When I think of Japanese fashion, I immediately think of the beautiful traditional kimono design. But a trip to Tokyo and many other Japanese cities will quickly make you realise that contemporary, particularly women’s, fashion is a thriving industry. One particularly successful brand is kay me, which has just launched in the UK – and I caught up with its founder, Junko Kemi.
You can also follow kay me international on Twitter here.
First of all, please introduce yourself.
Hello, my name is Junko Kemi. I am the founder of kay me, a Japanese clothing brand specialising in women’s business wear. kay me has five stores in Japan and has just launched in the UK. However, I actually began my career as a marketing consultant working at organisations including PwC and Boston Consulting Group before launching my own consultancy, maojian works aged 31. It was in 2011, after the Japan earthquake, that I decided to follow my true passion and, as I often struggled to find suitable workwear in Tokyo department stores, I decided I would create my own womenswear label.
Where did the inspiration for your clothing brand, kay me, come from? How did you go about realising it?
Growing up, my grandmother owned a kimono shop in Osaka, Japan’s second city. She was an immense influence on me. One of the many amazing lessons she taught me was to do something for others to help them achieve their goals. My favourite quote from her is “the goal of life is not to focus on attaining lovely things for yourself, but how you can give to others. That will be your legacy.” This customer centric mantra, learnt from my grandmother, was essential in my creation of kay me. Within one afternoon of deciding to start kay me, I was already on the phone with a pattern maker discussing designs. That’s when kay me began.
What makes kay me different from other fashion brands?
kay me garments have a series of unique features: stretchy, machine washable, non-crease, easy to coordinate dresses and they show the wearer’s personality and femininity in the workplace. kay me is more than just an apparel brand, it is a lifestyle brand designed to support busy and ambitious women achieve success, and in the future, we will be adding a range of services to the kay me brand, all focused on our key audience of busy professional women.
Japanese fashion is famous across the world today. Why do you think it’s become so popular internationally?
I think something new is always appealing, and Japan has a certain exoticism to it. The culture of kimonos, its traditional and classical elegance is now once again starting to become more appreciated internationally as a symbol of Japanese beauty, probably popularised by recent movies.
What do you enjoy best about working in the fashion industry?
I always wanted to make clothing for me, so I developed a brand where I am the target customer. I love getting feedback from customers about how they appreciate the way the clothing fits in with their own lifestyles, which are very similar to my own corporate career days. The extra benefit is that I always have plenty of choice for things to wear for any occasion because at kay me, we design and make clothing that meets the needs of every situation that a busy woman might find herself in.
Do you have any advice for any budding fashion designers?
My advice would be to become knowledgeable and experienced in business first. Creating beautiful designs is definitely a skill, but translating that into a finished product that is ready to sell and backed up by marketing and customer support is a much harder task. Be ready to work some long hours and do a lot yourself in the early days, but certainly if you want to create your own brand, you need more than just design sense.