Celebrating 10 years since its opening, Ripery’s Sugar is an unforgettable Tokyo fashion experience. It’s surprisingly easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, hidden away on a side street adjacent to Ichiban-gai, one of Shimokitazawa’s main thoroughfares. Once you spot it though, you’ll wonder how you didn’t notice it sooner. The door is framed by an arch of twisting vines, as if to mark a boundary between the mundane outdoors and the magical world that waits within.
Inside, shelves of unique art pieces line the walls, each one impossible to recreate. More a cozy gallery and workshop space than an actual outlet, bright and elaborately stitched patchwork sneakers sit on every available surface. Ripery’s Sugar shoes are tailor-made to fit the wearer’s foot and style, so the decorative pieces in the store simply serve as inspiration.
The Perfect Pair
Run by husband and wife team Akiyoshi and Mana Hashiguchi, Ripery’s Sugar has always been passionate about providing people with one-of-a-kind pieces that transcend simple clothing. The couple started selling hippie-style dresses and other clothing at open-air markets around the country, as well as styling artists in distinctive costumes for the stage. Almost exactly 10 years ago, a store they distributed to in Harajuku closed down. This was the catalyst for them to start their own brick-and-mortar shop, in fashionable Shimokitazawa.
The transition from clothing to sneakers was an easy one — shoes are excellent statement pieces that anyone can wear. The brand new bases are sourced from Vision Street Wear, an American apparel label, and RFW, a Japanese brand. Both varieties have thicker soles than the average sneaker, making them more comfortable: Proof that you don’t have to sacrifice comfort for individual expression.
Sustainability is Always in Style
The creative process when coming up with their designs is often intuitive. Mana explains, “Often I just imagine materials I can use. I don’t do any sketches beforehand. I simply look at what’s in front of me and consider how the materials go together. Lately we use a lot of leather and kimono obi fabric. Those are fun to make.”
“The kimono obi designs are especially popular. A lot of people bring in their own or their family’s obi that they can’t wear for whatever reason but can’t bring themselves to part with it. It’s a form of upcycling, as we can use parts of it, even if it has stains and can’t be worn anymore. Especially when using beautiful materials and designs made by craftspeople, it seems a shame to let it go to waste. This way, the obi gets a second life,” Akiyoshi continues.
Mana also emphasizes that kimono can be a hassle to put on, so by incorporating these materials into a comfortable pair of sneakers, these traditional items can be worn in a novel way. “Wearing kimono is difficult, but accessorizing with kimono fabric bags or a pair of shoes is easy,” she says.
A Lasting Footprint
Because Ripery’s Sugar shoes are tailor-made from start to finish, the duo has fond memories of each creation. Akiyoshi and Mana craft sneakers from concept to completion in about two weeks, but it may take longer if the construction is complex. Their hope is that the shoes’ new owners will make even more memories with their new kicks. Akiyoshi says, “Every shoe is an original item, so it has its own unique name. We hope that helps people feel their shoes are special and take good care of them.”
“When you give the shoes a name, they become like a partner that you walk together with in life,” Mana adds.
The concept seems to work, as many Ripery’s Sugar fans are repeat customers. “We do regular maintenance and provide repairs for free,” Mana explains. “Some people even add accents to further customize shoes they already own, to keep the design ‘fresh’. They often bring in personal items to add to the sneakers to make them even more meaningful.”
Inspired by the Everyday
With such vibrant colors and unconventional designs, you might expect equally wild inspirational sources. Surprisingly, the pair seem more influenced by things they see and experience in daily life. Natural themes run strong, when they get the chance to leave the city. Shimokitazawa — being the gathering place for stylish youths that it is — attracts individuals with a strong sense of fashion. Mulling over what kind of shoes would go with the outfit a passer-by is wearing is a creative exercise that encourages experimenting with new processes, designs and materials. Inspiration can strike from any manner of things.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at a traditional kimono pattern. The sayagata pattern, for example, has a deeper meaning of long-lasting happiness and longevity. Using Japanese patterns like this we can imbue that meaning into the shoes and patch it together with symbolic colors and so on,” Mana says.
To understand Ripery’s Sugar designs and get inspired yourself, though, it’s best to visit the gallery in person. Though they will never be able to make a perfect replica of any of the showcased designs, that just means that your shoes will be unique to you.
Photos by Lisa Knight