Alisa Ueno  is producer of one of the most famous Japanese fashion brands, Fig & Viper , which is now getting attention of celebrities and young people around the world. We had a chance to have an interview with her, and she shared the story behind her success and the secret to realize what you think.
MH: First of all, let us know about the brand’s concept and vision.
AU: We are unique and create original design for clothes. You cannot find similar products at any other places and they are products that you can enjoy, regardless of your age. Our clothes allow a person to be different from the person they are on typical days when they are working in an office wearing an uniform. We understand that we do not compete with fast fashion brands such as H&M and we differentiate our brand from them in that we are comparatively expensive for young people but worth the price. We put emphasis on originality and providing quality clothing.
MH: How did you come to find your own brand without any experience in the industry.
AU: When I was around 19 years old, my mentor encouraged me to jump into this field. At that time, I was working as a professional model as well as attending university and working a part-time job. I had no fear due to my age and I was not as serious as I am now. It is just that I happened to get involved in starting up this brand, to tell you the truth.
MH: What was the first step that you took to start your own brand? What was the biggest challenge?
AU: The first step was understanding the fashion business and where our label fit. I spent time thinking about what people were willing to pay and how to design decent, unique items. I had a great deal of knowledge in terms of the fashion industry, including fashion brands, as I was fond of shopping and often found points to improve in clothes that I bought. Thus, I aimed at designing something that I would be fully content with from the viewpoint of the buyer. My colleagues sometimes advised me to design something more commercial, from a business view point, but I never compromised on design because the label represents my personal brand value and image. Our consumers are likely to purchase items that I wear and then post on my blog. My colleagues gradually came to rely on my design. Over the course of two years, I came to understand the balance between my own preference and market demands.
MH: You and your brand have been on the cutting edge since the beginning and now the industry follows you. What has enabled you to achieve this?
AU: Most importantly, compared to huge companies, one advantage is that our business has relatively less operational process and that enables us to be more creative and challenge the status quo. On the other hand, our weak point is bringing our business to scale because we only have six people, including me, except four for clerks in our brick n’ mortar stores. We manage to deal with everything. Personally, I believe that relationship and the strong bond between employees strongly influences our performance. In fact, all people in our company trust each other as if we are a family. This point is obviously different from the huge companies in which people are working as a small part of the big organization. All the people in Fig & Viper share a common vision and feel that every single behavior has an impact on the brand.
MH: Though various kinds of media have covered your brand, your company does not have a formal public relations team. How did you achieve such huge media exposure?
AU: It is because we have focused on our brand idea that I mentioned above, since our beginning, and that has made our brand quite different and outstanding in the industry that leads media to pay attention. The most important thing is doing something different from others and being interesting. Mass media are eager to know something they do not know. In fact, we have never promoted our brand and items to mass media. Needless to say, I appreciate stylists and media who have taken up our brand and I would like to contribute to their business somehow in the future by making my brand bigger.
MH: You have effectively used SMS such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to communicate with the market. What effect does it have on your brand?
AU: Frankly speaking, in this industry social media currently has stronger power and influence on consumer behavior than magazine or mass media. In fact, I access the most valuable information through social media, sharing information with people around the world. Instagram, especially, has an amazingly huge influence on our brand. For example, the reason that we decided to deliver our products to foreign countries is that a great number of people are following me on Instagram. I like the concept of social media that you can instantly connect with people all over the world and it has potential to make your business unbelievably huge.
MH: After just a couple or years your brand has collaborated with Steve Aoki, who is one of the world’s top DJs. Rita Ora has shared your brand items on her Instagram and Chili from TLC has given attention to your brand. What is the key to getting such great celebrity endorsements?
AU: It could be my personality! I think it is very important to say and share what you want and like. It is true that I have been in the environment which is closer to those celebrities than other industries but I have kept saying “I love Steve Aoki” that brought about the opportunity to participate in his brand’s catalogue as a model. This one time chance ended up bringing another business opportunity with him, a collaboration with his brand. I just keep saying and sharing and more opportunities come to me. Beside that, language plays an important roll especially in the Japanese market, because not so many young Japanese people speak other languages, including English, and thus my ability to speak another language is obviously an advantage over others. I have never stayed in foreign countries longer than two weeks but I can communicate with people around the world in English. This shows that the language barrier can be overcome by your own effort and that is why I keep studying English. I do not want to lose any opportunity because of lack of effort. English let me connect with people all over the world. It is critically important.
MH: No matter how busy you are, you keep changing guise and traveling around the world. What is the reason that the producer of Fig&Viper is always so progressive?
AU: My aim is to lead people all of the time so that they do not get bored. I do not want to be considered an old-fashioned product/ You know, you get one shot at life and we will all die someday. There is no escaping that reality. Traveling allows you to encounter people and experiences that you have never imagined. I am eager to know what I do not know and encounter the type of people whom I have never met. It is not based on some intricate calculation or strategy, but personal preference that is my character and personality. I love myself.
MH: It is sometimes challenging and controversial to put some symbols which contain religious meaning into design, particularly when your expanding your business overseas.
AU: It is true that I need to think more about the meaning of symbols that I have depicted in my design from the viewpoint of branding. Japanese consumers are indifferent about religion and symbols. For example, it is considered rude to position the cross upside-down abroad but it is not an issue here in Japan. However I respect other cultures and their way of thinking. As the brand has become global, I have studied the history and the meaning behind symbols in order to design clothes that are visually beautiful but do not offend anyone. Possibly, our next design focus will be “words”.
MH: You shared an interesting expression, “Live as you would publish your own autobiography in the future”. Give some advice for people who are having a hard time being themselves.
AU: Just do it!! I think people who do not take action would not listen to my advice because they compromise with their life. I believe that it is important to design every single day to be interesting and exciting, to make the most of your own life with the limited time that we all have. You do not have to write something negative in your own autobiography. Do not be afraid of failure and making mistakes. Your life will be happier in the end if you believe that everything would enrich your life. The most important thing is to keep an open mind and let things happen to you.
Instead of feeling envious of successful people, be a successful person. You are the person who can give up or make changes in your life.