Fanime Con is Japanese culture convention held in San Jose, California the last weekend in May. This convention features anime screenings, fan panels, dances, gaming, and much more. For the first time, Fanime had a J-fashion department, which hosted a variety of events throughout the weekend at the Hyatt Place, directly across the street from the convention center. Some of their most anticipated events were their Elegant and Pop Fashion show.
Directly following the Pop! Fashion show, the designers featured in the show sat down for a Q&A with the audience. The audience thinned out, leading an intimate setting where the designers shed light on the origins of their brand, their inspiration, and their advice for budding designers.
Point of origin
Just like super villains, the designers were eager to share their origin stories. Going to school for fashion or design is definitely a viable option. Sugarstar Café went to school for design and then started their brand after. Both the Black Ribbon and LOMO Loungewear went to school for fashion design and got their start working in the fashion industry. They both realized that they were interested in designing for themselves and started their own brands. Designers Yokai Sekai and Sudibear got their start because of their love of animation. Yokai Sekai watched anime and read manga, and Sudibear played Animal Crossing and loved the clothes they saw in those mediums. Perhaps the most surprising (and hilarious origin story) came from designer Nerdy Bit, who started their business with an Amazon giftcard found on the floor of a movie theater.
The designers were very happy to brag about their favorite pieces from the collections they debuted at the Pop! fashion show. The Black Ribbon said her favorite item was her Taisho look, which featured a kimono, blouse, and highly styled model. Yokai was happy with their color blocked windbreaker. LOMO Loungewear loved their Black Forest cake sweater. Sudibear loved her moth sweater collection, which featured textured pieces on the in-house embroidery.
The brands were also equally happy to talk about their favorite items that their audiences just hadn’t connected with. Nerdy Bit said that their binary shirt that spelled out the two funniest numbers (69 and 420) didn’t sell as well as they hoped. They conceded that this was probably because most people don’t know how to read binary. LOMO Loungewear bemoaned the fact that their apple slice leggings didn’t photograph well, but looked amazing in person, leading to lower online sales.
Of course, the designers’ journeys were not without struggle. Both the Black Ribbon and LOMO Loungewear discussed falling out of love with the fashion industry because of high stress and toxic work environments. For Sudibear, even watching anime in her home country of Iran was a challenge. Moreover, her family wasn’t supportive of any sort of creative profession and pressured her into a degree she didn’t want to get.
Beyond personal struggles, the design process itself is full of challenges. Nerdy Bit, Caliko Studios, and Sudibear all cited time as a limiting factor on their work flow. Yokai Sekai and Sugarstar also cited specific design elements, like an oversized fit for YS and drafting new patterns for Sugarstar, as roadblocks. Other designers, like the Black Ribbon, noted that while making the prototype is fun, duplicating it for a larger release is much harder!
We all start somewhere
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the designers had a lot of advice to give about starting a brand. Caliko Studios recommended diving in and getting hands-on experience with making things. She said that though research is important, there’s no replacement for trial and error. The Black Ribbon, who got her start working in the fashion industry for other people, pointed out that clothing design isn’t just sewing and fashion shows. She suggested that newbies consider whether or not they want to run a business, with all the paperwork, taxes, and bureaucracy that entails. Nerdy Bit reminded everyone that there’s no need to monetize your hobby. While it’s clear that Nerdy Bit deeply loves their clothes, they’re very casual about the brand, which is a viable option for new designers.
This group of designers represented a diverse range of experiences, both in their origin and approach to starting a j-fashion brand as well as their styles! Whether they made fashion their full time job or just did it as a side project, the designers’ personal stories were inspiring and frankly hilarious. If you have a chance to attend a designer Q & A or submit questions to one, I highly recommend it!