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A Bathing Ape Takes a Final Bath

In Summer 2000 I came back to Tokyo to research the popular Ura-Harajuku street fashion brand A Bathing Ape for my senior thesis. My makeshift mentor was an editor of Hot Dog Press — a men’s lifestyle magazine from Kodansha that ceased publication in 2003 — who had covered the Fujiwara Hiroshi family of brands over the years.

One day he drew a triangle on a piece of paper with the x-axis being number of consumers and the y-axis being brand cachet. He explained, “At the top point here are very cool but low-selling brands. At the bottom of the triangle are all the mass market brands with huge sales but no cachet. The secret to A Bathing Ape and the Ura-Harajuku brands is that they keep themselves right in the middle of the triangle and don’t let themselves slip down. They have a healthy number of consumers but they make sure to never go all the way to the bottom.”

This was the general understanding about A Bathing Ape’s success: They would always use specific marketing techniques to appear underground even when selling to millions of young Japanese across the country. I understood this “brand cachet über alles” strategy to be so integral to their success that I ended my thesis with the prediction, “Once the Ura-Harajuku cultural complex disintegrates, Ape may lose its subcultural base and will be subject to the normal forces of fad market structures. [Founder] Nigo will probably stop producing Ape before this point in order to save the brand’s reputation.”

How wrong I was.

Within a year of writing that overly-confident forecast of Nigo’s future fate, the brand embarked on an extremely conspicuous tie-up campaign with soda maker Pepsi. Bape then quickly dropped all of its previously-important artificial brand barriers to mass market appeal and tried to win over anybody and everybody. When I moved back to Japan in 2003, things looked pretty grim for A Bathing Ape: The Tokyo stores were empty during weekdays, and the only consumers seemed to be the high school kids who came into the big city on weekends.

The brand hit their second wind, however, when Nigo met Pharrell Williams, and for about three years in the mid-2000s, Bape became one of the hottest brands on earth — this time framed as an integral part of the American hip hop scene. Nigo made one of the least plausible yet most accepted visual transformations in recent history, dropping the Cornelius-lookalike routine to slot in gold teeth and wayward baseball caps (or worse, a skull cap).

Despite this international expansion, Bape’s days at the top of the Japanese brand hierarchy were long over. The Ape head had become too ubiquitous, and the brand was spread way too thin. When the U.S. bubble for Bape burst around 2008, parent company Nowhere started heading towards serious financial insolvency. Now we have learned that Nowhere — A Bathing Ape’s parent company — had been suffering massive losses. The Wall Street Journal states that fiscal year 2009 ended with ¥267.4 million and 2010 ended with ¥119 million in the red. Nowhere also has debt in the range of ¥2.6 billion.

In 2001, we believed that A Bathing Ape had mastered the dynamics of the brand life-cycle pyramid so that it would never fall prey to the dangers of becoming too mass market and seeing their consumer base quickly dry up. But with the changes in 2002, the brand went on an expansion spree that could rival Uniqlo. There were Busy Work Shops in every single major and minor regional city from Kyushu to Hokkaido despite declining demand. At some point Nigo established a Bape-themed hair salon, a restaurant, an art gallery, shops for his secondary lines like Bape Kids and Baby Milo. Meanwhile they were so desperate for consumers that Nigo stopped any sort of passing attempt to be cool. Most famously, Nigo made $15 yellow Ape-head T-shirts for Nippon Television’s charity telethon 24 Hour TV in 2007, which could often be seen on the backs of housewives and elementary school kids.

In 2009 Nigo — seemingly bored with his crumbling empire — stepped down as CEO of his own company, giving the reigns to an ex-World executive. (Perhaps not so coincidentally World also bought up former Ura-Harajuku brand Real Mad Hectic.) Nigo lately has been working on not particularly significant side projects such as “Human Made” and suit brand “Mr.Bathing Ape.” Meanwhile things were not looking good for Nowhere post-Nigo: the L.A. store closed in 2010.

Bape did, however, have one remaining ace in the pocket: massive support from consumers in Greater China especially Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong in particular had always been attracted to the Fujiwara Hiroshi empire of Japanese street brands, and since 1999, HKers had been intimately familiar with A Bathing Ape. That year Nigo teamed up with locals Eric Kot and Jan Lamb to open an Ape boutique on the 17th floor of an office building. The result was the most draconian shopping policy in Ape history. Potential shoppers had to apply to become Busy Work Shop members, which required a Hong Kong passport. This excluded all non-Hong Kong residents from using the shop. Moreover the applications would be sent to Japan for ultimate approval. Once customers were approved as members, they would have to make an appointment before being able to enter the store — no casual walk-ins allowed. The image, however strict, matched perfectly with the super-exclusivity of the original Japanese strategy.

Although the first Busy Work Shop Hong Kong was never a huge phenomenon in itself, the brand’s sudden presence in the Chinese language media put A Bathing Ape in the wider Asian pantheon of hot labels. The Baby Milo shirts in particular were a huge sensation in Hong Kong, making the evening news as a noteworthy youth trend. While Japanese lost interest, the rise of a new youth consumer in East Asia balanced things out for brands. Anecdotally-speaking, most shoppers I have seen inside or near A Bathing Ape in Harajuku have appeared to be from Greater China. Nigo has also directly targeted fans in these locations with a Taipei store in 2005 and an enormous new store in Hong Kong in 2006. Beijing and Shanghai opened in 2010.

So if Nigo’s 18-year old pet ape is being primarily consumed by the Chinese in its old age, it only makes sense that a Hong Kong based company — I.T Ltd. — would buy out the whole thing (including the debt). The depressing detail was the 90% equity purchase only cost the acquirers $2.8 million. Nigo has easily put more than that in his art, toy, and vintage LV trunk collection alone. This sell off of A Bathing Ape is an incredibly dramatic flame out for a company that defined the potential of Japanese independent brands to go abroad and changed the face of global fashion. It’s better than bankruptcy but not exactly a feel good denouement to an otherwise remarkable success story.

But just as Japanese apparel companies like Onward and Renown bought up heritage Anglo brands like J. Press and Aquascutum in the ’80s and ’90s, Chinese companies are likely to be the future bulk purchasers of Japanese brands. The Japanese fashion ecosystem relies more and more on the flow of East Asian cash, and the desperate fire sale of Nowhere is likely the opening paragraph to an entirely new chapter of Japanese cultural history.

W. David MARX
February 2, 2011

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

Team Néojaponisme are a-okay. Thanks for asking.

58 Responses

  1. Gen Kanai Says:

    I await the day when Uniqlo is bought by a Chinese firm. Then it will be made and owned by Chinese but ‘designed’ by Japanese. That will be Japan’s ‘value add.’

  2. Dave Says:

    I would assume that I.T Hong Kong also bought out the debts?

  3. In Tokyo Says:

    Does the fact that BAPE will now be a Chinese company increase or decrease it’s value with Chinese consumers in the long run?

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    Yes, they will take on the debts. I added that into the essay for clarity.

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    It strikes me that BAPE is valuable as a nominally Japanese brand. I am not sure it helps it to be owned by a Chinese company, even in China, but I’ve never fully understood the dynamic of the brand’s appeal in Greater China.

  6. Timothy Says:

    Excellent post David, thanks for the insight on Bape’s life cycle. I am curious of what will happen next in terms of branding and merchandising in China.

  7. The CoMMOnWealth1607 Says:

    Very interesting essay…woke up this morning and found this via twitter. Great info and I’m excited to see where the brand will go from this point forward.

  8. Yodis Says:

    Wow thanks for the indepth history of nigo. Hopefully the two tees i kept in my closet will raise its values lol.

    I.T. Basically owns HK, their brand strategy is quite mysteriously-Chinese. Their stores exist almost side by side with the many Uniqlo’s. However, I.T. emphasizes quantity in sub store names rather than one store name. Depending on the location, they put different store names in class structure. When I was there in 2009, it also took me awhile to figure out I.T. was actually this big.

  9. Theo Says:

    Thanks for the great article David. Yet another reminder of how you can perhaps slow down, but ultimately never stop the unrelenting passage of time and fashion trends…

  10. Chris Michael Says:

    Especially now that Maharishi has moved in around the corner, Bape’s London shop is a glossy, glowing, usually vacant box that seems like a shrine to the growing obsolescence of noughties hip-hop. It’s neither exclusive nor friendly (unlike M). And I can’t think of a London fashion segment where it fits – certainly not in grime. But no matter, most of the shoppers who wander there off Carnaby street are likely to be Chinese anyway.

  11. Lee Basford Says:

    A nice history, I remember the stores not really being too busy even in 1999/2000 and onwards, never did see any of those queues. The interiors of the stores seemed to get bigger and bigger though. The London ‘Nowhere’ closed a while back too I think.

  12. Nemo Says:

    great read– thanks for this.

    > but I’ve never fully understood the dynamic of the brand’s appeal in Greater China.

    It’s Japanese, and thus associated with higher social status. It’s just that simple.

  13. chibi Says:

    I was originally shocked about the news. I definitely also have the same thought as those above about the brand’s appeal after becoming a Chinese company. But also, I’ve been sensing a huge change to come in the Japanese fashion culture, and the BAPE news hit me that, maybe this will be the starting factor. Magazine models are producing popular fashion brands in Tokyo-and throughout the world, clothes are selling based on bloggers and socialites. I’m wondering and hoping for when this fast-food fashion is going to end.

  14. A Bathing Ape is turning Chinese -- Can it survive the transformation? | THE PUSH SHOVE 推搡 Says:

    […] Néojaponisme reports on A Bathing Ape’s decade of directional and fiscal fluctuations, which have led the acquisition of its father-company, Nowhere, by Hong Kong-based I.T for a meer $2.8 million. …Bape did, however, have one remaining ace in the pocket: massive support from consumers in Greater China especially Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong in particular had always been attracted to the Fujiwara Hiroshi empire of Japanese street brands, and since 1999, HKers had been intimately familiar with A Bathing Ape. […]

  15. Jordana Says:

    Very interesting post. I hope that Japanese brands don’t all become diluted by selling out to foreign investors, and then call it Japanese by having Japanese designers, but I have little hope as that is what has happened with many other luxury brands from Europe.

  16. nick yo Says:

    I agree w/ @Nemo, but it goes a bit further.

    BAPE blew up in Japan just as youth in Greater China — especially HK — started looking to Japan for style cues. Much of HK’s youth fashion was based around the aesthetic and attitude put forward by Nigo through BAPE. Taiwan was a bit more reluctant and came a bit later to the game, as they seem to obsess more on Korean pop culture.

    Bape then made it’s way through HK, north into the Mainland. But on my last trip to the Mainland (before the opening of the BJ and SH flagships) Bape’s biggest fan base were street-fashion-inclined teenage tomboys ripping off their counterparts in HK.

    @W David Marx. Great read, thanks! I recently kicked up a blog you might want to glance over!

  17. RMilner Says:

    Bape opened a shop just off Golden Square in Soho, London, in the early 2000s. I remember thinking at the time that the idea of putting a high contrast image of Cornelius out of Planet Of The Apes on a T shirt, then charging £30 for it, didn’t look like an astonishing concept. But some people will buy anything as long as it is trendy.

    Soho is London’s media heart, absolutely packed with creative and media types. They fall into two groups — boring old farts like me, who wouldn’t be seen dead in anything trendy, and hip to the shoulders dudes who wouldn’t be seen dead in a Bape T shirt now it can be bought in Soho rather than from the ultra exclusive shop in Harajuku. I used to see the occasional Bape shirt around Soho, until the shop opened.

    As I worked 50 metres away, I often had the opportunity to observe the store, which normally sported more staff — between one and three, sometimes with a girlfriend hanging around — than customers.

    Nonetheless the shop somehow kept going for several years, until it closed in 2008 for “refurbishment”. I was surprised to find it open again in 2009, looking pretty much exactly the same as before. And it is still there now. They probably make all their money at the weekend.

    When all’s said and done. if someone made his fortune from Bape maybe that’s all that matters. I can’t take fashion seriously enough to think it really matters whether a particular brand stays cool, sells out, or dissolves itself at the top of its game. It isn’t a cure for cancer.

  18. Nemo Says:

    I stopped by the Soho store today and have been able to reflect on just how out of place it is there, too.

    Its aesthetic and clothes are completely out of place among such mid-range fashion and luxury neighbor stores as John Varvatos, Jack Spade, J. Lindeberg, and others. Bape clothes aren’t particularly well made, their designs are not appealing to 99% of Soho customers, but they’re still high-priced.

    The two clerks were (very nice) youngish guys who seemed from the boroughs and who seemed into hip hop. That’s their customer and that’s fine, but I don’t see why the store should be in Soho then.

    Bape’s an anomaly and always was. It succeeded in Japan more as a fad than a true fashion house, but the party’s over in Japan and fashion fads for men aren’t very big in the US. They seem to have some cache among hip hop guys and that’s about it. I assume that’s why the company is hemorrhaging money.

  19. W. David MARX Says:

    What is interesting about these Bape postmortems is to read the confusion over A Bathing Ape’s various audiences over the years. At first, it was a super exclusive hipster brand, with art school kids and streetwear collectors fawning over it in London and NY. For this audience James Lavelle’s patronage mattered. Flash forward to 2005 and Bape had a completely new audience who knew it almost exclusively as “Bape” the hip hop brand, associated with Ice Cream and Billionaire Boys Club etc. The James Lavelle era seems quaint in hindsight.

    It’s important to mention that the US hip hop boom happened (1) after the brand had lost any of its cachet and Tokyo fans in Japan (2) and didn’t help much in winning over members of the Japanese hip hop scene. The remaining fans all seemed to be hardcore head-to-toe Bapers from out of Tokyo. And even that base probably had peaked by 2003-2005. So you are looking at Bape’s massive Japanese consumer base — the source of Nigo’s wealth — eroded to almost nothing despite a huge retail infrastructure that cost a pretty penny. Meanwhile Nigo was overseas, likely dropping a lot on celebrity endorsement.

  20. Neojaponisme: A Bathing Ape Takes a Final Bath | Hypebeast Says:

    […] just the sale of a popular fashion brand. Excerpts can be seen below while the full article is seen here. One day he drew a triangle on a piece of paper with the x-axis being number of consumers and the […]

  21. W. David MARX Says:

    Another quick thought: The idea of Bape as a shoebrand is also one of the dividing lines. The whole Foot Soldier thing came relatively late in the game, 2002-2003ish.

    I found an article in my archives a few years ago from around 1995 where Nigo is saying, “Yes, we’ve expanded our lineup at Nowhere and made 6 different T-shirts this season!”

  22. Dave Says:

    Is there any other big name brands with the exposure of BAPE still left in Japan (that’s not Uniqlo)?
    The impression I get is that there is nothing left as the domestic market is declining.

  23. W. David MARX Says:

    There was never “another A Bathing Ape” — in other words, an independent streetwear brand that went mass market. Brands like N. Hoolywood have done well in that “middle” space between “fashion” and “street” but never had the reach or scale of a Bape. Even by 1999 — just a few years after it really peaked — Bape had stores all across Japan. The market started to decline and expanding like that stopped making sense. At best you could get a national distro deal through Beams or United Arrows (like Fat Yo, Factotum, etc.)

    That being said, most brands also don’t have access to the easy capital Bape appeared to have access too, although that’s always been a less than transparent part of the story.

  24. Dave Says:

    So no other brands had the reach or easy capital of BAPE.
    Looks like the real cultural change will occur from now onwards as the future does not look good for home grown Japanese brands. Unless they get bought out or go international.

  25. Spaz Says:

    Great Article.

    I live in HK and Bape seems to still be going strong. Everybody and their mom seems to have some form of Bape. Nuts.

    I think I.T. will more than make their money back in China alone. They will shift all manufacturing to China, register the Bape trademark as a local label so they can bypass the heavy taxes (therefore increasing profits). I.T. will squeeze as much out of the brand by opening up shops all over China with Nigo showing up as ambassador at every shop opening so the Chinese market will still think that Bape is cool to the outside world. By the time the mainlanders get wise, I.T. will already have made tons of money.

    This is just like any other business deal so I don’t know what the big deal is. Any company that gets too big and is not managed well will be in trouble eventually. Its just that this time, it was a street fashion company. LVMH bought a good chunk of Hermes, Rebecca Taylor sold to Kellwood, etc, etc.

  26. Reef Says:

    Sadly the lack of innovation and silly price points have been the death of Bape.

    Bape have not designed/produced sought after items such as the Shark hoodie for years now, but instead released or reworked classics.

    Thankfully I got all the Bape pieces I have wanted :)

  27. DMC Says:

    Any word on how this will affect the other NOWHERE Co. brands? UNDERCOVER et al. were still under the NOWHERE umbrella last time I checked, but ‘last time I checked’ was admittedly none too recently.

  28. Kleqster Says:

    Nigo’s Bugatti Veyron is worth more than $2.8 mil

  29. blood donor Says:

    very interesting article man! i had no idea about the debt situation. i have been visiting the london BWS since my first visit to tokyo back in 2003. sometimes they release stupid items, and sometimes they release nice items. i still like bape today.

  30. A Bathing Ape | SLAMXHYPE Says:

    […] been at the heart of many street culture enthusiasts over the past few days, and this article by Neojaponisme’s W. David Marx touches on some very interesting points. Many of you must have a strong opinion about […]

  31. JohnnyVegas Says:

    So i’m assuming even though the company has crumbled and been sold off for pittance (with debt) Nigo himself is still protected with huge personal wealth? Any story of what he plans to do now and in the near future?

  32. ac Says:

    man, i remember the days when (as my boy JL said) “…we were responsible for all the releases that sold out within an hour.”! were were at BWS NY every saturday & sunday spending like mad men lol. imagine dropping $500 weekly for about a year at my max of $1200 one saturday hahaha.

    had the perks, had items held, got this got that AND NOW THE ISH IS DEAD TO ME! funny enough shiet just fell of in 08!!! and they started making the darn clothes smaller lol; USA FOOL!

    i still wear a few items, but i would sell some of the more flamboyant items for $50 (hoodies included smh)! man, i play ball in bape tees hahaha (i 26 so whatever lol); even played in stas during league games hahahahaha (matched hahaha)

    WELL, ITS DEAD NOW…; i just hope that i do not see this stuff in MACYS!

    GREAT ARTICLE, final bath indeed & twas not in luke warm water hahahahaha

  33. BLOAKE Says:

    Bape is Sanrio for men.

  34. hcircle Says:

    This isn’t the first time this has happened to a hip street fashion design company. Look at the rise and fall and rise again (now as a private label for US mega box store Target) of Mossimo. And there are a ton of other US street brands from the 90s that blew up and flamed out.

  35. A Bathing Ape Take A Final Bath | IAMFATTERTHANYOU.COM Says:

    […] interesting article from W. David MARX of Neojaponism reflecting on the recent sale of A Bathing Ape. Is it possible, as Marx’ suggests, this is an […]

  36. Mike D. Says:

    Interesting Note:

    It has been said that Nigo (BAPE) infrastructure was largely financed by Yakuza. This comes from very reliable sources, and there is a parallel between the arc of BAPE and the arc of Pride, K1, and now Shooto (all MMA promoters in Japan). They are now too suffering the fallout overall of the massive debt problems and Yakuza related fate.

    I’ve been to one of Nigo’s houses and it was a 3 or 4 story place (can’t remember because i was really faded) – and he sure did have a lot of expensive art and relics in there.

  37. W. David MARX Says:

    I think just saying “financed by the yakuza” is a bit blunt, and I am not sure we have any public proof of that. Let’s also remember that Nigo was making a killing on a completely legitimate sale of high-priced items to hundreds of thousands of Japanese consumers from around 1997 to 2003. It was a small company, and they had big revenues. And Nigo made a lot of money.

    We do know, however, that eight of the Ura-Harajuku brands, including Nowhere, got into big trouble over tax evasion in 2004. (See [jp]) The investigation centered around the brands’ mutual (yet unnamed) 57 year-old “management advisor” to whom they would send cash to through a convoluted system that involved fake invoices. These articles all appeared in the newspapers on the same day — a classic leak scenario from the Tax Agency. But that’s all that was really made public about the incident, and as far as the news reported, no one went to jail. Fines were likely paid.

  38. blood donor Says:

    that link doesnt work david, what were the other brands involved in this trouble?

    once, i heard silly thing was funded by triads. it just takes one stupid rumour. although if there is any truth in that i would like to know lol.

    i dont know if final bath is the right name for this article, if you are right and a chinese company does take over bape, surely the brand will spread/dilute even more, rather than die?

  39. W. David MARX Says:

    Fixed link. Other brands were not always listed in the articles but at least Soph, Neighborhood, and One Gram (Supreme etc.) were involved. We can assume the others were part of this large family of brands.

  40. Tony Says:

    I am a Taiwanese, from what I have observed, the greater china’s market is lead by HKers, and BAPE is not that big of a hit anymore in HK, people change, maybe not as quick, but they do , and you can tell BAPE’s repeating designs does not appeal to most of the HKers anymore, so what is left for I.T inc to actually dig gold from is the slower followers Taiwan, and then the uprising youth power in China, which still might be a relatively huge market, but time is running out.

  41. Brucey Boy Says:

    Supreme next? They are definitely heading towards the bottom of the triangle…

  42. vjm Says:

    For me, part of the appeal of BAPE was the “Made in Japan” factor. Can we assume that future BAPE will “Made in China”?

    And is current state of BAPE a sign of things to come for BBC/Ice-Cream?

  43. henry Says:

    Supreme while big in Japan is not Japanese, dont get it twisted.

    I see BAPE’s classics still being worth something, but I think the popularity of bape really fell off, just like AF1s and SBs. Everything comes to an end, we just have to get it now on the next big thing

  44. W. David MARX Says:

    I am very aware Supreme is not Japanese. One Gram was the company responsible for their license in Japan.

  45. M-Bone Says:

    “the arc of Pride, K1, and now Shooto”

    I’m shocked that nobody in the press has associated the decline of Japanese fight sports with herbivore men.

  46. boogie Says:

    Can someone explain how BAPE is able to sell BAPESTA sneakers, which look like Air Force 1 rip offs, without Nike shutting that down?

  47. W. David MARX Says:

    I’ve always heard that companies from which Bape has “borrowed” ideas (20th Century Fox, Adidas, Nike) have basically let it operate because it’s good promotion for their own goods to have a hot brand copy them.

    I have a vague memory of some lawsuits against Bape though that were never made public, so there could have been some court clarification of this somewhere.

  48. CAtoNY Says:

    I resold Bape extensively 2004-2008. There was a dramatic change in production volume in roughly mid 2007 when stores started receiving much higher volumes of merchandise. At one point every store except Harajuku and Aoyama would get 2 or less of each item in each size, and for higher priced items they would sometimes not receive anything in a given size. In late 2007 suddenly stores started receiving plenty of stock for all items, and through my friendships with BWS staff at a variety of stores I know this is fact, not perception based on reduced demand. Once this kicked off we all knew the brand was doomed as the equation totally changed for collectors around the world. What I do not know is if this over-production was an attempt to get out of debt or the cause of it. Another oddity of Nowhere is the extreme inefficiency that they used for staffing, preferring a store and an office in each city and avoiding part-time staffers in favor of more expensive full-time workers (at retail stores).

  49. Chris Says:

    So what’s happening to BBC/Icecream? they were funded by BAPE or are a sister company of Nowhere? Interested to see what happens as a result of this.
    I also read that…
    “Nigo, will serve as a creative director of Nowhere for an “initial period of two years”. The statement said he will oversee product design, brand direction and image development.”

  50. aza Says:

    I am not sure it helps it to be owned by a Chinese company, even in China, but I’ve never fully understood the dynamic of the brand’s appeal in Greater China.

    well david, it blew up in the chinese market because of the brands support by celebrities most notably edison chen.

    it is a formula nigo used very wisely to make this brand so notorious. before when he was working with jun takahashi at nowhere he looke overseas to the beastie boys, james lavelle and other music figures (later on pharrell, clipse, jay-z, kanye and a few more loyal figures to the brand). even promoted locally using japanese celeberties and his music business forming the teriyaki boyz from 2 of japans biggest groups to sport the latest gear. it almost seamed as if music was the major goal for nigo and opening up a clothing line became so popular that it became the main focus after a while. speacial releases were done with the artists as well such as NERD, kanye, daft punk and more recently kid cudi.

  51. aza Says:

    it is another reason nigo created an image of hiphopish style in the NY store with workers who are up and coming arits and actors such a kid cudi who used to work at the NY store and now has background support from within the us ape division to wear a bape items for promotion. I believe they aided in his stardom as well with bapes connection to the music business

  52. charlie flash Says:

    Historically speaking, this really shouldnt be too much of a surprise, to anyone !
    people flipping over the sale price… ummm you obviously all missed the fact that IT DID take all debts also ! !

    What nigo did was fantastic no doubt! BUT…. the idea that cool can live for ever can only really be applied to ‘things’ that arnt based on the NOW… Items that are normally labeled timeless are so because they break the codes of now-ness ! this is cool RIGHT NOW isnt cool tomorrow… everyone knows that… some hold on hoping… but until your era goes through a recycle of cool stage…. it aint cool after the used by date.

    BAPE…. WAS cool. It was cool when it was hard to get. It was cool when you copped a numbered T and it was cool when it was growing. The ideas were cool. The execution was cool.
    What wasnt cool and again, realistically, what has caused its downfall in the markets we know is the the “YELLING”…. YOU ARE NOT COOL IF YOU ARE NOT BAPE……… That mixed with appauling in store attitudes (in EVERY SINGLE walk in store across the globe) has in a nut shell all added to what was ultimately inevitable.

    Nigo prancing around buying and showing off his personal wealth…. that got boring.. ripping off other major brands … again…got a bit boring…. having other so called “now coolers” hand in hand… well… they fall…you fall… Kanye… hes def NOT cool. Pharrell….his time of cool is also on the whine….
    and again and again and again… how many times does the consumer need to be told…. THIS IS COOL….
    so really…. is any of this that surprising to anyone in the biz or anyone whos followed streetwear culture for the last 20+ years ?
    Fact is… most labels specializing in a “culture”…. eventually go under or get consumed by the larger ! thats the nature of the beast.

    what will be interesting to see is how BAPE moves forward from this. How will IT move forward…. can BAPE be cool without NIGO, and or can it even be COOL AGAIN?……

    The net is as powerful or is as reflective as general moods and tastes….
    “kids in asia” wondering whether they really want to buy into a label that has been sunk in the “real world” … that will be interesting to see.
    As will NIGO’s next move….. because all said and done…BAPE’s cool date may have expired but NIGO’s IDEAS have always been a few steps ahead.
    the man’s personal wealth has not been hammered. maybe halted for now… but you know… a private sale here and there and before you know it he’ll be back ! that is fact !

  53. pinkmenace Says:

    im just worried of wad is to become of the brand. change in quality? for the good or bad? how bout exclusivity? would I.T open more stores and totally wipe of its exclusivity? and how bout the design?

    and yes, i would love to noe if this has any effect on bbc icecream?

  54. A Bathing Ape RIP? | The Style Raconteur Says:

    […] Just a few days ago, the street and fashion world was met with the shocking sale of over 90% of A Bathing Ape and its parent company NOWHERE to Hong Kong fashion conglomerate for minute sum of less than $3 million USD. In an article by Neojaponisme‘s W. David Marx, he parlays his own personal experience with A Bathing Ape and details its subsequent up and down success over the last 10 years which ultimately led to the sale of the brand. Many have speculated as to why the brand was sold for so little, however the Wall Street Journal painted a sobering picture in regards to how I.T is now in possession of NOWHERE’s ¥2.6 billion JPY (approximately $32 million USD) in debt. Looking back at Marx’s article, he speaks about the downfall of BAPE, it’s slight resurgence thanks to Pharrell Williams, and its relationship possessed between A Bathing Ape and the Chinese market. Excerpts can be seen below while the full article is seen here. […]

  55. Sudeep Says:

    Great article… And a sad story to boot.

    Sure brands go from being cool to uncool and they have their unique idiosyncrasies, but the root of the problem here seems to be that Nigo just wasted all the money!

    To think that the entire BAPE empire was sold for $2.8M is insane, yes they bought the debt too, but how someone gets to the stage that all their wealth, fame and talent disappears like this is insane.

    As the article says, Nigo’s art collection would be worth more than the price paid.


  56. Rolo Says:

    He’s said it himself, he was just really bad at business. He clearly spent profit as if it was his wage and spent years working towards economies of scale to increase the value of that ‘pay’ rather than logical re-investment into the company.

    To all those saying that ‘this is normal, a brand can only be cool for a certain period’ etc…come on now…Some of my favourite brands have and will be around for ages, and it’s those brands with a strong heritage that people, especially in fashion, love.

    With better management Bape could’ve retained all of the elements that gave it initial success, if your core consumer stops wearing the product, the idea is that you make an effort to understand ‘why’ and then sort it. Or if you care so much about the brand as it is, end it and start something new.

    But I’m talking business here, not life. He’s human, not perfect, and has made lots and lots of money, and had lots and lots of fun. He’s made sure he has all the nice things and friends that he has ever wanted, and a nice bank balance to keep him going. I don’t think running an efficient business that looks after shareholders interests etc etc has ever been his concern.
    And now he’s a creative director, employed by a massive company, which will also be fun.

    So for me, in a nutshell, none of this is confusing – it’s just a kind of interesting behind-the-scenes moment.

    Also, I don’t know if the fact that the Soho Bape store looks different is a ‘bad’ thing? And I don’t know if it will even close. A change of ownership doesn’t mean that it has to.

    This article was really intersting and it’s also been good to read all of the comments. Nigo sure does know how to create a buzz!


  57. Elvis Says:

    I work in a boutique that sells Billionaire Boys Club and we have just received our first drop of the season, it says made in China which is a first for a company that has prided itself on being made in Japan. So do you think that Nigo sold the company a couple of seasons ago when these goods got produced? It seems a bit of a coincidence that their clothing is now made in China.

  58. W. David MARX Says:

    You can’t run one of the most successful Japanese brands in history and be “bad at business.” What ridiculous, after-the-fact self-deprecation. Maybe he got bad at business. But he had a good run.