Maybe it is the inclement weather – a raging typhoon that nearly brings Tokyo to a halt – but there is a distinct drinks- party atmosphere at the For Stockists gift show. Background music hums, dogs and children mill around, old acquaintances are reunited and new friendships made. Business, it seems, is an afterthought.
“The event originally started with my own exhibition in Harajuku [Tokyo] in 2004,” says organiser Shin Nakahara, who runs Landscape Products, a furniture and interiors business. “There are plenty of other big trade shows but it costs a lot to participate. We thought it would be interesting for the small brands to get together, so I asked a few friends to join us.” Luckily, his friends – who happen to run some of the most interesting brands in Japan – were easily persuaded.
Now in its second year, For Stockists is the unofficial side event to the Tokyo International Gift Show – a giant trade fair with 2,400 exhibitors – and, like all the best fringe shows, it is set to become the main attraction. “We exhibited at the Tokyo International Gift Show four years ago,” says Nakahara. “Once was enough for us.” Nakahara decided to set up a satellite show to attract some of the more imaginative buyers who descend on Tokyo to stock their shops. “We Japanese are not very good at promoting ourselves, but we wanted to show what we’re doing here.”
The 2007 show was held in the basement of the former Baby Milo store in Harajuku, a cosy space where buyers can meet designers and stores they might never come across otherwise. F/style in Niigata sells candles coloured with mineral pigments and baskets made by Tsuruya, a company making rattan furniture since the Meiji era. Yen Design’s popular stand displays its Yen Ware ceramics, roughly glazed in autumnal shades.
Osaka favourite, Graf, is exhibiting its home accessories and wooden furniture. “We don’t usually participate in this kind of exhibition,” says Maho Masuzaki, who works for Graf in Tokyo, “but we’ve known Mr Nakahara for a long time – our companies are both 10 years old. We’re thinking about a collaboration now.”
“The people showing here have a similar vision,” says Nakahara. “It’s not all about interior design. Some people here are more used to dealing with the fashion business. Each shop has its own network, so we get a good mix of people.”
Cow Books, the idiosyncratic book- shop in Naka Meguro, is exhibiting its reading blankets; landscape gardening firm Yard is showing its air plants – pot-less plants that absorb water from the air. Papier Labo, a new graphics store, is shifting piles of hand-printed postcards and writing paper. Tembea attracts attention for its waxed canvas bags, already picked up by Cïbone and United Arrows.
It seems that everyone at the show is connected in one way or another to Nakahara, one of the most energetic and supportive figures in Tokyo’s design community. Shinji Sugiyama, who used to work for Nakahara, now sells accessories from his own store, Source, in Ebisu. “There’s a bit of everything here: lifestyle goods, fashion and books. You could just choose a few items from every stand here and make a great store.”
01 Ryota Morikawa - designer, Gelchop
Morikawa works on his own products and installation pieces. “Usually, if you’re a craftsman you give the products to someone else to sell, so this is a rare opportunity to meet buyers.”
Top product: ceramic white rabbits and tree-trunk stools.
Shuichi Umezu - owner, Yard
Neighbours of Nakahara’s store in Tokyo. “This show is fun. We’re not just here to sell, it’s an opportunity to show our style.”
Top product: plants, of course, and aprons designed with stylist Akira Ishikawa.
02 Atsushi Hayasaki - designer, Tembea
Atsushi and his wife Maiko run Torso Design. Probably better known as fashion importers, they showed their popular canvas-bag brand Tembea, which Atsushi designs. “There are two different crowds at this show, fashion and interiors. We already know the fashion shops, so this way we get to show our products to the general stores, too.”
Top product: Atsushi’s made-in-Japan canvas baguette bag.
03 Azusa Hori - owner, Dieci
Hori runs Dieci, a stylish vintage Scandinavian ceramics store and café (with Graf interiors) in Osaka. She recently opened a second homeware store. “Mr Nakahara’s a friend and everyone’s so nice here. It doesn’t feel like we’re competitors at all.”
Top product: simple ceramics by Jonas Lindholm, whom Hori represents in Japan.
04 Shinji Sugiyama - owner, Source
Sugiyama scours the world for jewellery for his Tokyo store. Nothing gaudy – he favours exquisitely simple styles in matt gold and semi-precious stones.
Top product: Delicate gold jewellery from Okachimachi, a Tokyo district long associated with goldsmiths.
05 Maho Masuzaki - Graf
Graf is well established in the furniture world. “It’s good timing for us to show here. Some brands would be too big but it suits us. There are visitors here from all over Japan.”
Top product: Hans Wegner-inspired oak and paper cord easy chair.
06 Shin Nakahara - owner, Landscape Products; organiser of For Stockists
“I can see this event getting bigger. Maybe not as big as 100% Design, but still bigger. More people already want to join in next year.”
Top product: new Pestle dining table and bench; maple butter-knives and bread boards.