The man behind BAPE. Who is Nigo?
Becoming a legend of any kind is hard, moreso if you are part of the cut-throat fashion industry. One of these so-called legends is Nigo, the founder of BAPE and possibly the most famous Japanese street fashion entrepreneur of all time.
Nigo, born Tomoaki Nagao on December 23, 1970, grew up in the modest prefecture of Gunma. At the age of 16, Nigo became enamored with hip-hop and its style. It was around this time that Nigo saved up enough money to purchase his first set of turntables and began to learn how to DJ.
After graduating highschool, Nigo moved to Tokyo and accepted a place at the world-renowned Bunka Fashion College. Nigo reportedly said that he learned “zero” while studying at Bunka, however he did meet future partner and frequent collaborator Jun Takahashi, who would go on to create another Japanese streetwear brand, UNDERCOVER.
After Nigo completed his studies at Bunka, he began to make connections in the street fashion scene through nightclub scene of Tokyo. During this period, Nigo was introduced to Hiroshi Fujiwara (also known as the “Godfather of Ura-Harajuku), one of Japan’s first hip-hop producers. It was Fujiwara who gave Nigo his nickname which means “number two” in Japanese due to the pair’s similarities, and their friendship changed the life of the budding designer forever.
In 1993 with Fujiwara’s help, Nigo and Takahashi founded the fashion brand Nowhere Store in Harajuku. During this time Nigo met his frequent collaborator SK8THING (also known as Shinichiro Nakamura) and by the end of the year, he started his BAPE adventure by opening the first A BATHING APE store, offering new and different designs every week.
Instead of mass-producing merchandise, Nigo created hype around his new label by only creating enough clothing to meet ten percent of demand. This business model gave BAPE the prestige of being a must-have collectible brand, with the brand at its peak bringing in around $47 million a year.
By the 2000s BAPE had arrived in the West and Nigo met the likes of Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, and many other American hip-hop artists. Nigo became close friends with Pharrell Williams, the two going on to create the brand Billionaires Boys Club. By 2006, BAPE opened two of its first overseas flagship stores in New York and Los Angeles.
In 2010, Nigo stepped down as CEO of BAPE and the brand was sold to Hong Kong fashion conglomerate I.T. for $2.8 million. Over the following two years, Nigo stayed on with BAPE to assist with the transition.
Since 2012, Nigo has been working on a variety of projects such as as his new fashion label HUMAN MADE, which also runs as a restaurant and a coffee shop. Nigo also has taken the position of creative director for Uniqlo’s UT line of graphic t-shirts and is a frequent collaborator of Adidas.
Nigo is a living legend of street fashion and has become one of the most important trend setters in the world.