Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted by email due to Japan’s timezone difference and was translated from Japanese to English by SuperGroupies US. A huge thank you goes out to them and to Hyein Seo for chatting with me. I wish them all the best!
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you combined passion for fashion with video games? Well, Japanese fashion brand SuperGroupies has found a way to make that a reality! In this interview, we will learn what goes into creating their collections and much more!
I’m really happy to speak with you, thank you so much for your time. As an introduction can you please talk about the history of SuperGroupies and how did you come up with the idea of blending the passion for fashion with anime and video games?
Hyein Seo: Thank you for having me for this interview! My name is Hyein and I work in the marketing department for SuperGroupies.
SuperGroupies’ story began when our founder Katsumi Yasuda, who had a strong career in the anime merchandise industry, met executive producer Takayuki Inada, who had extensive experience in taking on new challenges in the fashion industry. They wanted to make products for anime fans who love anime and fashion at the same time, leading to the creation of the SuperGroupies brand in 2015.
In the beginning, SuperGroupies was more focused on ladies’ fashion items such as handbags and high-heeled pumps. Our first viral products were pumps for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The brand continued to rise in popularity as we collaborated with many famous anime and games for women; for example, Touken Ranbu, Black Butler, Cardcaptor Sakura, and more.
The brand concept for our products is to be inspired by the characters and the stories, which means very subtle and sophisticated designs so that only core fans will notice the details. We found our customers loved this idea since this meant they could take our items to school, work, as well as anime events. My colleagues and I went to some anime/game events privately and often bumped into our customers carrying our bags or wearing our shoes. It motivates us to make things more valuable, well-designed, and long-lasting.
SuperGroupies has since begun aggressively expanding into men’s fashion and more gaming markets, which includes Kingdom Hearts, NieR, Fire Emblem, and more. We even opened a pop-up store for our Kingdom Hearts collection in 2018 and were able to meet many customers from all over the world which was an amazing experience for us. It gave us a chance to communicate with customers worldwide and it led to us setting up a worldwide shipping service on our Japanese site and even an independent website for our US/Canada customers.
We’ve been fortunate to receive continuous love and support from fans all over the world and hope to meet even more customers in the future!
You’ve created magic in the fashion industry even in a pandemic world and that couldn’t have been easy. How has the industry changed since the pandemic started and in what ways have collaborations been affected? (delays setbacks, change in release dates)
Hyein Seo: Our business is more directly affected by the anime/game industries rather than the fashion industry. All of our customers are fans of anime or games and that’s the driving force behind their support for our products. Fortunately, the anime/game industries haven’t been too severely affected during the pandemic; in fact, some sectors probably saw growth because people have had more time to enjoy their hobbies. The demand for anime/game merchandise still exists, so we kept focusing on making new products and working with new anime/game titles.
However, we did have some delays and troubles when it comes to production and shipping processes (a common issue for the manufacturing industry). Some of our planned products have been delayed due to critical complications caused by COVID-19, so our customers have had to wait much longer than expected to get their items which is extremely embarrassing for us. We feel terrible for our customers who had to experience this.
You have released collections in the past year such as Shin Megami Tensei, Nier Automata,Yakuza just to name a few! Have there been any challenges when it comes to acquire the licensing and permission to create these collections? And what is the process in getting the permission and licensing?
Hyein Seo: If you’re wondering how we usually create our products, here’s a glimpse at the typical workflow from the initial product idea to the actual release.
1. Create product proposal with design plans
2. Decide the manufacturer
3. Apply for license to the licensor
4. Acquisition of license
5. Finalize design plans
6. Submit design plans to licensor for approval
7. Upon receiving licensor approval, set the design plans as finalized
8. Start trial production
9. Check initial samples: remake samples as many times as necessary to get them right
10. Submit final samples to licensor for approval
11. Upon receiving licensor approval, set the final product design in stone
12. Quality control meeting: assess product quality for every item to provide customers with the best products possible, require an inspection from a company specializing in quality control
13. Open for preorders!
SuperGroupies exclusively sells licensed items in collaboration with official licensors, who grant us the right to use their licenses. It usually takes more than 6 months to go through steps 1 through 13.
The trickiest part here is that we must consider the individual policies and cultures for each of our different licensors. When we decide the design, for example, some licensors want it to be more subtle; on the other hand, some licensors want it to be more obvious. We try to get the final design approval as soon as we can, but there are always rules and limitations so we can’t just proceed on our own. This requires quite a bit of resources and patience but also gives us a sense of accomplishment when we can ultimately offer official, reliable, and genuine products for our customers.
The fashion industry is always changing so how do you make sure that your products stay fresh and current?
Our mission is to give fans of anime/games what they want so that they can express themselves with our products.
To do this, we always listen to our customers and fans of anime/games so that we can keep up with their current favorites. SuperGroupies staff, including me, are also fans of many of the same titles we work on, so we talk frankly about our passion for anime/games during our workday. There are specific needs and unique traits individual to every fandom and we always aim to reflect these considerations in our product designs and marketing strategy.
Regarding the fashion side, we also study the current fashion industry and continuously try to apply it to our business. As a part of this, we recently tried crowdfunding for a collection with No More Heroes III to cut down on overproduction and excess waste and improve economic efficiency by matching exact demand. We understand that every one of us is responsible for a sustainable environment so we won’t hesitate to do something like this even more in the future.
What have you learned about fashion, anime, and video games that you didn’t know before?
Hyein Seo: I was personally just an anime fangirl and had no interest in video games before. Working at SuperGroupies opens the door to new worlds all the time. I saw how our customers also love playing video games and it made me curious about those games and how fun they might be. So that’s how I started playing video games such as Kingdom Hearts and Resident Evil.
As a member of the marketing team, I also write product descriptions and I learned many fashion terms that I didn’t know before. For example, I didn’t know the functions of a watch’s subdials but now I do. We try our best to write product descriptions in-depth because we don’t have any brick-and-mortar stores, so our customers rely on the information we have on our website to make their purchases.
Is there something specific that you’ve learned that’s helped you improve as a brand and company?
Hyein Seo: Launching a US/Canada business for the first time was a big challenge for us. The system is different, global shipping takes so long, and we even have a half-day time difference from our customers. We’ve built a brand presence in Japan but in the US, we’re still relatively unknown. But we believe that our strong teamwork and dedicated commitment to our customers will lead us to where we want to be.
As well, it’s become clear in the past year since our US business launched that fashion preferences between the Japan market and US/Canada market can vary to a surprising degree. Some items tend to do better in Japan and vice versa. What counts as “too much” in one country can be “not enough” in another. It’s hard to balance the geek with the chic in aiming for authentic geek chic fashion, and we really appreciate the customer feedback we receive so that we can continue to fine-tune our designs. Please keep an eye out for our future collections and growth!
Out of all the collections that have been created and released which is your favorite and why? And if given the chance which collection would you personally want to wear?
Hyein Seo: My favorite is when we released a collection with Cardcaptor Sakura in 2018. Two concepts for “pink” were beautifully conveyed and thankfully fans liked this collection as well. I was also involved in the page design and that made me more attached to this collection.
If given the chance, I would definitely like to wear Axel’s long coat from our Kingdom Hearts collection! The design is cool and looks like it’d keep me warm for winter. I’m not sure I can wear it stylishly as Axel does though, haha!
The Kingdom Hearts series has touched many hearts from around the world and with the recent announcement that Sora has joined Super Smash Bros Ultimate and is the final character in the roster, will we see a collaboration for Kingdom Hearts?
Hyein Seo: Sorry, but we can’t announce our upcoming collection information without express approval from our official licensors (strict but unfortunately true). However, if many people are waiting for a new collection, we’re always open to listening to fan feedback and happy to plan things for the future. So, if you have any ideas for SuperGroupies, feel free to follow us on social media and let us know!
Twitter : https://twitter.com/SuperGroupiesUS
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/supergroupies_us/