SuperGroupies is a fashion brand with the concept ‘putting anime into fashion!’ It’s run by Aniware and produces original clothing and accessories. They specialize in anime-inspired fashion, but their clothes are designed to be worn in everyday life. Recently, anime fans overseas have started talking about their products. We interviewed the CEO of Aniware, Katsumi Yasuda.
ーYou originally worked with Animate, the largest retailer of anime merchandise in Japan. How did you become involved in the fashion industry and Aniware?
My career in the fashion industry started with the ‘Evangelion Store’ which opened in November 2011. Neon Genesis Evangelion has a very adaptable licensing policy and has collaborated with some pretty niche products, such as traditional crafts. They also collaborated with the creator of a high-end fashion brand. They were quite cutting-edge, considering it was nearly a decade ago. Evangelion was well-known even to the mass market due to the success of its theatrical movies. We started planning an Evangelion-themed fashion store collaborating with its copyright agency, GroundWorks.
Although many anime shops are situated in Ikebukuro or Akihabara, we selected Takeshita Street in Harajuku, because we wanted to open our shop in a fashionable area. It was a two-storey, stand-alone store facing the street. The first floor was a boutique selling fashion items and the upstairs was a shop with regular merchandise with anime characters. It was a challenging decision to place the most obvious character goods upstairs, though we wanted to take advantage of the location. In the beginning, we worried who, if anyone, would come to shop in our store. We felt like a fish out of water in Harajuku. However, to our delight, they did come in numbers, including many customers from abroad. We sold expensive clothes and accessories to trendy, fashionable people. At that time, anime merchandise was targeted towards the stereotype otaku and never thought of the more fashionable people as potential customers. However, I thought it was due to the widespread popularity of Evangelion and didn’t apply it to other anime at that time.
Afterward, I made connections with people both in the anime and fashion industries by chance, such as Takayuki Inada, who is now our producer. He worked for a clothing retailer and was responsible for a subculture fashion select shop at the time. He was an anime and gaming fan, which was a rare case within the fashion industry in those days. He would proactively approach licensers to plan collaborations with anime and games. I met Takanori Katagiri, the founder of Pixiv, who would regularly visit the shop. Katagiri also had the idea of producing high-quality anime merchandise. He hired Inada to work with Pixiv to produce upmarket anime goods collaborating with fashion brands, as Inada worked in the fashion industry. They were looking for another person who had experience in creating and selling character goods since Pixiv is a social networking service company and didn’t have such experience. They heard about me from someone and approached me. Initially, I wasn’t up for it because they wanted to make upmarket anime goods whereas I was making regular ones. I met him anyway and saw Inada who helped me set up the Evangelion Store at the meeting. We talked about what we wanted to do and how we could do that better. We discussed for about a year and finally established Aniware.
We launched 2PMWORKS, the predecessor of SuperGroupies. It featured Kitsch fashion. Its concept was ‘Japanese culture and anime as it is seen from overseas’, so we considered things Harajuku, pop, and kawaii. However, our sales struggled. At the time, our project was a part of Animate, so we were under a lot of pressure.
SuperGroupies Web Site
ーHow did you improve the sales?
We returned to our original intentions: creating anime merchandise which can be used in everyday life. The way we reflected on what we wanted at the beginning made our sales pick up. We see many people wearing eccentric clothes in Harajuku, but they can only wear them in Harajuku. They won’t wear them at school or in the office. So, we thought about what everyday fashion is. For instance, every woman has her own fashion style and wouldn’t generally wear something totally different from her tastes. As a retailer, we should have clothes which people can wear on a daily basis, as well as be within their style range. Customers won’t spend money on clothes or shoes which they can’t wear in the real world. This applies especially to women, as they tend to be more pragmatic than men.
For instance, think about the people who are attending a Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji) event. Apart from cosplayers, you’ll notice a particular fashion style among the fans. Many of them wear Gothic Lolita fashion clothes. They wear a certain height of high heels and have similar styles of bags, as well as follow a particular color scheme. We realized that fans of Uta no Prince-sama generally prefer conservative fashion, whereas Nintama Rantaro fans rarely wear flashy clothes. Anime fans have their own collective fashion style depending on what anime they like. We must accommodate for their styles otherwise our products won’t be worn in everyday situations. A woman who doesn’t wear high heels usually would never buy 8 cm stilettos, even if she likes the design. There are so many fans of Touken Ranbu, but they don’t buy traditional accessories for kimono because they rarely wear kimono themselves.
We observed the market, listened to customers and made our own speculations in order to bring our project back on track. It was a difficult task, and we still don’t know what is right for us and we still make mistakes sometimes. We’ve been changing our mind little by little over the years. We sometimes find a correct answer in a different way. It’s always a matter of trial and error and that’s why we enjoy what we do.
Our products are 100% licensed and supervised. Not every product passes supervision though, because we don’t use the actual images of the anime characters on our merchandise. Rather, our designs are inspired by the characters. Many licensers don’t like that. They prefer clear images of their characters. Having said that, others are OK with our designs because they are fashion items, not character goods. It depends on the licensers. The products customers want to have, the products the licensers want to create, and the products we think will sell are all different and there is no correct answer for what is the best. It’s hard work and one of the reasons why we are the only brand in this field.
ーWhat hit items do you have?
We released a pair of pumps based on Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica) which became our epoch-making product. Apart from the heels, which look like a Soul Gem, they are ordinary shoes. However, we declared that they are ‘Madoka’ shoes. When we released the shoes, it attracted a lot of attention and was retweeted about 20 thousand times overnight. We thought: ‘We’ve got it!’ The shoes showed us the future direction of our brand. At the beginning, our products had more direct influence from the characters, but such influences have been reduced recently. Occasionally, we make mistakes because anime influences are too insignificant. [laugh] The hair dryer inspired by Cardcaptor Sakura is another product that did well. It all started with a doodle by our staff. Such a product didn’t exist at the time, and we didn’t know if we could materialize it. We applied for the license and were a bit surprised when we received it. The production process was difficult as it was an electrical appliance. When we submitted the prototype, we were told that we must reduce the output power and attach a safety cover on to it, as it was categorized as a children’s toy. We were just about to release the dryer at the time. Our hard work ended up paying off though, as we had great sales. On the other hand, our character accessories with Konnosuke from Touken Ranbu as the motif didn’t do so well. Our customers said that they could just get similar ones from capsule toy machines or any Animate shop, so there was no reason to buy them specifically from us.
ーYour brand has an English website. Do you sell your products to customers overseas?
We receive many inquiries from outside Japan, so we changed our Facebook page to English. It was originally written in Japanese. However, we changed it because we have been receiving so many comments in English. I think more people use Facebook overseas than in Japan. We haven’t set up an international delivery system yet but are planning to establish an international online shop. We are now in the process of negotiating with licensers and hopefully, the website will be up and running by the end of this year.
ーCould you give a message to anime fans across the world?
We advocate ‘Animebound’, which means to be tied up with anime. In fact, there is already a movement called ‘Disneybound’. Disneyland has a strict no-cosplay rule, because there are staff members who cosplay Disney characters in Disneyland already. Therefore, people who visit Disneyland enjoy themselves by wearing Disney character lookalike clothes or hats and take photographs. I like that idea and think we can do the same with anime characters. Let’s do Animebound together! Cosplayers are for cosplay events and can’t casually walk around town in their costumes, whereas you can do Animebound whenever and wherever. I’m not promoting Animebound just for our brand’s sake and actually don’t care which brand you wear. I’m just proposing to have fun by wearing Cardcaptor Sakura-ish or Fate-ish clothes together. It’s a good idea to visit anime-related places wearing Animebound clothes. If you want to know more, check out our Animebound page on the SuperGroupies website. You can wear clothes from your local shops or wear ours if you find something you like. Let enjoy Animebound together if you love anime or fashion.
Born in 1962 in Tokyo. Graduated from Rikkyo University. After working with Animate Ltd as a director, he became involved in the establishment of Aniware in 2015.