- Tomo Givhan
Brand Breakdown: Yujiro Komatsu and Blackmeans
"We don't identify as part of a subculture, we're just following our interests: music and making clothes… a continuation of what we have always done. The pieces we create are inspired by the things we experience… It's not just about taking inspiration from Punk. Punk is the way I live my life." - Blackmeans Team
The brainchild of Yujiro Komatsu, Blackmeans was founded in 2008 alongside brothers Masatomo and Takatomo Ariga, colleagues he met while working at 20471120 in the late 1990s and early 2000s after graduating from the legendary Bunka Fashion College. A testament to his immense talent, from the moment Yujiro was brought into 20471120 he was intimately involved with each collection, meaning he may have held an integral part in the creation of some of the archival 20471120 pieces that have had a resurgence in the past couple of years. His time at 2047 lasted only a few years, as the taxing workload and long hours indoors ended up pushing him to opt out for a job at the other end of the spectrum: outside all day at a motorcycle courier. But after working at the courier for about a year, his creative itch rekindled, driving him back into the world of fashion.
While Yujiro's experience at 2047 was invaluable, it wasn't until after working at Undercover that Yujiro would forge a path to create his own label.
Even though his deep seated love for punk and design aligned perfectly with Undercover during the early 2000s, Komatsu states that his first impression of its seminal SS2003 ‘SCAB’ collection, which drew heavy inspiration from the crustpunk subculture, was, "...That it ruined CRUSTCORE which was something that was special to me growing up."
It was only after later meeting multiple punks in the scene, and finding that they had been introduced to the genre through Undercover designer Jun Takahashi’s work, that he came to appreciate the influence that the unlikely melangé of high fashion and punk culture wielded, alongside its potential to educate and push the culture forward. With a newfound perspective and a deeper appreciation of Jun's work, Komatsu began to work at Undercover between 2003 to 2005, a time period that some would consider the brand's golden age.
After resigning from Undercover in 2005, the leather factory who'd been supplying the labels Komatsu worked for scouted him in an attempt to create more demand for themselves. This partnership would develop into Blackmeans three years later, a project aimed primarily, "...To work with and understand the ideas of leather in Japan as an identity."
Blackmeans, a phonetic flip of “Burakumin,” was and is a slur used to demean and denigrate the lowest caste in traditional Japanese society.
“Buraku” people were designated as such through means of their occupation, as well as through the connection to perceived filth, uncleanliness, and pollution. Therefore, occupations such as undertaking, sanitation work, and butchering/leather work are most commonly associated with Burakumin because of their proximity to death and perceived filth. The fact that this stigma and prejudice exists to this very day can only attest to the level of social stainage that has plagued this group of people for nearly a millennium.
It’s the erasure, a challenging of a poignant social stigma, a reclamation of one’s pride in their lifestyle and craft! In naming the brand Blackmeans, Yujiro aims to preserve and reimagine the dying art of craftsmanship in Japan.
This prideful approach, coupled with Yujiro and the Arigas’ expert-level artisanship and unconstrained creativity, allow Blackmeans to exist in a lane of their own. Fueled by passions ranging from punk and moto culture to ethnic and hardcore influences, much of Blackmeans' catalogue through pure, genuine reinterpretation. It's that authenticity, that humor, that expert artistry coupled with its undeniable humanity that makes the label stand out. "I want to make sure that whoever wears Blackmeans clothing doesn’t visually get sucked into the crowd, even though it is only natural that some prefer fashion that blends into the crowd, as a lot of society is built like that."
To exist outside of the mainstream, and be proud of it, is Blackmeans.
Writer: Tomo Givhan