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Japangeles: Story of Community

Continuing our two-part article series, this second article focuses on the unique community, design, and impact of Japangeles beyond just the business aspects.

Front of Japangeles Store in Little Tokyo (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)

Continuing our two-part article series, this second article focuses on the community, design, and impact of Japangeles beyond just the business aspects. There is so much more than just the clothing itself, and the Sansei founder and owner of Japangeles, Roy Kuroyanagi, shares with us the design process and community impact as they continue to give back.

Japangeles has many unique designs that incorporate Japanese culture with unique LA pride and style. When asked Roy about where he gets his inspiration from, there were a couple of different places. Skate and surf culture, breakdancing, the graffiti era, and hip hop rap culture have helped inspire some of the designs we see today.  

Unique LA design featured on hat (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)

There are also many other unique aspects of Japangeles clothing that incorporate Japanese elements. One of their biggest pieces is the traditional, Japanese fabric incorporated into Japangeles hoodies, making it a one of a kind. Another one of their hybrid clothing designs is the “happi hoodie,” which was a comfy spin on a common piece of clothing found at Japanese summer festivals.

Happi Hoodie Design (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)

As someone who loves Japangeles for their unique designs, quality, and community impact, I had to ask about Roy’s view towards our younger generations, where Japangeles clothing and names are so commonly seen. Roy explained to me how hearing this feedback is what helps keep Japangeles going. To Roy, knowing that we are waiting for the next collaboration and the next design always warms his heart, because we are able to “go on the journey” with him.

While the future is always uncertain, I know I won’t ever want to stop following the journey of Japangeles because of the enormous impact it has had on me and the Japanese American community. So I asked some of my friends also share about the impact Japangeles has had on them or some memories from the clothing they have and here's what they said:

"I like matching caps with my brother because we have the same design but different colors!" - Tawni S.

"Japangeles is kind of the Supreme or Gucci of the JA community. I remember being so excited the first time I stepped into their store in Little Tokyo and bought some of their clothes- my first item was a hoodie, and I’ll never forget being able to wear it around at OCBC and beyond." - Ashley M.

"I remember when Japangeles was just a small cart in the walkway of J-town. My friends and I walked over from Nishi and we were so excited when we first saw it because we thought the word 'Japangeles' was so creative. Now, Japangeles has a shop and it's very popular, not only in LA but SoCal and NorCal as well! It's amazing to see their growth and how it connects people from all different areas." - Samantha H.

"Japangeles is a brand that represents JA community. When I wear Japangeles, I feel like I’m repping not only the community but my identity. When I see my friends wearing the Japangeles merch, I feel an overwhelming feeling of love for the JA community." - Emily S.

Hopefully these snippets give insight into what impact Japangeles has on the identity of Japanese-American youth through their design and style and connect the community together.

Japangeles Collegiate Design (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)

Clearly, Japangeles’s reach goes beyond business and clothing and impacts the broader Japanese American community, specifically in Little Tokyo. I asked Roy about his community involvement, as it includes support for organizations at Japanese basketball leagues, golf tournaments, and many other events. However, this is not just for publicity.

As Little Tokyo remains an important place for those appreciating Japanese culture, Roy wanted to encourage anyone if they love Little Tokyo and want to help out to reach out to the many organizations in Little Tokyo and become proactive. “I encourage young and old to be proactive. It’s a great community to be in.”

2021 Nisei Week Collaboration (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)

There have been numerous collaborations Japangeles has had with well-known brands that have made large waves. “Collaborations are the highlight of our business. It gets us excited because we like having an experience with that collaboration,” Roy explained to me.

What he means by memorable is the experience that is created with the launch. For example, the Sanrio collaboration was memorable for the candy station, DJ, calligraphy artist, Hello Kitty photo opportunity, and more. As designers too, Roy expressed how these collaborations are “a great place for us to be more creative and out of the box” in creating designs that highlight both the brands in unique ways and expand demographics for both brands.

Lexus Happi Hoodie Design (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)
Sanrio Collaboration Event (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)

Beyond collaborations with big globally-recognized brands like Sanrio, Lexus, and Kirin, just to name a few, Japangeles has also worked as the creative directors of the Go For Broke apparel. It has become more of an education brand and they “love having educational apparel talked about” because it becomes a conversation starter with the clothing and designs they make, bringing in an important part of Japanese-American heritage.

Go For Broke Merchandise designed by Japangeles (Picture Credit: Go For Broke Instagram)

Community organizations have also been part of the collaborations, including the brand-new Terasaki Budokan. Roy told me that by giving back in these ways, people can wear the clothing that expresses their pride for Budokan and contribute in ways more than a lump sum of money. Getting the name out there, from Budokan to Go for Broke, make those following Japangeles more curious and able to contribute.

Terasaki Budokan x Japangeles Collaboration for Grand Opening (Picture Credit: Terasaki Budokan Instagram)

Roy had one final comment about the community that stuck with me.

“We love doing community stuff because the community is definitely one hundred percent of the heart of Little Tokyo and the success of Japangeles. Without the community, we will not be here.”

And giving back they continue to do.

Japangeles Design outside of Little Tokyo Village Plaza (Picture Credit: Japangeles Instagram)
Article featured in this issue:
May 2022
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