One of the most influential street-wear labels of this decade to come out of Japan, A Bathing Ape, will be sold to Hong Kong clothing company, I.T. Ltd.. It made the news this past week that a 90% stake of Nowhere Co., the parent company of BAPE will be sold for a mere $2.8 million, an amount Nigo has easily spent on his collection of toys. What’s going on?
BAPE was founded by Nigo (Tomoaki Nagao) in 1993, starting out as a small shop on a discrete location in one of Tokyo’s Harajuku backstreets. Nigo and Jun Takahashi, of the popular collection brand UNDERCOVER, started out here at a storefront they named Nowhere. They soon parted their ways to take the respective brands solo.
Quickly gaining a cult following, Nigo was able to maintain an underground image for BAPE even after reaching mainstream success and sold his brand to the masses on exclusivity by producing his designs in very limited quantities. Crowds of Bape-heads would wrap around the block to get their hands on a rare BAPE item.
This didn’t last forever though. BAPE’s popularity in Japan faded away as Nigo embarked on an expansion frenzy starting second-lines of BAPE, a cafe, art gallery, hair salon and reaching as far as branding commodity items like condoms. The BAPE logo and signature camouflage print were literally everywhere! These moves were part of Nigo’s vision to make BAPE a “lifestyle brand”, a concept which has been successfully implemented by brands like Ralph Lauren to a more mature audience. For BAPE, the consumers were beginning to feel the water-down effect.
However, the mid 2000’s was a turning point for BAPE as influences of hip-hop culture on Nigo came to the forefront and changed the way BAPE marketed themselves. BAPE was then embraced by American hip hop icons such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams which took BAPE to another level of international success.
So why the low price on the sale of Nigo’s empire of apes? According to the Wall Street Journal, Nowhere Co. had been suffering huge losses these past few years. “For the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2010, its net loss was 119 million yen, slightly better than a loss of 267.4 million yen the previous year. The company had liabilities totaling 1.03 billion yen in the year ended August 31.” (WSJ) The grand total racks up to a debt of ¥2.6 billion, the loan for it which will be guaranteed by I.T..
Nigo has agreed to stay as the creative director of Nowhere for two years, focusing on product design, brand direction and image development. It will be interesting to see what I.T. will do to try and put A BATHING APE in the black again, and even more interesting to see what moves Nigo will make after his two years are up.