My mind retains little. I know who’d win out of Thor and Hulk. I know to toss a three-pack of walnut whips into the basket at M&S. And little else. Save my entire ‘gots to swag’ list at the BBS. I never forget that there’s not enough Phigvel, Is-ness, EEL, Kapital, Tigre Brocante and The Superior Labor in my lifestyle right now. Those ‘what the fuck?’ Japanese labels have got some kind of elite heat. Bro steps to your look and asks what you’re rocking? And you drop Flistfia, or Digawel into the mix? That bro’s gonna need a family pot of Savlon to ease his burn.
So how does a store in Toronto, come to stock one of the best ranges of Japanese casualwear outside of Japan? Boss and owner of BBS, Brian Cheuk, drops wise…
What’s the story behind BBS?
I have been a television commercial producer in Toronto and Asia for about 20+ years now. Last year, on my 44th birthday, I thought to myself “I am not getting any younger, I want to try something different AND I want to build something from the ground up.
I always enjoyed shopping and appreciated the overall experience of shopping especially in Japan. I decided to open my own store in January of 2013 and later, Blue Button Shop was open for business as of May 2013. To be honest, this is the first time I have worked in retail and I didn’t really know anyone in this particular industry.
There were many challenges: the biggest one being not knowing how the retail industry works, so there was a big learning curve ahead of me.
I understand many smaller Japanese labels are not always that interested in western exposure and representation?
Yes, I believe many smaller Japanese labels are not interested in the western market because the fashion retail industry in Japan and Asia is already quite competitive which keeps them focused. They don’t take the initiative to explore the market outside of Asia because it requires a lot of time and hard work.
In the beginning, I just started by emailing the Japanese labels directly without knowing a single word of Japanese. I believe all of them replied, my method was simple: don’t be shy, just ask.
I didn’t have any local representative in Japan, I was by myself for the first few months. The workload was getting too much. Then Ms Tamae Miyazaki came on board and she now takes care of our brick and mortar store and we try to discover more new and exciting brands from Japan.
How have you succeeded in creating such a great range of fascinating brands, while in many parts of Europe and the US they are impossible to find?
Thank you, but my philosophy again was very simple: not to be shy, be polite and ask nicely. I never gave up at the first sign of rejection, I kept on asking. It was also important to show genuine interest and be enthusiastic about their products. Eventually, I succeeded with this method and many of the labels got back to me.
What’s the overriding menswear ethos of the store?
Our store concept is very simple…We carry grownup casual wear and encourage customers to dress their age, while considering the quality and craftsmanship of the item.
What makes a BBS brand?
We want to carry something different, with a reasonable price and not anything mass-produced, it is the fine balance of something interesting but not over the top.
Which are your favourite brands, the ones that most closely reflect the BBS approach?
For weekdays, I really love EEL (Easy Earl Life). There is this “quietness” or beauty in the subtlety of their designs.
For the weekends, I like something a bit more fun and relaxing, so I love Rulezpeeps.
Who is the BBS customer?
We’ve found that the majority of our customers are working in creative field such as advertising, film, architecture and publishing. Our customers range from people in their 20’s to the young at heart, but mainly our clientele are the 30 and up.
How important is the webstore?
I believe that online shopping has become much more common over the past decade and quite frankly, I believe it is a must to have a web store. A lot of our customers may not have heard of our brands, but “Made in Japan” is technically a brand in a broader sense and widely appreciated.
Is the SS/AW routine as important to you guys as mainstream clothing retailers?
The brands we carry are more like “lifestyle” brands, so there are not a lot of changes from season to season.
What brands or collections coming to BBS should readers get hyped for?
he new collection from Yaeca and Ironari (Ladies’ lines) look amazing. And the new addition style of Hender Scheme shoes look very cool.