Fashion: Interview / Tokyo
The Jun Group is behind some of Japan’s most inspiring labels. We meet the president of the company selling more than just clothes.
Japanese fashion company Jun Group started in 1958 with a single design: a line of red tartan swimming trunks that famously sold out in a day. Founder Tadashi Sasaki went on to develop full menswear collections under his first label Junmen, adding womenswear to the mix in 1968 with the launch of the Ropé label (named after Saint-Tropez). Since then, the Jun Group has been one of Japan’s biggest fashion pioneers, launching more in-house labels under the Ropé umbrella, opening some of the best-known concept shops in the country, including Maison Kitsuné, and investing in international labels such as Paris-based apc and US casualwear brand Saturdays nyc.
From the beginning, Sasaki looked beyond fashion, broadening his portfolio to include wine, fitness and golf – an approach the European fashion groups are only now warming up to. Café de Ropé, the Parisian-style café that the group opened in 1972, became a Tokyo institution, known for introducing Japan to Perrier water and café au lait. Golf clubs, hair salons and even discos all followed suit.
Today, Sasaki’s son, Susumu, is the company’s president. He oversees 47 brands, almost 2,500 employees, more than 340 shops and annual sales of nearly ¥54bn (€376m). Even though he was always more interested in music than fashion, a spell at Esmod fashion college in Tokyo ignited his passion for clothes. “My father didn’t say so but I always knew that I was expected to take over,” he says. Speaking from the company’s Tokyo headquarters, he shares his plans for the Ropé brands and explains why going global isn’t always good for business.
How have the Ropé brands evolved over the years?
The original Ropé brand still exists [after more than 60 years] and enjoys strong brand recognition in Japan. Adam et Ropé and Ropé Picnic are part of that family, with Ropé Picnic remaining our largest brand in terms of volume. It’s an affordable brand that’s in shopping centres all over Japan and aims to bring fashion to everyone. It’s also Japan-oriented; we’re not trying to appeal to a global audience. When it comes to Adam et Ropé, we’re taking it back to its original spirit. It used to be a lot more fashion-oriented when it started out [in 1990] but had become a little too conservative.
You say that Jun is about fashion, food and fitness. Which aspects are you most interested in?
Fashion is always at the heart of the business but I’m probably more interested in food and fitness right now. I’m excited by our sports brand Nergy and our Nergy karate club for women. People are thinking about training their minds and bodies, not just about what’s on the outside.
Golf seems to be featuring more in the Jun portfolio. How did that happen?
During the pandemic, lots of young, creative people started playing golf. So now new golf-fashion brands are emerging and it’s getting competitive. But we’ve been doing golf for a long time so we have a foundation in terms of our network and understanding of the industry.
How do you pick your investments?
My first experience of bringing a brand in was in 1992, after seeing apc in Paris and talking to its founder, Jean Touitou. We wanted to introduce apc to the Japanese market because we felt that it could change the direction of the industry. At that time, fashion was very decorative but apc designs were simple; they had the same spirit as hiyayakko [a block of cold tofu]. With Saturdays nyc, we were buying the brand for the Adam et Ropé [boutique] and it seemed as though it would be a good match for us. In each case, we start by talking to the owner or designer and if it feels like we’re all facing in the same direction, the deal goes ahead.
What happens when a label doesn’t work out?
If something doesn’t work, we stop doing it. Coronavirus aside, our revenue hasn’t changed dramatically for 25 years but the brand portfolio has: some brands disappeared or merged with others. The most famous one to close was j&r, which made history in the 1980s and 1990s. The clothes were sexy and body-conscious but people are more casual now.
You’ve committed to making your clothes from entirely recycled or sustainable sources by 2030. How’s that going?
We’re already at 43 per cent and improvements in technology will make our target possible. Our customers are very environmentally aware and appreciate our efforts. One of the biggest problems is [the amount of] clothes being thrown away, so we are carefully controlling manufacturing quantities. The fashion industry has a huge effect on the environment at every stage and I’d like to change that.
Is there still room for growth?
I don’t need the company to get much bigger. We don’t want to open shops overseas. This globalised way of thinking has reached a tipping point. We’re about making good products, taking care of our staff and keeping our customers happy. Of course, we need to keep generating sales but it’s also important to think about our social purpose. In terms of growth, food is a big opportunity and the Saturdays Café has a lot of potential. Jun has always been more than a clothing company: we represent a lifestyle.