Matthias Engel of Eddie Bauer Japan

Japan has been a very important market for outdoor apparel brand Eddie Bauer since the company opened its first shop here back in 1994. There are now over 50 stores throughout the country and this year the company are looking to expand even more.

Weekender caught up with the President and CEO of Eddie Bauer Japan, Matthias Engel to hear about his work in Japan and his efforts to raise money for victims of 3/11.

You became CEO at Eddie Bauer Japan in 2009, where were you before that?

I was the CEO of Eddie Bauer Germany for eight years.

How different is it doing business in Japan as opposed to your own country?

It is quite different. It is very interesting though and the learning curve is quite steep in Japan. In Germany speed and flexibility are very important, in Japan people don’t react too fast, they like to wait. We have started to get some good results here since 2009, because we introduced the spirit of flexibility and speed to our business.

Has the European financial crisis had any effect on your business?

No. Here in Japan we are not related to European business. If something happens it is a problem for our mother company (Eddie Bauer Japan is a fully owned subsidiary of the German Otto group). We are quite independent and earn our own money here.

You launched ‘Eddies Project in May last year, what exactly was that?

Eddie’s Project was born after the 3/11 disaster in order to give help to the victims. Everybody around the world was thinking about what they could do. Our German colleagues created a special ‘Aid Japan’ t-shirt and in Japan we created a special bandana. It is being sold only in Japan with all proceeds going to the victims of the disaster.

Has it sold well?

We have sold about 20,000 pieces, so people have been very keen to buy it. It is not so expensive, but it is a good chance to raise some money for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.

Has Eddie Bauer done anything else to aid the victims of the disaster?

First, we donated ¥10 million directly to the Japanese Red Cross. We also donated apparel, especially outerwear.

Where were you when the Earthquake hit?

I was sitting with three other guys in my Tokyo office. Earthquakes have shaken the office a number of times before, but after a few seconds everyone realized it was not normal—it was very big. Then there was a strange alarm sound, it was an unbelievable day.

Did you leave Japan after the Earthquake?

Yes, I left on March 16. I went to our headquarters in Hamburg to organize our international crisis management team. Two weeks after that I came back and visited the Sendai area, that was also an unbelievable experience.

What’s in store for Eddie Bauer Japan in 2012?

We are a multichannel company, but our biggest pillar is retail. That will continue to grow. Right now we have around 55 stores, by 2020 we want to double our portfolio. At the same time we plan to strongly develop our e-commerce business because the paper based business (catalogs) is shrinking. That said, it is not going to die because you always need a catalog to be a trigger for e-commerce.

Any personal goals over the next twelve months?

We are quite busy and time is flying by so quickly. I don’t have any special goals, just to survive!

For more info on Eddie Bauer in Japan, visit:

Interview by Ray Pedersen