decreasing. In the past, the store itself used to be a place for people to connect and a place to find new culture or lifestyles, not just clothes. So, we hope to be able to provide that kind of atmosphere. With secondary distribution, there's a variety of channels we can carry, such as the staff's favorite brands to the customer’s personal preferences.

From a sustainable point of view, the secondary distribution industry has an interesting initiative.

This is the roots of our thinking. For example, we repair worn out sneakers back into good condition or use specialized tools to fix silver. We are conscious of bringing back life into things for permanent use. Our idea is to broaden the fashion industry cycle by cleaning old items and bringing them back into the market. Also, with this cycle we hope to give people who never bought clothes from famous brands a chance to buy it.

Lastly, this may be a weird question, but do people working in the secondary distribution market buy new items?

We buy so much! People in the primary distribution market are professional at customer service. They're full of product knowledge and great with presentation. Just the other day, I went to a certain store to study their interior, but their service was so great that I ended up doing some great shopping.

That’s a surprise. I thought the majority would always circulate items in their closet.

That’s true. When buying from the secondary distribution market, the thought of resale is constantly on our minds. For example, when buying a 50,000 yen item, we instantly calculate how much it could be sold for in a few months, then divide the remaining days to provide a daily rate which gives the sense of purchasing the item for cheaper than it actually is. Items bought in the winter are sold before the summer to buy summer clothes, and summer clothes are sold before the fall to buy fall clothes and so on. The shortest duration of buying and selling was the same day (LOL). But I don’t agree with that idea and it seems that an increasing number of people around me have also started to buy new items. And interestingly, these new items are hardly ever sold.

The changing ways of how clothes should be confronted and purchased seems to be reflected in this next project.

That might be true. People with a long experience in the secondary distribution market or have an occupation in resales might have gradually changed as they got older. The mission for us at AWESOME is to gather items so that even the people who are used to parting with items easily would not want to part. Our hope is for those customers to find a lifelong item.

Interview text_ SHINGO ISOYAMA