One of a new breed of fashion retailers, meeting with James Harden of Kaizen Store demonstrated the increasingly emphemeral nature of style today. After first discovering Kaizen Store on Instagram, I reached out to the generic gmail address given as the contact. When James Harden responded, the individual behind the ‘one man show’ as he put it, there was little information beyond the collection that Kaizen displays online, vintage designer wear from the 1990s and 2000s from the likes of Helmut Lang, Comme Des Garcon and Margiela.
We arranged to meet at a Melbourne café-cum-wine bar of his choosing. The venue defined by its dark steel beams and mid-century style could be in any global capital, and with fashion increasingly unconcerned with national boundaries, it was the perfect fit.
Harden knows he’s not alone when it comes to running an online-only, Instagram-focused store.
“[On] Instagram, on every page you'll see someone starting their new store, and I get people's criticism of that, but for me it's a hobby and it's a passion project. So I thought let's try and do it all myself, let's try and make a website, let's try and host all the clothes, let's try and do a release, let's try marketing and Instagram.”
This led to Kaizen’s first drop back in December 2017. A year on, and in late 2018 Kaizen released a second drop of clothes from a broader range of designers and an increased diversity of styles. Behind these two releases is Harden’s personal interest in vintage designer wear, and compulsion to explore back catalogues.
“Whenever I saw something I'd go back to the first collection from that designer, and then look through every single runway so I just found all the things I liked and then tried to buy things for myself.”
Realising that significant pieces were being sold well below market price, Harden saw the potential for Kaizen store. Borrowing the Japanese concept of continuous improvement, Harden sees this philosophy as embodying the search for a perfect garment, one which is probably already out there.
“There's too much fast fashion and too many clothes being made in general,” argued Harden. “Instead of just buying whatever is on sale this season, you try and look for what is the best you want. Look back to the 2000s because you saw that one shirt that you really like. Why buy one now when that's the best shirt you'll ever buy?”
Sourcing his products from Japanese auction sites and second hand stores, Harden chooses partly on a hunch of what will sell well, but also based on his knowledge of the industry.
“I have an idea of what will sell well but that's a learned process. When I first started I reckon I bought way too many t-shirts, no one really buys t shirts that expensive because it's hard to justify spending more than 100 dollars on a t-shirt no matter who you are. Now I just look for things that I think might sell really well or just such good value that I can't turn it down.”
With more and more interest in second hand designer clothing, both in physical consignment stores and online re-selling platforms, Harden is one of the many who are re-evaluating the worth of runway and ready to wear collections from the turn of the 21st century. Embodied in the design of these pieces and their perceived jump in value is ethos of the designer and the creative process, something that stands in contrast to the algorithmically driven collections in high-street stores. As Harden suggested, however, this does not preclude their functional value.
“With clothing you have to look at it as a consumable and wearable piece of art,” noted Harden. “If you've got the clothes, wear it. I've always had that mentality. If you are paying thousands of dollars for boots, just wear them, they're made to be worn.”
Although not every consumer may be able to afford the pieces found on Kaizen, taking note of the approach encouraged on the site, as well as the proliferation of alternative retail options through the ease of use and availability of online shopping platforms, could see a turn away from large online retailers with seemingly infinite warehouses. For Harden at least, there are alternate ways of measuring value.
“Maybe a focus on looking for things you really like, or things are going to last, or you know they're got history and legacy more than the clothing itself to justify that price.”
You can find Kaizen store here: https://kaizenstore.com.au/