Fidelity Sportswear’s relationship with Japan began more than 30 years ago. What started as a small collaboration between Gerald & Stewart Webber, owners/operators of Fidelity Sportswear, and an few inspired individuals in Japan has turned into a renowned line of outerwear now sold across the world. We had a moment to catch up with Gerry & Stu to hear the history of the brand first hand and learn more about how the American outerwear company has developed through their international collaborations.
Tell us about the relationship between Fidelity Sportswear and Japan.
Gerry: I went to Japan to some trade mission and we had started to develop the Fidelity name in Japan. There were trade missions sponsored by the US government and I went to either one or two [shows] promoting trade in Japan. And I would say it was early 80s.
Stu: It was just as we were shifting into this building [on Bow Street].
When did you first begin adapting the traditional, military fit Fidelity pea coat?
S: I think with Taikyo Senjo, I’m thinking of the monogrammed label…
S: That was a lot of pea coats, but it was tapered down to their fits. And I think that goes back to ’85 ’86. The fashion fit really came in with Imex [Fidelity’s current distributor’s in Japan].
G: Which really was probably around the early 2000’s.
What was the reception of the altered styles?
G: It really built very quickly from that first year. I’m always amazed at how many stores we’re selling in Japan.
Fidelity does a lot of co-branding in Japan. Can you tell us more about this?
G: The Japanese are very fastidious in their approach to marketing and its not often that we will come up with a style that they will just take. They have to put their own particular twist into it and it’s usually for the better. They have a great sense of style and fashion and that comes into the co branding. They want to have it with their name because people identify with Beams, Journal Standard, United Arrows, or Seilin. It’s just part of the culture.
Is Fidelity Sportswear in North America & Europe the same as Fidelity Sportswear in Japan?
S: Certainly we have a different pattern design. I’ll speak from that side of it. From the first day in Europe, we got the education that they want to look very much like the Japanese styling, but the reality is the body styles require us to shape that garment to fit the European fashion fit, which is different. So right from there, it is different. It also goes towards a different design process. There is influence from what we see in Japan and what we do in Japan, but it takes on our own interpretations.
There are an overwhelming number of garment styles going to Japan this season. How is such a small company able to produce such a variety of garments?
G: Not every company can deal with the precise nature of what is required to sell in Japan. I think we have built in certain fail safes models. We occasionally miss the mark, we admit that. But we’re always trying to improve upon making sure we get the product exactly the way they want it, to their specifications. That just bleeds right over into what we sell in Europe and the United States. I always said, if we can sell successfully in Japan, we can sell anywhere in the world.
Japan is very serious about quality — you’ve mentioned that they even run garments through x-ray machines to check for broken sewing needles, etc. Tell us more about the rigorous garment checks.
G: Yes, they are rigorous in their attention to detail. It’s almost like a fine tailored garment in Italy has the same type of demands in it that an outerwear piece would have going into Japan. They want the product to be right. We all want the product to be right, but they seem to kick up the level a little bit more in terms of preciseness, in terms of stitches per inch, in terms of whelps, in terms of flaps in terms of pocketing, in terms of buttons in terms of binding. All subtle little things that make their garments great.
S: The other thing they do that kicks up the notch in terms on quality is their willing to pay for an independent company to inspect every garment that they buy. So, where a lot of people will certainly run a garment through specifications, check it out and make sure its right, but its usually a small sampling of the total. Japan will take the step to check every garment.
G: And they’ve also recognized something that we have known in the United States, but a lot of companies don’t pay attention to. The quality of the product had to stand on its own, but the parts that go into it, the treads, the lining, the shells, the buttons, the interlinings, the labels all have to be right. They’re all tested. Japan started us in that direction and we test everything that we send. That just again, comes right over to everything that we make in the United States.
S: The Japanese seem to be looking for the quality of craftsmanship and to that they’ve added a level of technical expertise.
For more information on Fidelity Sportswear in Japan, please be sure to contact our Japanese distributor here!