Tomboys, whether you’re heading out to the hills or simply warming yourself up when temperatures drop, Columbia has been a trusted brand in outdoor wear. The brand has also been consistently creating a special Japan Collection just for their loyal fans in the country which is now available in the US and globally. Ramp up your tomboy style with this highly popular collection that’s been selling like hot Japanese cakes.
America has traditionally been the place where outdoor gear and outdoor wear has been popular with a lot of us tomboys incorporating their flannel shirts, hiking boots, parkas and jackets into our wardrobe. That lumberjack-look has also, over the last 25 years since the brand arrived at their flagship store in Tokyo, been making tsunami waves in Japan.
However, over the years Columbia has realised that Japanese people have a preference for vintage, traditional American outdoor wear and gear. Something locals have been collecting for decades. Columbia then decided to introduce a collection made specifically for the Japanese market, designed in Tokyo, nearly 25 years ago.
Combining Columbia’s industry-leading material technologies with street-forward styling, Columbia’s Japan line, or J-Line, soon became coveted among clothing resellers.
Just as Columbia reacted to Japanese demand by introducing a unique collection, it recognized the Japan line’s potential in the US and has recently begun offering it to select retailers. Jack Threads is among the premier fashion destinations for the Columbia Japan Line, carrying a full range of jackets with technical details and everyday functionality — think layers that can summit mountain ranges and conquer commutes.
For us tomboys, the Japan collection is a god-send for those looking to get your tomboy style on with Columbia’s Funky Fresh Japan Collection. It’s funky fresh street feel is appropriate for all our outdoor and urban adventures.
Jackthreads spoke with Brian Finlayson, Columbia’s regional market merchant for international distribution and emerging markets, about the origins and growth of the Japan line, and what makes it unique.
JACKTHREADS (JT): How and why did the Japan Line start?
Brian Finlayson (BF): We had been working with a distributor in Japan, going back 27 years, and found that the marketplace was very different. Japanese consumers love American brands with a lot of history and heritage, and had embraced Columbia from the beginning. But tastes are different, and fits are different. Design-wise, color-wise, in order to grow that market, we knew that we had to localize the product. And in order to localize the product, we had to have a design team in that country.
JT: What sort of relationship does the design team in Japan have with Columbia in the US?
BF: We sign off on everything they do, but we don’t stifle their creativity. We’ll give them guidelines, seasonal initiatives, and technologies, and we’ll review each season’s collection style by style, but we won’t say no to anything. We just want to know what’s going on.
JT: What led to the decision to start distributing the line in the US and the rest of the world?
BF: The brand does very, very well in Japan because it’s customized for that marketplace. We’re also in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan — lots of Asian markets that look to Japan for the latest fashions, the latest trends and technology. So, basically, based on my knowledge of distributor market needs, I started to take the designs that I felt would have the best reception in the territories I worked with and plugged it into the line. A couple of speciality retailers in the US came to us after seeing the Columbia Japan line product in Tokyo. They asked if they could have some of it — retailers that we didn’t even do business with approached us and asked to see the collection. And we said “sure!”
JT: When selecting products from the Japan Collection, is there anything – fabrics, silhouette, colorways – that you omit for fear that it would be too forward for an American market?
BF: I actually try to pick the more forward products. Some pieces in the Japan line are similar to what we have in our global line, developed out of our office in Portland. I stay away from that because we already have it — it’s not as special. So I favor styles that we’re not currently doing, like a berber fleece or a really unique colorway — things we’re not doing in our main line, but that I see trending. There are a lot of really cool, unique prints and colors and color combinations in the line.
JT: What does the Columbia brand name represent overseas? And in Japan, in particular?
BF: It’s an outdoor brand with an authentic heritage. Gert (Boyle, daughter of Columbia Sportswear founder Paul Lamfrom) has always been our spokesperson. That’s unique, and a lot of consumers overseas think that’s really cool, to have a woman as the face of the brand. People are drawn to the brand’s story, its older styles, the brand’s heritage…
It really started with our fishing vest. That was a big fashion statement during the ’90s. We were doing 30,000 units of a fishing vest in Japan, alone.
JT: Was it big in the US, too? Or something that people took a liking to and made into a trend?
BF: It was popular in the US for its end use, but it was a fashion piece in Japan. No one was fishing with it.
JT: In many ways, the Japan Line does the inverse today – style-forward pieces with technical benefits.
BF: Correct. Everything is designed through the filter of being used outdoors, but there’s a fashion twist to it. Style in Tokyo is unlike anything anywhere else in the world. People will mix Columbia with other brands, or wear Columbia head-to-toe so it looks like they’re going to hike up Mt. Fuji. But there’s tons of color and really amazing layering. I’m always surprised by what I see when I go to Tokyo.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE APPEARS ON THE JACK THREADS WEBSITE.
h/t Jack Threads