»Noasobi« and the Affluence of Nature – In Conversation with Lisa Yamai of Snow Peak
Spring and summer season of this year washed up many pictures of people on hikes, in the mountains or the outdoors in the Instagram timelines. In a time where staying inside and not travelling countries are the order of the hour, the national parks and national reservoirs became a welcomed alternative for many people. Quite often you could see people wearing outdoor gear as if they had been in the game for the last centuries. While the fact that the nearby nature was considerably more jam-packed for the current year may be because we’re living in the midst of a pandemic, the affection for outerwear is on the ascent for quite a while.
But the love for outdoor gear in fashion is not a novelty. Down jackets, fleeces and hiking boots have long been familiar sights in the autumn-winter collections of many fashion houses. New waves brought hardshell jackets, waterproof sneakers and technical cross-body bags, to name a few famous representatives. Ultimately it’s now just as likely to see a GORE-TEX hardshell jacket on the runways of Paris Fashion Week as in the snow-capped Swiss Alps.
Around the globe, all brands try to live up to the hype and come up with new ideas to integrate elements from the outdoors into their main lines. The factor of technical usability of a garment seemed never to be more critical. Who doesn’t want a jacket that keeps one dry during a rainy day or a bag that fits the equipment of an average survivalist?
Innumerable collaborations and newly invented in-house lines show the potential fashion companies see in the market of outerwear and outdoor gear – the more technical, the more exclusive, the better. In a globalised market trends spread fast, and the companies’ stakeholders don’t sleep either.
But if you want to pick out one country that has found its love for the outdoors way before the trend and the culture of hype, it is Japan. Deeply woven into the nation’s DNA, the Japanese found their unique way to combine elegant aesthetics with outdoor life, outdoor apparel – basically everything outdoor-related in general. Several big brands are thought leaders in the field of outdoor fashion, and people here take outdoor activities seriously. Japan has found its very unique way to smoothly combine urban and outdoor wear – and has been doing exactly that for a long time already. A perfect example of this fusion of outerwear and urban minimalistic design is Snow Peak. A brand with a long history, never failing to reinvent itself.
Japan’s geological characteristics bring it that people live with mountains basically everywhere. Surrounded by mountains also lays the city Jingo in Japan’s Niigata prefecture. A one-hour bullet train ride away from Tokyo, the region is famous for its winter sports areas. The diverse environment causes a strong connection to nature itself for people born and raised here.
One of them was Yukio Yamai, a mountaineer that at some point wasn’t satisfied with the gear on the market of that time. In 1958, at the age of 26, out of this discontent, he founded his own line of superior climbing and mountaineering gear. Snow Peak was born (first under the name »Yamai Shoten«). Yukio Yamai began by designing and selling his own pitons and crampons made from titanium, stainless steel and aluminium. The success was already laid out as the region is famous for its professional metalwork. Apart from the company production, he also designed custom made climbing gear for friends. Essential for the brands’ appearance always has been and ever will be the inspiration it takes from its origin, the Chūetsu region. It is also where the headquarter of the family business is located up to this day, including public campsites and several concrete-and-glass buildings.
From 1980, Yukio Yamai’s son Tohru Yamai took over to lead Snow Peak towards international recognition as a high quality, innovative and fashionable brand that inspires people around the globe to enjoy the beauty of nature and activities in the outdoors. In 1999, he brought Snow peak to the US, where the brand initially was known in the backpacking industry for ultralight titanium products. It has expanded its range ever since to car, camping, apparel, home and lifestyle.
Through its 60 year history, Snow Peak always valued the exchange with its users. For this reason, the brand initiated an annual event called »Snow Peak Way Campout« in 1995. A possibility for like-minded outdoor enthusiasts to share their experiences and stories. Encounters like this give the brand new input about the needs of the consumers.
With the launch of Snow Peak Apparel in 2014, the next generation of the Yamai legacy brought a fresh breeze into the company. Yukio Yamai’s granddaughter Lisa Yamai is pushing Snow Peak yet another step forward with a line of apparel standing out through its impeccable aesthetic and smart, functional design. Her unisex design approach pays respect to old traditional garments like kimonos or indigo dyed workwear but gives it a new spin that makes it suitable for the outdoors.
As the third generation of Yamais, Lisa Yamai has her own vision of what path the brand should take in the following years. While her grandfather’s passion laid in mountaineering and her father’s in camping, her heart beats for apparel. Her work in design is significantly involved in the change the brand takes. So you will not only find Snow Peak in the Niigata mountains, but also on the streets of metropoles like Tokyo or New York City and Berlin. Real deep roots in mountaineering and camping that – with the help of Lisa Yamai – grew out to be a perfect example of merging authentic outdoor usability and elegant urban aesthetics.
In her position as CEO of Snow Peak, Lisa Yamai is a role model not only for many women in Japan, a country that is still mainly male dominated – but to women all around the globe. Shaping the future of a family business with over 500 employees worldwide, she contributes to Snow Peak being one of the brands that set the tone with their designs and products. Lisa Yamai and her apparel line push the brand towards a new direction that sets the standard for the industry. So better not sleep on Snow Peak and their apparel line. A brand that doesn’t need to cover a trend, because it may have started it.
To get a better understanding of the Snow Peak ethos we sat down with Lisa Yamai and discussed how outdoor gear can be fashionable, her role in the Yamai legacy and how we all could learn from the Japanese principle of »Noasobi« – the art of coexisting with nature outside while embracing one’s own nature within.
Adrian Bianco: Dear Lisa Yamai, thank you a lot for your time and answering our questions. The first thing we want to start with is a simple question: How would you describe the ethos behind Snow Peak to someone who just started to find out about the brand?
Lisa Yamai: Since Snow Peak’s establishment, we have been manufacturing products with the mindset of »making what we want.« As users, we have created what we really want, created innovative products, and created new businesses based on market creation. Even now, 60 years after our founding, all the work related to design is done by our own employees, and we always plan and develop from a camper’s perspective.
The Head Office is located in a vast campground, and many of our employees and users are camping every day. While working, we always check what we and our users could be happy with. In addition, while actually camping, we create new ideas, repeatedly carry out temporary inspections, and only produce products that reach the high standards of »permanent warranty«.
AB: Snow Peak is one of the pioneers of outdoor fashion. What is it about your designs that is able to bring people to go outdoors while being fashionable?
LY: It works from the city to nature, camping, sleeping at night, waking up in the morning and returning to the city. Our items are functional and can be worn comfortably even in a harsh natural environment. They have natural colors that match well with the city. Even city people who have never been camping can feel the desire to enter nature. This is the outdoor fashion that Snow Peak has proposed. When I went camping with my friends as a college student, there was no outdoor wear that I wanted to wear while camping because I liked mode fashion at that time. The feeling of incongruity at that time, »I want to go camping wearing clothes that I really like to wear«, is the origin.
AB: Coming from such a strong family of outdoor enthusiasts, what are your essential expectations for clothing for your everyday life and outdoor life?
LY: By creating a connection with nature through apparel, urban life becomes more comfortable and the whole life becomes more affluent. Connecting urban life with nature – this is what I wanted to achieve with the Snow Peak apparel line that I started in 2014. I think it is necessary for people who live in a city to connect with nature. The concept of »urban outdoor wear«, outdoor wear that can also be used as streetwear, is not a temporary movement, but a big bridge that can incorporate the nature-oriented life value that Snow Peak has realized until now into daily life.
AB: The idea of being together and family seems to play a significant role for Snow Peak and also for many activities in the outdoors such as camping or hiking. How would you say do these values inspire your designs? Do you think of possible interaction between people while designing?
LY: In today’s highly civilized society, it is difficult to feel the senses, the five senses and the wild that are inherent to human beings in everyday life. Even in this modern society, I think that people who are familiar with the outdoors often recall this feeling. It would be great if we could provide more people with opportunities to think about the meaning of real wealth by strengthening their connections with nature and people through the »Noasobi« (outdoor activities in Japanese) we propose.
AB: Was it always set in stone that you would one day be working at Snow Peak or how did this all begin to happen?
LY: My parents never told me to work for my father’s Snow Peak, and I never thought of working for him when I was a child. I was aspiring to be a fashion designer. After completing graduate school, I got a job at a brand in Tokyo that was one of the big brands at Paris Women’s Fashion Week. As a designer’s assistant, I started my career in the fashion industry. However, I gradually came to have big doubts about the reality surrounding fashion and the structure of business. I was worried and decided to consult my father as a member of society. My father’s advice was: »How about making clothes that give you a new sense of affluence in the outdoor category? There may not be a simple answer, but you may find something at Snow Peak.«
That advice inspired me to quit my job creating costumes, and to think about what fashion is for me, and in the process, I realized that I might like the culture beyond the fashion. And I wanted to do a job of creating culture through clothes. But there are many people who are more familiar with art and music. I was thinking »what is the culture that only I can do?« and came up with the idea of the outdoor culture that permeates into me. And I didn’t tell my parents that I sent my resume to Snow Peak. I had an interview, and I entered the company through the same process as other mid-career employees do.
Read more about Lisa Yamai here: Get To Know: Lisa Yamai – Snow Peak
Discover Snow Peak at HHV: Snow Peak
Visual Content: Portrait Lisa Yamai & AW 2020 Lookbook – Snow Peak