If you could sum up the history of Porter in two words, they’d be "slightly confusing." The layman would assume that Porter and Head Porter were divisions of the same company, but on further inspection, this isn’t the case. Despite the similarities in name, Head Porter only worked with Yoshida & Co., the umbrella company that Porter operates under, as a manufacturing partner. And, while it is odd to begin an article with a clarification, this is something that does need addressing.
The story of Yoshida & Co. started back in 1918, when Kichizo Yoshida started his training at just 12 years old. In 1935, he launched Yoshida Kaban Seisakujo in Kandasuda-cho, Tokyo. Then, in 1951, the company reformed as Yoshida & Co., Ltd and relocated to Higashi-Kanda, where the current head office still stands. We spoke to Kazuto Hosoya, who joined Yoshida & Co. in 1998, to find out more about the brand.
Yoshida & Co. started out making leather bags, despite being mainly known for nylon bags now. "[We] started to manufacture fabric bags in accordance with the trend [at the time] and now the number of fabric bags is large in our lineup."
Porter was launched in 1962. Hosoya says that "at that time, people were not loyal to a specific brand." Instead, “shopping at a famous department store” was their status symbol. The founder Yoshida was frustrated about the situation, thinking “if customers do not care about the manufacturer, our company name won’t be remembered.” Kichizo created the private brand as a breakthrough; it was a quite unusual for a Japanese bag maker at that time. This move meant that Porter became an established brand for its creations, while similar bag makers were creating bags for other companies, so their work wasn’t recognized as their own, leaving Porter with a distinct advantage. "Our brand had been recognized for our attitude of craftsmanship, and eventually people admired us as a professional bag manufacturer," says Hosoya.
In 1984, Porter launched Luggage Label. We asked Hosoya whether Luggage Label was the first sub-brand from Porter: "We recognize the brand neither as [a] main brand or [a] sub brand, since it was introduced secondly," he states. "The concept is to integrate 'uniqueness' and 'basic,'" he notes, stating that it was a popular brand due to the strength of Yoshida & Co.
Another standout factor of Porter is the sheer number of collaborations it's done. A cursory search brings up collaborations with Stussy Japan, Beauty & Youth, A.P.C., N. Hoolywood, rag & bone, Junya Watanabe, Wings+Horns, Marni, Undercover, J.W Anderson, Margaret Howell, Converse Jack Purcell, Saturdays NYC, Wood Wood, Beams, Levi’s, White Mountaineering, Monocle, Carven and Oliver Peoples. And for its 80th anniversary they’ve worked with adidas Originals, figure making artist Michael Lau, umbrella maker Maehara Koei Shoten and Mastermind Japan. Hosoya sees these prolific collaborations as a direct result of Porter’s work after the 1962 Porter formation. He says that Porter’s work and reputation have "resulted in collaborating with many famous brands and companies from different industries," which would explain why Porter does so many collaborations -- they view it as direct proof that its work resonates with people.
With so many collaborations being outside of the field of accessories, we asked Hosoya if Porter's expertise could ever cross over into a standalone clothing collection: "There is a difference [between bags and clothing]," says Hosoya. "But I believe our bag expertise is able to fit in the clothing field. For example, both bags and clothing nowadays have adopted various materials and fabrics, so both fields require the knowledge of material characteristics and sense of selecting appropriate material[s]." So, while nothing is confirmed, a clothing range from Porter could happen at some point in the future. If nothing else, Porter’s 80th anniversary has ensured that the company is just that little less confusing now.