What separates brands which made through the storm from those who didn’t? Running a brand costs a lot of money, so it’s no surprise to see them come and go. The interesting part is seeing who can adequately ride the trend without being swallowed by it. Brands like Dr. Martens, Tricker’s and Alden will always sway in and out of popularity, so the challenge for them is to keep things going in the lean times. Which leads us to Yuketen, one of the first brands that come to mind when talking about successful ones. Here, we dig deeper with what Yuketen owner Yuki Matsuda has to say about the past, present and future of the brand, including a potential foray into a new accessory category. Read on.
You have to go back to Yuketen’s beginnings to get a sense of why they’re still around. Yuki Matsuda was born in Osaka, Japan and developed his love for the United States as a teenager. In an interview with Needle and Thread, he noted his interest in brands like Pendleton. “When I was a teenager and I wanted to buy a Pendleton shirt at the store, it cost me 150 bucks brand new, but if I bought used Pendleton shirts at the vintage clothing stores, it was only $35. So, I started going into vintage stores and studying more, and each time I went I would see that these Pendleton shirts had different labels depending on their age. People were so freak[ish] about all the details. I grew up around kinda freak[ish] people. But that was normal for me. That was my normal life.”
It was this dedication to product that helped him through his early career as a buyer. Moving to California in 1985, at the age of 18, he worked for several companies before launching Meg Company in 1989. The company got its name from his wife Megumi, who loaned him money to start up the business. In the Needle and Thread interview, Matsuda said “When I left my last job as a buyer, she bought a fax machine for me and loaned me $3,000 to start my business.” Meg Co. essentially acts as an umbrella label, housing Monitaly, Yuketen, Chamula, Grizzly Boots, Kluane MTN, Epperson Mountaineering, Santo Domingo Boots Co., Tory and Tito Sandal. This trend for naming brands after people he knew continued, with Monitaly being a blend of Monica, Military and Italy. Yuketen was also named after some friends, although it appears they are no longer on good terms. When asked about the name, Matsuda just said “Let’s say they were very old friends before.”
As anyone who’s paid attention to the sheer amount of brands that pass through sites like this one now, launching a brand seems relatively easy. Keeping one going during the early days is much harder. Matsuda kept the company afloat and then came in touch with Tom O’Neill, an operator of a small shoe factory. O’Neill invited Matsuda to his factory, teaching him the fundamentals of shoe making.
Matsuda notes how essential this was to the company’s early survival. “[It was] very important. I cannot talk about Meg Company without mentioning him. Also Chuck Covatch (Tom O’Neill’s successor), too. Meg Company’s early stage was dependent on them.” Their first collaboration was an exclusive for Beams and, from there, they started a joint footwear line that was a success. The collaboration opened Matsuda up to the world of Maine-based footwear factories, as well as working with stores like the aforementioned Beams.
“We passed [the reproduction] stage some time ago.” Brands like Yuketen see Americana as a leaping point instead of a destination, which goes some way to answering how they’ve managed to outstay other brands who swam in similar waters. The fact that they still create new products, like their sneakers, show that they’re not afraid to try something new. Matsuda created them because he wanted “to have a sneaker for me.” In Yuketen speak, that means, “not too cheaply made but still matching my lifestyle.” This philosophy also means that the next product Meg Company create is likely to be watches. It’s still in the early stages, with them hoping to design the watch in the near future. Other plans for Matsuda are, simply, “to work with the world’s best artisans.”