Seiya Nakamura has spent the past eight years building his namesake sales and brand consultancy agency in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Hong, and Shanghai, and formed alliances with major venture capital firms to help the brands they invested in scale in the Asian market and beyond.
Its partnership with the Italian fashion showroom 247, which saw 247 acquiring a 46 percent stake in the Tokyo-based showroom earlier this year, enables Seiya Nakamura 2.24 to gradually create a global sales network, expanding its footprint to Milan.
Both companies represent a total of around 100 fashion labels including Rick Owens, Ganni, Knwls, Namacheko, Marine Serre, Peter Do, Stefan Cooke, We11done, Feng Chen Wang, A.P.C., Dion Lee, Kenzo, Missoni, Nanushka, Proenza Schouler and Supriya Lele.
They aim to achieve combined sales of between $320 million and $350 million this year, up from $290 million in 2021.
Next year, both companies are looking to go hand in hand and expand their U.S. presence, with 247 opening a new branch in New York, and Seiya Nakamura in Los Angeles, as well as entering the South Korean market via setting up an office in Seoul.
Here, Nakamura talks about how the company is rapidly pivoting from a traditional wholesaler to a brand developer, its expansion ambition, and what more it can do to foster emerging talents and connect them with the global market, especially at a time when Europe is troubled with conflicts and recessions.
WWD: What’s the role of a wholesaler in today’s fashion system? Has that role changed as the industry evolved?
Seiya Nakamura: The basic idea of selling products has not changed. That being said, it isn’t limited to just selling a product, we’re able to add value to that product and support the brand in many varied ways. More than a wholesaler, I feel that brands are looking for us to provide the same benefits as a brand developer.
I think that in today’s world, in order to really grow a business, beyond the selling of products, we need to consider the brand as a whole and the brand’s development in particular regions. Recently, in particular, the market is becoming more focused on consumption; it’s becoming increasingly difficult to create something that will remain in the market long-term. Wholesalers, from a business perspective, maintain a broad knowledge of the market and have the foundation to nurture creativity. I truly feel that wholesalers are now responsible for creating value in the product they sell and putting the values of the brand into something tangible.
WWD: What are the pressing issues that the industry is facing, and how has that impacted Seiya Nakamura 2.24?
S.N.: I think a major challenge we face is that we are seeing more instances where it’s crucial to properly educate and raise young talent to avoid losing everything. In other words, the rate at which young designers are hitting the market is moving too fast; designers are not fully developed in their style and business acumen before selling. Time and experience are lacking despite all of the chances now for young designers. If they suddenly experience rapid growth, there is a high risk that the main driving force for the brand would be to simply keep the brand alive.
This leads to a tendency to produce products that are driven by the demand of the market and the pricing of products rather than design. When this happens, the diversity of products in the market is diminished. I think this is the current situation we are experiencing in the industry with these brands popping up and then falling away.
Of course, outside of design, there are many exciting things arising in the market thanks to this trend; however, it’s an unavoidable fact that the creative aspect is drying up. Creativity is an extremely important part of fashion, if the relationship between business and fashion is thrown off balance this will have a major impact on the business as a whole.
WWD: With the partnership of 247, what new direction does Seiya Nakamura 2.24 plan to take on?
S.N.: With this partnership between Seiya Nakamura 2.24, a network focused in Asia, and 247, a network focused in Europe and North America, we are able to build one of the world’s largest wholesale networks together.
Next year, we will also be expanding our U.S. presence, with Seiya Nakamura 2.24 opening a new branch in Los Angeles and 247 in New York. Through this partnership, we are able to develop a globally focused business while recognizing and maintaining the importance of localization. Utilizing one another’s strengths, we are able to seek out and invest in young talent.
Our clients are handling many different projects, big and small; by partnering with 247, we are able to strengthen one another’s ability to handle these various projects. We can further solidify our standing as a brand developer, going beyond only traditional wholesale.
At this current stage, we are cultivating the soil. Next, we will plant new seeds. That is to say, I want to strengthen the company’s reputation as having the ability to nurture and grow something new. By doing so, we can build excitement in the market, and, moreover, we would be able to shape new market trends. This could potentially give rise to a new collaboration or even potentially move the fashion industry in a big way.
WWD: Lots of venture capital firms are taking an interest in fashion brands these days, and Seiya Nakamura 2.24 happens to represent several brands that have received investments. What role does Seiya Nakamura 2.24 play in these deals?
S.N.: When we are involved, I think there are three major roles that we must fulfill: Firstly, we must ensure that we are a trusted platform for these firms to find brands. Next, we must find a proper match between the firms and the brands. Lastly, should the firm invest in the brand, we will also be entering a partnership with the firm, so it’s our responsibility to work together to build a business plan for the brand.
WWD: What are the most common mistakes young brands make during rapid expansion? And how does one avoid and correct those mistakes?
S.N.: Brands often focus too much on creating buzz and lose sight of the core of the brand. I alluded to it before in regards to designers, but there is a large difference between the rate at which a brand grows and the speed at which it gains spreads. The result of this is that there are many brands being consumed in the market before they are fully grown.
It is becoming more difficult for young brands, in particular, to maintain a steady growth rate and business strategy when expanding. Any business is the same, but it is important to not get caught up in the trends but to stay true to one’s own mission. I think it’s necessary for each brand to create a team that can control each aspect necessary to grow the business while maintaining a balance between supply and demand. But now brands can no longer survive with design alone, it is now more important than ever for designers to be aware of their role as producers.
WWD: There are so many young talents coming out each year from everywhere in the world, and looking to take their chances at the four major fashion capitals, while the Asian market, which is a very important one for most major luxury brands, seems to be a second thought to some. As someone coming from Asia and having a solid business presence there, what would you say to these young brands?
S.N.: At this moment, I think Asia, Europe and the U.S. serve different roles. It is my impression that many designers look toward the four major cities to create the brand image, while Asia is viewed as the area to build the business.
I would say that each region within Asia has its own unique characteristics. So I think it is important to build a strategy based on the area in which you would like to focus on, to have a strong understanding of the characteristics before developing one’s business. This of course varies depending on the brand’s characteristics, but each region — China, South Korea, Southeast Asia, Australia and Japan — will play a unique role in the market. This is why it is important to truly understand each region and develop a plan that suits each brand specifically before expanding into the region.
WWD: What are the most important emerging markets for fashion wholesale? What kind of brands, in general, do well there? How are these markets different from the traditional fashion markets?
S.N.: China and South Korea. I think most understand the Chinese market, but recently the growth of the South Korean market is drawing attention.
South Korea has an incredible enthusiasm for the entertainment market. The same can be said for fashion, and the country has created an environment that encourages this. As the market grows, we are seeing more and more new and interesting brands arriving on the scene. The brands that are successful, while I cannot say with absoluteness, seem to be successful when they have their own community. They have their own production strength. They can create the necessary communities utilizing marketing strategies that make full use of digital and individual strengths. These markets don’t rely on traditional shows, this market is much stronger in the entertainment field. Even when looking at the fashion industry in a global sense, this is becoming a necessary component.
WWD: Where do you see Seiya Nakamura 2.24 in 10 years’ time?
S.N.: I want this company to become a platform that transcends genres by further extending the possibilities of “fashionability” rather than “fashion.” My interest lies in fashion that functions as a platform that creates something tangible out of a set of values. This hasn’t changed since when I first started.