When angels go camping, they do so using Snow Peak gear. Okay, that might be laying things on a bit thick, but the Japanese brand makes impeccable, aestheticized products that have seen them cultivate a loyal following in both the fashion sphere and the outdoor arena.
If you're like me, the word "camping" no doubt brings to mind wretched memories of waking up in a damp tent at a music festival, your mouth bone-dry from too much cheap booze and even cheaper drugs. Yet that's about as far away from the Snow Peak ethos as one could get. Founded in 1958 by Yukio Yamai, it was the designer's son, Tohru Yamai, who took charge in the mid-’80s, helping bring Japanese camping culture to the masses with the belief that sleeping outdoors didn't necessarily equal discomfort. Some 30 years later, and its Yukio's granddaughter, Lisa, who is carrying the torch, ushering a new era with Snow Peak's inaugural clothing line that launched in 2014.
These days, Snow Peak boasts one of the most intriguing cult consumer bases of any brand around. Go to its meticulously curated SoHo store and you'll find seasoned gearheads spending a fortune on premium stoves and titanium sporks, mixed in with style kids who just think the clothes are dope. In 2019, Snow Peak ticks every box for what a lot of young people want in a brand. It's got heritage, it's got a mystique, and, most importantly, it places a premium on quality. The fact that outdoor apparel is now worn by some of pop culture's biggest movers and shakers has further helped its cause.
In town to cut the metaphorical red ribbon on Snow Peak's new 4,300-square-foot London store — its first-ever in Europe — we caught up with Lisa to find out more about the new space and how she sees her brand currently.
Of all the cities in Europe, why did you choose to open the first Snow Peak store in London?
London is the center of culture and fashion in Europe. People throughout the UK enjoy nature and traditionally go camping – as a result, there is an understanding and appreciation of our high-quality products. We hope the British audience will continue to recognize, understand, and love our products.
Will this store differ from the other Snow Peak locations?
The essential function is the same as other Snow Peak stores we have in Japan and the US. At the entrance, we have apparel products alongside some highlights from the gear collection. Downstairs in the basement we have the entire camping range.
It was important for us to have a space that would be large enough to both build and give demonstrations of our tent ranges, as these haven’t been seen in the UK. We will also regularly give lectures on how to put up tents. This interactive communication with our UK customers is very important [to us].
This store was designed by a Japanese architect, Takamasa Kikuchi, who has lived in the UK for over 20 years. He understands both Japanese culture and the UK audience, which was very important for us. There are touches of Japanese tradition, such as the clay-color walls on the ground floor and the wooden ceiling in the entrance.
In the UK, a lot of young people probably envisage uncomfortable scenarios when they think of camping, like going to music festivals. But the Snow Peak ethos couldn’t be further removed from that, right?
Our founder, Yukio Yamai originally worked with local manufacturers in Niigata to create his own climbing gear, which was designed to be used in the severest weather on the mountainside. Although we no longer make mountain climbing equipment, the ability for our products to withstand the toughest conditions is something that we continue to focus on.
Even when the weather is harsh and tough, we aim to create the most comfortable experience. Many of our products are designed so that they can be folded down to fit inside the boot of the car. We want UK users to enjoy camping and be as comfortable as they would be on their sofas.
We don’t believe in disposable camping gear. We think that equipment is something that should be looked after and cherished. The idea of someone leaving a Snow Peak tent at a festival would be completely against our ethos as a company.
So much of the clothing is designed around a distinctly Japanese interpretation of the outdoors. Fire-resistant clothing for sitting around a bonfire. Vests to keep tools at hand. Do foreign markets understand this functionality, or is it style first, education second?
We have great wholesale partners in the UK, including Matches, Browns, Liberty London, End Clothing, and Kafka Mercantile. At first, the brand was introduced as a fashion line, due to the fabrication and fit of the clothing.
With all of our garments, there is more than meets the eye – parts of the fire-resistant range, for example, are woven with Aramid fibers to increase the resistance, and our flexible insulation range is designed with a fabric that stretches in every direction, to provide ultimate comfort in a layering piece.
By opening our own London store, we really hope that people will be able to spend some time with our retail team to fully understand the versatility and technicality of our clothing. We also have flat-screens throughout the store that show our manufacturing processes and detail the brand's history.
Is Snow Peak a technical brand or a lifestyle brand?
It is both. I started the apparel line in 2014 when there was no brand that designed outdoor performance-wear with a fashionable edge. I have been camping since my childhood and love being outdoors and with nature. I wanted to create clothes that I could wear both camping and in the city, day-to-day. I wanted to bridge outdoor style and street fashion.
How do you feel about “gorpcore” and technical gear being worn in high fashion circles?
I think it’s great that the technicality and style of outdoor clothing has been introduced into high fashion. It has been a dream of mine to bring outdoor culture to a wider audience; making fashion a starting point, then enriching customers' lives with technical outdoor products. However, this trend may not last, and short-term fashion trends cannot bring people to the stage where they truly understand outdoor culture, and adopting nature and an outdoor lifestyle into everyday life.
We’d like to introduce actual outdoor activities and try to increase the number of people who enjoy the outdoors, not just associated fashion trends.
You launched the Outdoor Kimono and Local Wear collections last year. What else is in the pipeline?
We are going to launch our Yamai collection next season. It's a brand-new line under my family name, using only natural organic materials and dyes, such as indigo, mud, and charcoal. At the moment, the Snow Peak collection is mainly unisex; the Yamai collection is womenswear-focussed.
We also launched Local Wear Tourism, a camping event where people can visit traditional Japanese factories to see how their clothing is made, alongside camping and enjoying the traditions of the Snow Peak way.
Most companies start with clothing, then expand into accouterments, but it seems Snow Peak did the opposite. Why was that?
Our founder, a dedicated climber and mountaineer, started to have his equipment made by the highly-skilled metalworkers of his hometown Tsubame-Sanjo in 1958, after being dissatisfied with the equipment available to him at the time.
Afterwards, our current CEO and my father, Tohru Yamai joined and started a line of innovative, high-quality, and timeless camping equipment. My grandfather told my father he was too reckless to go into the mountains, so instead he found pleasure in camping in nature. He followed his own path, which led to start the Auto Camping movement in Japan. Our signature products – such as the pack and carry fireplace and the titanium mugs – were designed, and are still used, by Tohru.
The apparel line started in 2014, when I joined Snow Peak. I had studied fashion and costume design and went on to work as a designer in a Japanese apparel brand. After several years, I realized I wanted to design clothes that incorporated both the outdoors and the fashion industry. Since we started the apparel line, people who are interested in fashion are now also interested in the outdoors and camping. I believe I was able to connect nature and city [with my designs].
Given SP apparel’s home base in Portland, why aren’t Snow Peak’s wild sneakers sold in the US? Was the recent New Balance collab a way to test the waters?
We are also developing shoes ourselves, but we're not at a stage to officially announce a sneaker range yet. We may do so in the future, when we feel a strong need to introduce a range to complement the Snow Peak outdoor lifestyle. The New Balance collab happened as both brands have a similar ethos around product development. As a result of the fantastic partnership we have created a high performance sneaker boot.
Japan is world-famous for Hokkaido skiing and the snow peak of Fuji. Given the brand's name, why haven't you branched into winter sports gear?
We are going to be opening a large-scale store in Hakuba, Nagano next spring, where we can offer more experiences; we will be announcing a winter sports range, too, of which Masakazu Fukuyama will be project director. Fukuyama is a former professional snow boarder and currently based on Mount Tanigawa, which is where our brand name originates from. We are going to field-test products and develop high performance winter sportswear.
Would you say Japan has led the charge in making the outdoor trend look elevated?
Since our 2014 apparel launch, we have been at the forefront of the urban-outdoor fashion trend, which has spread and settled down in Japan by now. We are also increasingly seeing a consumer who is influenced by outdoor fashion.
Find Snow Peak's new London store at:
16A Regent Street
Saint James's, St. James's, London
SW1Y 4PH, United Kingdom