Capturing the current zeitgeist in Japan, a mood of more restrained consumerism and environmental awareness, RAGTAG is a recycle store brand that has made thrift store shopping cool. Operating across the country, it offers excellent merchandise in stylish surroundings, selling – and buying – often barely used fashionable clothes and accessories as well as select interior items at some surprisingly affordable prices.
Japanese culture has a near obsession with the new as evidenced by the phenomenal turnover of products in stores. New products across all categories are released seasonally, much like fashions, and trends are constantly shifting, heralded by an array of bulky magazines that point consumers to the latest watch styles, scarf lengths, hat shapes, computer specifications, sleepwear colors and just about anything else. Tokyo especially is a consumer paradise with more than enough temptations to turn the most restrained and sober shopper into a reckless materialistic shopaholic.
All that shopping naturally requires deep pockets or a good line of credit and some generous closet space. Of course, throwing old stuff out is easy enough, and there are many stories of young foreign expatriates not so long ago furnishing their Japanese apartments with perfectly good sofas and TVs picked up on the side of a road. In the good old days of the bubble economy with its very deep pockets and lines of credit that’s how things worked, but following the Tokyo stock market crash in 1989, people took a comparatively sober approach to consumption. Growing environmental awareness also affected the general population, adding a tinge of guilt to wasteful consumption.
中古, chūko, denotes that something is used or second hand. While it was perhaps once unthinkable that urban Japanese, with their obsessive cleanliness, their worries over social status and the opinions of their peers, their love of the latest fads, would buy used and dated goods, stores specialising in used electronics, books, music and fashions have now become an acceptable part of the shopping landscape. It’s possible to buy – and sell – anything from a pre-read 100 yen paperback novel to a 100,000 yen pre-owned Rolex watch.
A healthy trade exists in the buying and re-selling of luxury brand goods, and in stylish pawnshops known as 質屋, shichi-ya, white gloved experts will determine the value of the Hermes wallet you bought last summer, or the Bvlgari wristwatch you were given by your ex-boyfriend, before paying you in cash and meticulously cleaning and preparing the merchandise for resale in one of the recycle shops, which are frequented by brand savvy locals and tourists alike.
A great many of these stores deal exclusively in European high end luxury brands and appeal to a particular clientele, but one of the coolest is the RAGTAG chain, which belongs to the Tokyo based Tin Pan Alley and has fourteen stores across Japan, seven of them in the Tokyo area. It buys and sells and has a great range of men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, and even a selection of furniture and interior products, from the European luxury brands and high end Japanese designers such as Issey Miyake and Comme des Garcons, to Junya Watanabe and LIMI feu, A Bathing Ape, Zucca and Hysteric Glamour, Knoll and Flos.
RAGTAG exemplifies the Japanese attitude to presentation and service. For the seller, they offer a number of options. You can take your goods to one of their stores for a valuation and if you’re happy you can walk out with cash. If that’s an inconvenience, you can box up your items and courier them – free of charge – to a RAGTAG shop. If this doesn’t suit, a valuer will visit you at home – again at no charge – to value and purchase your goods.
For the buyer, the RAGTAG stores are like many other cool retail spaces, providing a slick retail experience and unlike typical vintage and recycle stores, the quality of the merchandise at RAGTAG is unbelievably good. The RAGTAG stores, as typified by the Shibuya branch in the hip Jinnan neighborhood cater to teens and those in their twenties and thirties. The Jinnan store is a light airy space of three fashion floors – and a top floor cafe and cleaning service – with an emphasis on casual brands. The Ginza branch is one of the company’s three rt (real treasure) stores, whose customers come from all age groups. It is a stylish boutique department store with lots of dark wooden fittings, considered lighting and music and stock tastefully displayed on neatly arranged racks, shelves and display cases, over its five retail levels. Like any recycle store, brands and sizes change regularly, but with two and a half floors each for men and women there’s a good chance of finding something in the right size at the right price. The sixth floor provides a cleaning service and is the place to take items you want to sell, while the top floor cafe has the refined calm of an international hotel lounge and is an inviting spot to unwind. The rt store is very much at home in its glamorous Ginza surroundings, and if it weren’t for the price tags, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a hip select store. Then again, there’s the convenience of shopping from the RAGTAG online store. Just follow the link.