If an obscure Japanese brand drops a collection in the woods and no one is around to cop it, does the hype still exist? Pseudo-zen questions aside, saying that the Japanese market is far, far saturated with dope stuff in comparison to the European and American markets is well, duh, a no-brainer.

While the cream rises to the top and the keen eye of buyers at shops like Union LA and the super savvy crowd of forum nerds and discerning Disqus commenters on style blogs tend to be up on these brands, there are far too many awesome labels that go under-appreciated.

Here are five labels that deserve to be paid attention to by more people, two of which you’ve probably heard of but don’t know much about. And if you did already know about all five of them, congratulate yourself with a pat on the back and friggin’ buy something, will you? Afterwards, catch up on last month’s installment of Under the Radar, featuring nine emerging brands from around the world that deserve your consideration.

Sasquatchfabrix.

Daisuke Yokoyama started his Sasquatchfabrix. label in 2003, stemming from a freepaper (think of it as a Japanese zine) he published revolving around graffiti and global culture. He started making tees to complement the freepaper, and it’s evolved into a full collection that blends traditional Japanese garms with a knowing urban sensibility and a distinct street appeal, and operates as part of design collective Wonder Worker Guerrilla Band.

The label’s motto of “Sense of Freshness. High Performance Vandalism” speaks to Yokoyama’s effortless mix of kimono-inspired shirts and robe coats with intricately printed varsity jackets, enviable MA-1 bombers, and collarless-yet-dapper topcoats. It’s the kind of eclectic cultural mix you’d expect from a worldly DJ who can somehow shoehorn the most obscure Japanese shamisen music into a ‘90s hip-hop playlist. Yokoyama’s T-shirt prowess still shines through, offering up graphics that play on the Tommy Boy records logo, Beavis and Butthead, and skate culture all at once.

Bed J.W. Ford

Cutting his teeth working at vintage stores, Bed J.W. Ford co-founder Shinpei Yamagishi is fond of designers like Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, and Yohji Yamamoto. In 2011, he and Keisuke Kosaka launched Bed J.W. Ford, which is about as under-the-radar as a Japanese brand can get, with relatively little play in English-speaking countries.

The reason for that is beyond us, as the clothes are one of the few collections that can speak for themselves. Lush outerwear options like navy blue suede jackets and “why didn’t I think of that?” collarless MA-1 bombers mesh well with long plaid flannel coats, fleece zip-ups, and even skinny suede pants. The eclectic nature of the collection is juxtaposed with interesting styling choices like putting models in Jordan 10 sneakers and black-and-gold Jordan 1s for the lookbook.

Freak’s Store

A Japanese retailer that’s been around since 1986, the multi-brand retailer has an impressive in-house line that’s surprisingly affordable. Sure, there are special make-ups like their Champion Japan collaborations that sell out almost instantly, but Freak’s Store also makes products like elongated band collar oxfords and lightweight fishtail parkas with a removable hood at prices that clock in under $100 U.S. dollars. Their in-house footwear is also worth checking out, as they offer takes on staples like the Wallabee-like Paraboot Chambord – Goodyear-welted, no less – that offer a great balance of quality, style, and price.

Magic Stick Entertainment

It might share a name with a 50 Cent song but Magic Stick’s ethos also shares a name with Black Sheep’s seminal single: “The Choice Is Yours.” Founded in 2009, it’s part streetwear brand steeped in ‘90s-nostalgia, and part-super cheeky manufacturer of hardwearing yet humorous staples (think awesome sherpa trucker jackets, shearling lined coats, and dad caps emblazoned with statements like “I MET GOD SHE’S BLACK”). Magic Stick toes the line between street culture, fashion, and the music that inspires both in a way that no other brand has quite mastered.

Wacko Maria/GUILTY PARTIES

Wacko Maria is the brainchild of two retired football players: goalie Nobuhiro Mori and forward Keiji Ishizuka. With the beautiful game behind them, they went into making beautiful clothes in 2005. Ishizuka once said his clothes were inspired by “friends, films, music, wine, women” – and that influence shows in the rockabilly design sensibilities and ‘50s Greaser vibes of the clothes.

It’s not surprising the two also opened a music bar called Rock Steady, and that anti-authority attitude rings true in the profanity-laced clothes, though there are plenty of less foul-mouthed garms available too, especially from Wacko Maria’s other line, Guilty Parties.

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Words by Staff
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