Meet the Man Behind Goldwin, the Japanese Label That’s Changing the Outdoor Industry

Gen Arai on the differences between Japanese and Western products, why young people are buying less, and The North Face Purple Label.


In 1950, a tiny family-owned knitwear factory popped up in Oyabe City, a sleepy town in central Japan. It was a time when Japan began to emulate American fashion and lifestyles; skiing, in particular, now captivated affluent Japanese citizens. And so the tiny knitwear factory began making traditional ski sweaters to meet the new demand.

Eight years later, in 1958, that knitwear factory became Goldwin. And today, the historic Japanese outerwear brand is among the most exciting sportswear and lifestyle clothing makers in the outdoor world. Goldwin’s products appear plain and simple, but looking closely reveals they’re more than that; there’s an impressive level of technical innovation and attention to detail — a minimal, clean and measured approach common in Japanese fashion, but rarely seen in outdoor apparel.

One of the driving forces behind Goldwin’s rise to prominence is Gen Arai. As the brand’s general manager, Arai oversees the Goldwin’s overarching identity and vision. Previously, as a product planner at The North Face Japan, he helped create The North Face Purple Label, an extremely rare and highly coveted offshoot that combines sleek urban-lifestyle looks with high-alpine technical details. Today, he’s steering Goldwin’s ship — and that ship is coming straight for North America’s shores. We caught up with Arai at the Capsule Show in New York City, just ahead of Goldwin’s fall 2017 collection launch.

Q: What sets Goldwin apart from other outdoor brands?
A: Our philosophy is dedication to detail. It’s about patterns and sewing. The Japanese love detail. Even in spoken language, there are so many different ways to describe one thing. English is different. It’s very simple and direct. You also appreciate detail, but often not like the Japanese. We want to focus on customizing our product to a specific customer. We pay attention to climate, pattern, silhouette, comfort and so on. We always pay attention to these very small details, and that’s what sets us apart from many Western clothing makers.

Q: The line between fashion and outdoor apparel is beginning to blur. Why is this happening, and how is Goldwin playing a part in it?
A: It’s a new lifestyle, closely linked with yoga, running, biking, climbing — anything related to sports. People have a practical reason to wear sporting apparel as daily wear. In the past, sporting apparel felt more or less like a uniform. But now, it has this design and functionality that’s evolved over years of smart product development. Sporting apparel has become acceptable for daily use. It’s not just in North America and Europe; we’re also seeing it in Japan. For example, what The North Face Japan does, and what Patagonia does, and what Arc’teryx does — they’re all going in the same direction. Everything is becoming more minimal. Not only in clothing design, but also in consumer habits and lifestyles in general. Because outdoor apparel is becoming more specialized and personalized to every kind of person, consumers don’t need to buy so much. They buy a few things that fit their needs, and use them for a long time. That’s minimalism.

Q: What problems do you see with modern outdoor apparel, and how is Goldwin trying to solve those problems?
A: The problem is that everything looks the same. The whole industry has become homogenous. There are no unique developments and designs. There are so many products that boast all these technical features, but don’t truly deliver. Most of the time it’s just decoration. At worst, it’s a trick meant to mislead customers into buying something. A lot of companies are making products that are so technically complex, it actually detracts from the product’s usefulness. It’s a real problem. We have the resources and background to make technical items, but we do it from a unique perspective. Our aesthetic is original.

Q: You helped create The North Face Purple Label, one of the most coveted outdoor apparel brands in the world. How have you kept the spirit of Purple Label alive in Goldwin?
A: Even though [Purple Label] makes casual style, they never lost sight of the legacy and origins of The North Face. Goldwin also pays close attention to its brand legacy. In the case of Goldwin, its origin is in skiing. We use that background in our unique approach to designing technical apparel.

There’s hardly a border between The North Face Purple Label and The North Face Japan. Purple Label is just as functional as The North Face. For example, Purple Label uses Gore-Tex in most of its garments and sews patterns and technical materials in its own factory. The only difference, really, is that Purple Label is designed with much closer attention to detail, and just looks better.

Mountain Jacket by Goldwin $770

Spur Pants by Goldwin $240

Hooded Pullover Shirt by Goldwin $275

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