narifuri offers functional but stylish fashion items with the concept of bicycle × fashion. It was Kazumasa Kobayashi, the director, who set up the narifuri brand which is popular with cyclists and those who do not ride bicycles alike and who works on product planning.
The brand was established in 2007. At that time people often asked Mr. Kobayashi, “You are a real bicycle enthusiast, aren’t you? What kind of bike do you ride?” or “You make these clothes for practicality so that it is easy to move and pedal, don’t you?”
Mr. Kobayashi says he never knew what to say in these situations. He was using a bicycle to commute but it was no more than that. Not to mention that this was nothing more than his job and because it was his job, he needed a strategy. Through trial error and thorough consideration of how to establish his own brand in the fashion world, Mr. Kobayashi arrived at the answer: bicycle × fashion.
“The first thing I thought of when setting up an apparel brand was not following fashion. Then, to do things that no one had done before.”
There is no point in improving on things that already exist. Neither is it possible to win through in competition. The result of seeking to create something from scratch is the narifuri of today.
At the time when Mr. Kobayashi was setting up the brand, cyclists were becoming more and more interested in fashion and cycling apparel was starting to be acknowledged little by little. “The image of bicycle = environmentally-friendly was deep-seated and cycling wear was mostly produced in bright colors. It was precisely because of this that I created our first product, the messenger bag, and our mountain parka in black to create a slightly ‘outlaw’ kind of image.”
If we take just one of these color decisions, we can see Mr. Kobayashi’s aim to ‘conduct business in cycling apparel’. So where did the concept of a ‘cycling apparel brand that does not look like cycling apparel’ come from? It all goes back to an encounter Mr. Kobayashi had overseas.
The name narifuri comes from Japanese words for clothing (nari) and attitude (furi) and from this, we can understand that the emphasis is not on the clothes themselves but on the style of those who wear and live in them.
This is not just simply about dressing up, it is about creating a style. Mr. Kobayashi learned this from his bosses at the company where he had an internship while studying overseas.
“To be honest, they didn’t teach me a thing about work! But, to me, in any case, they were really cool adults both in style and in the way they lived their lives.”
“It’s difficult to put into words but I really looked up to them and wanted to be just like them. Of course, they had style, which is not really something that everyone can copy. When I look back on it now, I realize that it is the same thing with a brand. It is not something that is visible but the style definitely has a philosophy or an ideology.”
Making something that does not already exist in the world requires the ability to create something which goes half a step further than what the average person can imagine. It was precisely by repeatedly doing this that led to branding and this is also Mr. Kobayashi’s style. It is maybe for this reason that it is possible to break through the barriers of the bicycle even while using it as the basis for brand focus.
“I often say that we want to create clothes for century 21.5 but what we are aiming for in is no way futuristic clothing for an imaginary world. In other words, we do not value fashion over function or lose much of a sense of fashion by valuing functionality - we want to create clothing that combines both of these features and goes one step further than products that are on the market now.”
narifuri’s suits have advanced functions such as breathability and quick-drying properties, not to mention how light they are. However, they are not designed for cycling and they look like proper suits. You can tell how good these suits are as you slip on the jacket - a product that is particular about is appearance, its stylishness and the feel when it is worn. The fact that we are particular about these things is affirmed by many people in their 30s and 40s.
“I am working on product planning at the moment but I am really not a designer. So, I can’t do sketches like other fashion designers often do. I just think carefully about the meaning of selling and brand.”
Even now, Mr. Kobayashi is exploring the nature of the narifuri brand. It may be precisely because he is taking on a brand that is always progressing in the present that he is able to create new values. Mr. Kobayashi’s trends, which create unity between the points of view of the end user and professionals, are garnering great expectations from both within the industry and outside it.
“For example, sweets, words, cars… Whatever we created, it would have to be in the narifuri identity or it wouldn’t work. We will continue to pursue the acknowledgement of identity = style from everyone.”
The style that Mr. Kobayashi is aiming for in this modern age where we are told that there is no individuality, seems to provide big tips for living life. Individuality has the aspect of completely being yourself but might it also be the continuous challenge to be different from other people.
narifuri is entering onto the world stage, opening a boutique in New York in June this year. Through style (brand), Mr. Kobayashi will surely offer us a number of surprises in the future. OVE carries the narifuri spring/summer collection and holds related events to create many opportunities to experience the brand so that customers can come into contact with Mr. Kobayashi’s style.
Kazumasa Kobayashi Profile
Director of narifuri. After studying fashion marketing in New York, he worked in PR and sales for an Italian brand. After returning to Japan, he worked in sales and production management for an apparel manufacturer and subsequently went freelance. He established narifuri in 2007.