Just earlier this month, we had reported on the majority purchase of Nowhere Corp., a parenting company of streetwear brand A Bathing Ape, by Hong Kong fashion giant I.T. It sent shock-waves through different media platforms in the fashion and streetwear industry. Rumors were already circulating prior to the finalization of the deal and even after it was sealed, the dust has yet to settle. To clarify his views on the current situation of Nowhere Corp. and A Bathing Ape, NIGO expresses his feelings and thoughts in an exclusive post sale interview.
Tomoaki Nagao, commonly known for his nickname NIGO, does not deny the fact that his strengths are not in the business aspect of the company. Since its inception in 1995, NIGO have built up the cult following of the brand, which peaked around 2006/2007 period, and the it took a downturn soon there after. NIGO soon came to an understanding that in order for A Bathing Ape to survive in the difficult economic climate, it would require a partner that has the capabilities to handle the management side of the business. Read after the jump for detailed interview with NIGO.
NIGO is ever so optimistic on the perspective of the venture and he has shown interest in staying involved with the brand after the initial two year period as a creative director in BAPE is over. A Bathing Ape's popularity is soaring in China and NIGO thinks that I.T will be the perfect partner to grow the brand. Furthermore, NIGO will keep working on the current portfolio of projects including Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, a separate venture in partnership with Pharrell Williams.
"The company itself wasn't in a very dire situation, but in the end I spent so much time looking after the management side that I wasn't really able to do design," he told WWD during an interview at his personal atelier, packed with what is only a portion of his extensive collection of vintage toys, art, pop culture artifacts and designer furniture. A statue of Colonel Sanders greets visitors at the entrance, and the space downstairs houses no less than a vintage Coca-Cola vending machine, a jukebox, a giant Apple Computer logo sign in neon lights and a series of paintings by New York-based artist Kaws featuring the Simpsons characters with missing eyes.
"Basically, I can't do business. I'm not suited for it. I wish I had had a partner on the business side from the beginning," said a surprisingly upbeat Nigo, whose real name is Tomoaki Nagao. The music and fashion impresario said he always thought he would sell the company he incorporated in 1995.
"I turned 40 [last December], there was the turning point of the brand reaching nearly 20 years since its establishment, and I think I made a forward-looking choice," he said, acknowledging the brand's popularity in Japan has faded in recent years. "About two or three years ago the brand and the company got too big for me to handle, plus there was the problem with the economy, and the number of things I wasn't able to control on my own increased, so I started looking for a partner."
Nigo said sales for the year ended Aug. 31 totaled about 5 billion yen, or $55.5 million. He said sales peaked in the 2006 to 2007 period, when Nowhere was registering an annual volume of about 7.5 billion yen, or $63 million.
In April 2009, Nigo stepped down as president and director of Nowhere in an effort to bring in more formal management, but that was a short-lived arrangement and he resumed his role at the helm of the company only a few months later.
I.T has said Nowhere posted a loss of 267.43 million yen, or $2.78 million, for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2009, and a loss of 119.05 million yen, or $1.32 million, for the year ended Aug. 31, 2010. Dollar figures were converted at average exchange rates for the periods to which they refer.
But Nigo expressed a different take on the numbers. "The accounting base is different, so I don't think we made a loss. It's difficult [to say]. But I never missed payments or delayed paying employees' salaries," he said, adding he's kept his personal fortune and the company's coffers separate.
Nowhere had net liabilities of 1.25 billion yen, or $13.88 million, as of Aug. 31. Also, I.T is taking on about 4.31 billion yen, or $52.79 million, of Nowhere's outstanding bank loans and shop leases.
"I definitely didn't want to file [for bankruptcy] under the Civil Rehabilitation Law, and I didn't want to damage the brand," Nigo said. "I had a strong feeling that I wanted the brand to survive, so the main thing was thinking what to do about that. I spent 20 years building it up, so it would be a real shame for it to disappear."