“Tokyo is the fashion capital of the world,” Need Supply Co. CEO Chris Bossola says, “and they do retail like no one else.” (Photo courtesy Need Supply Co.)
From Carytown to Kumamoto — it wasn’t a move Need Supply Co. was actively pursuing, but when CEO Chris Bossola and Creative Director Gabriel Ricioppo were approached by their now-partners in late 2014 about expanding into Japan, Bossola says they “agreed quickly to the concept.” Quick is definitely the operative word, as two stores — one in Tokyo and one in Kumamoto — opened in November 2015.
Bossola and Ricioppo weren’t complete strangers to the Japanese market when they made the decision to open overseas. The pair already were working in Japan with Takayuki Minami to publish a Japanese-language version of Need’s magazine, the Human Being Journal.
Need launched the Human Being Journal in 2012; it’s a biannual publication with a focus on fashion, interiors, travel, art and food. Ricioppo says they began the print project with “no lofty goals” and intended only to “create something that would last.”
The Japanese consumer obviously connected with Need’s highly edited aesthetic, and the company’s Japanese partners saw potential for incredible growth of the brand in
their country beyond the print publication.
“Tokyo is the fashion capital of the world,” Bossola says, “and they do retail like no one else.” To bring their brand into that high-concept boutique culture was a no-brainer for the pair. In fact, when starting their company, Bossola remembered that Ricioppo often said, “I want us to be big in Japan!”
Bossola and Ricioppo began working closely with their Japanese partners to create the concepts for both stores. As creative director, Ricioppo put together the initial mood board for the Japan stores but worked closely with Minami, his Japanese counterpart, to refine the style. He says it was “a very collaborative process.” Bossola echoes that sentiment, saying they’ve had “a nice give and take” through their partnership and that it has been “exciting to work with another team with different ideas.”
The Japanese team from left to right: Saori Hayashida (Tokyo store manager), Satomi Tada (Takayuki Minami’s assistant director), Takayuki Minami (head of Alpha PR for Japan stores), Kota Engaku (editor of Human Being Journal Japan). (Photo courtesy Need Supply Co.)
It’s not unusual for American retailers to work with local partners when they expand into Japan, Ricioppo says. While Ricioppo and Bossola remain the majority owners and have final say in creative decisions, they want their team in Japan to buy and merchandise the stores in a way they know will attract the Japanese consumer.
Aside from the popularity of the Journal in Japan, Bossola says that Need was “big, but not huge” in Japan before they opened their stores, due in large part to the Japanese consumer’s weariness of English-language e-commerce stores. While Need’s online presence has exploded over the past few years in many parts of the world, the Japanese market was one they hadn’t conquered — until now. In addition to the two stores and Japanese-language Journal, Need is working on a Japanese-language e-commerce site and another brick-and-mortar location.
Need recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. What started as a small shop selling vintage Levi’s has turned into a retail powerhouse with global influence; in February, Ricioppo was in Copenhagen for fashion week events and seeking new designers for their stores.
Bossola and Ricioppo agree that their growth has been organic. “We’re students of life and we do our best to listen … we have a very democratic and inclusive approach to our brand and strategy,” Ricioppo says, adding that being based in Richmond has “forced us to focus on what we believe and do things our way.”