Untangling the Nepenthes Family Tree
For 32 years, founder Keizo Shimizu has been sharing his love for Made In America with the rest of the world, importing his favourite picks into Japan and reimagining them. Bringing life to brands such as Nepenthes, Needles, and South2 West8, it’s impossible to envision vintage Japanese americana and workwear styles without including Shimizu’s work. With such an impressive brand repertoire, there must come a deep history.
Shimuzu’s passion for clothing started at a young age. His mother crafted her own apparel, and his father brought home bespoke suits from his trips to Isetan, which nurtured his love for fashion into what it is today. Shimizu worked as a retail employee at Namsb for two years before it unexpectedly faced a downturn in sales, forcing them to shut down. This led Shimizu to open an American workwear themed store named Redwood, which garnered praise from the likes of Yohji Yamamoto and Tokio Kumagai. Here he met Daiki Suzuki, soon-to-be founder of Engineered Garments, employing him at the shop. Shortly after, Shimizu founded Nepenthes in 1988, showcasing exclusively made in the USA goods.
In the ‘90s, factories in the US started to shut down as production moved overseas. Shimizu then took it upon himself to continue their legacy, giving birth to the Nepenthes apparel line solely focused on button up shirts and workwear pants, and Hoggs, where their first full-fledged collection was conceived. Unfortunately, a trademark dispute put an end to Hoggs, which was later succeeded by the brand known today as Needles. Having produced a large spectrum of styles under Hoggs allowed them to experiment with different styles which helped pave the way for future umbrella brands such as OPUS, Engineered Garments and Sonic Lab, the predecessor to Rebuild by Needles.
Unravelling the history of the brand starts with Sonic Lab. Founded in 2002, Sonic Lab was focused on creating military, workwear-esque uniforms in an American Casual style for the everyday person. It brought in designs present in the current Rebuild by Needles lineup. The most prominent being the “7-cut” and “Ribbon” flannels, Dickies reworks, and various patchwork styles, emphasizing Shimizu’s appreciation for second hand clothing. The Nepenthes NY store opened in 1998, the same year that Engineered Garments was created, where they designed and created their own in-house apparel. The label started out producing unique styles of button up shirts and pants, and later expanded its collections as its popularity grew.
Wanting to further expand their lineup, many younger brands were created to grow the Nepenthes roster. Brands like South2 West8, originally the second Nepenthes store opened in 2002, focuses on Shimizu’s favourite hobbies of biking and tenkara fly fishing; Arts in Education(AiE) take influence from skate and punk culture, providing bold colour and silhouettes into their lineup; and Rough & Tumble(now RandT) redefines classic men’s tailoring with contemporary patterns and designs. Many collaborations have helped spread their popularity further, working with names like Brain Dead, Beams, and NOMA t.d.
For our first drop, we present to you pieces from the past to showcase the deep rooted history of the nepenthes family tree