Yoshida & Co., Ltd. are celebrating their 75th year in the business of making bags. In a culture of commuters, the labels created by this company – PORTER, HEAD PORTER and LUGGAGE LABEL – are visible on bags all over the country. Whether hanging from shoulders, slung over torsos, carried on backs or gripped in hands, these Japanese essentials are much loved. The products’ styling, classic and innovative and mostly unisex in design, together with superb quality, appeal to cool teens, sharp salarymen and office ladies and smart travelers alike.HEAT series (2001) and TANGO BLACK 70th anniversary series (2005) shoulder bags
The Tokyo metropolitan area houses around 13 million residents and another two and a half million spill into the city during the working day. Many people live an hour’s commute or more from their workplace and they spend long days in the city. The bag has become an essential part of life in Tokyo, holding the things that most Westerners would keep in a glove box or on the back seat of a car. Tokyo’s train and subway stations even offer parking for bags in the form of station lockers. Locals are enamored with bags, from the latest styles released by the European luxury houses to the cool designs produced by edgier local fashion houses and disposable fashion bags of the season.
In this environment, PORTER is a brand that enjoys classic status, its timeless urban styles and new seasonal designs forming part of many people’s bag collections. Additional kudos comes from the products’ ‘Made in Japan’ origins, an increasingly rare occurrence in this age of Chinese, South East Asian and South American manufacturing,
Yoshida & Co. began life as Yoshida Kaban Seisakujo, Yoshida Bag Factory, in 1935 when Yoshizou Yoshida began his bag manufacturing business in Tokyo’s Kanda district. In 1951 the business was incorporated and moved to its present headquarters in East Kanda. Yoshida’s first big success was in 1953 with the sleek leather Elegant bag, a slimline briefcase whose width was adjustable. The Elegant bag brought together the elements that define Yoshida & Co. bags: quality materials, stylish design, technical innovation and the superior craftsman-like attention to detail that is crystallized in the company’s motto, 一針入魂, or putting one’s heart & soul into every stitch.
The now iconic PORTER brand was launched in 1962 and the company’s most famous and still hugely successful Tanker line, designed by Katsuyuki Yoshida, first appeared in 1983. With their soft nylon shells in black or sage green and bright orange linings – inspired by the tough, lightweight US Air force and Navy MA-1 pilot jacket from 1949 – Tanker bags, backpacks, pouches and wallets are instantly recognizable and still highly sought after. In 1984 the company launched a second successful brand: LUGGAGE LABEL. The Liner series of bags were the first of this brand to carry the trademark X logo. Both these series continue to be manufactured as do New Tanker and New Liner collections.
PORTER and LUGGAGE LABEL bags and accessories are sold throughout the country in a number of department stores and select shops. The company has also established its own stores: in 2000 it opened its first KURA CHIKA YOSHIDA outlet in Harajuku off Omotesando and another in Marunouchi’s Maru Biru in 2002. Each caters to a different clientele and both are likely to carry exclusive lines among their stock.
In 2001, the Porter International brand was launched as a separate company by Yoshida & Co.’s Taiwanese distributor to cater to other Asian markets, and the first Porter International store opened in 2004 in Taiwan. A number of stores are now located in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Another venture was launched in 2007, the Porter Classic company and brand. Started as a sideline creative outlet for Katsuyuki Yoshida, its focus is clothing that features traditional elements: kendo fabric, traditional prints and the like. A Tokyo boutique can be found in Ginza’s International Arcade, while another boutique operates in Fukuoka.
Yoshida & Co. has also collaborated with various fashion companies over the years to develop co-branded PORTER products: Levi’s®, The Conran Shop, Apple. Its most enduring collaboration has been with the hip fashion retailer, Beams. Introduced in 2003, the B印 (Jirushi) Yoshida brand consists of bags, wallets and other accessories created exclusively for the compact B印 Yoshida boutique in Daikanyama designed by Wonderwall’s Masamichi Katayama, who also happens to be a fan of the company’s products.
The HEAD PORTER brand was developed in 1998 with Hiroshi Fujiwara, the musician/designer who’s considered a father of Harajuku streetwear style. HEAD PORTER stores – a single boutique in Tokyo’s Harajuku area and one in New York (on SoHo’s Wooster St) – present classic PORTER items alongside exclusive collections that offer more adventurous fashion-focused designs and colorways for the switched on consumer. The brand has also collaborated with various labels, Atmos, Burton, Adidas, Stussy and Buzz Rickson’s to name a few. A sister label, HEAD PORTER PLUS focuses on cool clothing with a streetwear vibe. The Fall/Winter 2010 range features funky plaids and some interestingly detailed denim. A 2010 collaboration with Nike Sportswear has also produced the NSW designs available at the HEAD PORTER PLUS store, otherwise known as the hp* annex. Both boutiques are located opposite each other in Harajuku.