Fashion brand Kay Me was founded back in 2011 with the aim of helping businesswomen across the globe feel elegant, comfortable and above all confident during their busy daily life. Originating in Tokyo, Kay Me stands for “instant elegance with day-long comfort,” and with their products being 90% manufactured in Tokyo their brand is a 100% ‘Made in Japan.’ This summer, the brand launched their first ever pop-up outside of Japan in the prime location of 90 Piccadilly. We spoke to the brand’s representative, Nick, to learn more about what brings this authentic Japanese brand to London and what challenges it’s faced along the journey.
What does Kay Me stand for?
'Kay Me' is an anglicised version of the founder's name, Junko 'Kemi'. The concept includes the theme of 'me', one of the important goals of the brand. Junko Kemi grew up in Osaka, Japan and spent a great deal of time at her grandmother's kimono shop. After leaving school, she joined the Boston Consulting Group as a marketing consultant, typically wearing suits everyday. She often felt uncomfortable in the clothing that she had available and couldn't find anything in Tokyo that was business-ready and machine-washable, and that’s how Kay Me was born.
Everything we make is something for 'me', something that Junko would want to wear and feel elegant yet comfortable in. Everything is handmade in Japan, which means we can support the declining sewing industry in Japan.
What is your retail presence like?
This is our first UK pop-up store. We have three permanent shops in Japan (Tokyo and Osaka) as well as several concessions at department stores, but this is our first one in the UK market.
Why did you decide to bring the brand to London?
We felt that London is the most dynamic and active city in Europe. The business community has a strong female presence, and we were attracted by the diverse and multi-cultural heart of the city.
What was the first thing you did when you decided to launch a pop-up in London?
The first challenge was to make sure that we could get shop fixtures and fittings. Having a shop for such a short time (2 weeks) and coming from overseas presented new barriers to being able to run the shop.
How did you go about finding the space? Was it difficult?
We looked at several locations featured on Appear Here’s website and found the one that suited us most in terms of location, footfall and demographic. The process itself was pretty painless and the Appear Here team were very helpful.
What appealed to you about the 90 Piccadilly store?
90 Piccadilly has pretty good footfall and is on the edge of the Mayfair district, giving us a comparable location to our flagship shop in Tokyo.
What was the aim of the pop up?
The primary goal was to promote awareness of our brand, which is new to the UK market and is appearing outside of Japan for the first time. We wanted people to be able to come and touch the clothes and have the option to buy, but we hope that the shop's presence will drive traffic to the online store kayme.co.uk.
What was the most challenging part of launching a store in another country?
Dealing with customs is a big issue - we received conflicting advice on simple things such as the hangars that we were planning to ship to the UK to display our dresses. Even though the hangars were for display only and will return to Japan, and after filling out customs documents as advised by HMRC, the package was held up and we had to pay a fee to process the package. This could certainly be a lot smoother for foreign brands coming to the UK.
What has been your favourite moment so far?
Seeing the reaction of customers here in the UK and how in many ways it is similar to our Japanese customers. Our dresses are designed to help you get set up in the morning quickly and stay comfortable all day long - many of the needs of Japanese businesswomen were mirrored by the comments of new customers visiting us for the first time - it gave us confidence that the brand has a global potential.