NEW YORK — Onward Kashiyama, the Japanese conglomerate that owns Jil Sander, Joseph and J. Press, has come up with a novel way to introduce its new men’s made-to-measure suit concept to the U.S. market: open shops at WeWork locations.
The company launched Kashiyama the Smart Tailor in Japan at the end of 2017 and sold 59,000 suits, bringing in sales of $40 million its first year. Jun Murakami, president and chief executive officer of Onward USA and J. Press, is hoping to replicate that success in the U.S.
The brand’s point of differentiation, he said, is its price — suits start at $300 — as well as quick turnaround and manufacturing expertise. Kashiyama’s suits are made in a company-owned factory in China and can be produced and delivered to customers in 10 days.
Although the competition in affordable made-to-measure men’s wear is stiff in the U.S. with brands such as Indochino, Knot Standard, My Suit, Men’s Wearhouse and others already entrenched in the market, Murakami believes Kashiyama can find a niche.
“Most of our competitors are technology companies or new companies that don’t have an apparel background,” he said. “They don’t have the knowledge that we have.”
Onward Kashiyama was founded in 1927 and now owns or operates more than 50 apparel brands. In addition to its owned labels, the company is the distributor for Paul Smith, Opening Ceremony, Calvin Klein, Joseph Abboud and other major brands.
Kashiyama quietly entered the U.S. market in October and is opening five shops at WeWork locations on the East Coast in the first quarter of this year. The goal, Murakami said, it to have 100 shops in operation by 2021.
The first fitting studios are located at WeWork locations on 49th Street and Broad Street in Manhattan, as well as Boylston Street in Boston and G Street NW in Washington, D.C. A location on Walnut Street in Philadelphia is expected to open next month.
The only non-WeWork location is at the Onward Kashiyama offices on West 38th Street in Manhattan.
“We focused on the East Coast first because we own J. Press so we know about the market,” Murakami said. J. Press, which Onward purchased in 1986, operates three stores: New York; New Haven, Conn., and Washington, D.C. “If we had gone to the West Coast right away, it would have been harder to manage and the marketing costs would be higher.”
He said the idea to operate in WeWork locations came after researching the rent prices in New York. “We wanted to open a flagship on the street, but the rents are still very high in New York,” he said. “But by opening up at WeWork, all we had to do was buy hanging racks and fitting rooms.”
As Murikami acknowledged, the Kashiyama shops are bare-bones, with mirrors, mannequins and a small sitting area to accommodate customers and fitters who can help them choose from among the 160 patterns, 250 Italian, English and Chinese fabric swatches and the myriad of buttons, linings and other custom detailing options.
“We like the image of WeWork and the concept of the business,” he continued. “Kashiyama is an appointment-based business, we don’t get a lot of walk-in customers.”
He said Kashiyama uses Facebook, Instagram and Google Ads as well as some direct mail and sports radio advertising to introduce itself to potential customers. It has also embraced WeWork’s networking events to get the word out.
The price points, which go up to $500 for the entry-level models and average $700 to $800 for the “luxury” collection, are also affordable for most men. The $300 suit features half-canvas construction in a wool/polyester blend fabric, while the $800 model is full canvas and 100 percent wool from such mills as Loro Piana, Vitale Barberis Canonico and others.
He said Kashiyama is able to offer such sharp pricing because it owns its factory, which allows it to cut out the middle man, and that factory uses advanced manufacturing techniques, which allow for high-quality production and a quick turnaround. It also uses a Pack-Runner packaging system, which vacuum-packs the finished product, allowing the suits to be folded into a small box and shipped more cheaply from Asia to the U.S.
In addition to rolling out the number of fitting studios, Murakami said the plan for Kashiyama involves adding other product categories. Right now it offers only men’s nested suits and suit separates, but this fall it will expand into women’s wear, followed eventually by shirts, overcoats, bridal and sport coats.