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Made-in-Japan footwear puts spring in Asics' step

Onitsuka Tiger brand's Nippon Made line attracts Tokyo's stylish set

The Nippon Made shop in Tokyo's Omotesando district is popular with Asian customers on March 30. Many hail from Thailand, where the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was known to wear Onitsuka Tigers. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- A sneaker brand that was once killed off has become an important moneymaker for Japan's Asics, pulling in customers in Tokyo's trendy Omotesando district. For style-conscious men, in particular, a top of the line series of all-Japan-made shoes is a big draw.

The Nippon Made (Onitsuka Tiger Omotesando) store sells casual shoes, bags and apparel, all of which were produced domestically. Since it opened last September, the store has been drawing a steady stream of customers, especially men in their 30s and 40s.  

The Onitsuka Tiger brand, founded in 1949, was resurrected in 2002. Asics was looking to build a fashionable image and recognized the line would have a vintage appeal that could broaden its customer base. In 2008, the company launched Nippon Made as a high-end Onitsuka Tiger series.

Ten years later, the company decided the brand warranted its own store. 

The shop floor is 80 sq. meters and feels spacious, since no shelves are placed at the center. The simple white decor is punctuated with red baseboards. Outside, gold adds a Japanese flair to the facade, according to Asics manager Toshifumi Hara.

When the shop opened, the company expanded the product lineup beyond shoes. Items include a 32,000 yen ($300) tote bag made with Japanese leather, an 18,000 yen hoodie and a 23,000 yen pair of jeans. The store also sells a special edition of Onitsuka Tiger's Mexico 66 Deluxe shoes with a collage of past models on the uppers, limited to 250 pairs.

In January, the shop started a custom shoe service, which lets buyers choose parts for the Mexico 66 Deluxe. Suede and two other materials are available for the upper, with 10 color options. Text can be stitched. 

The 40,000 yen custom pairs can only be ordered at the Omotesando shop, using a tablet. Delivery takes six to seven weeks.

Asics hopes to use Nippon Made to collect information for developing new products.

Overall, Onitsuka Tiger is on a roll. Sales of the brand's shoes grew 20% on the year in 2017, to 31.9 billion yen.

The Nippon Made store stands next to the flagship Onitsuka Tiger Omotesando outlet, which opened in 2012. When Asics felt the original store was too small for all of the products it wanted to display, it opened Nippon Made. For the fiscal year through March 2018, the company is targeting combined sales of 1 billion yen. 

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