Hidetaka Lee Fukuzaki
Interview - September 2004
From a palette of multicultural experiences, Hidetaka Lee Fukuzaki combines Eastern elements with Western tailoring techniques to render subtle and sophisticated career wear, echoing the lifestyle of the modern international woman and reflecting his design philosophy of 'Asian Fusion.
President and Creative Director of LiMLEE, Fukuzaki is currently based in Tokyo. Before working for Issey Miyake Japan for four years, he studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Fukuzaki draws inspiration from his dual Chinese-Malaysian and Japanese heritage as well as from his extensive period of living in Australia, China, and the U.S.
Fukuzaki will launch his first collection in New York in September 2004. In 'Asian Belle' Spring/Summer Collection 2005, Fukuzaki explores the beauty of Chinese paper-cut designs with a twist of European tailoring.
Interview with Hide:
1. When did you start your first business? What was it? What lessons did you take away from that experience?
LiMLEE was officially launched this year (2004) but I have been planning and working towards this goal for about four years now. Designing and selling my own clothing has been my dream for a long time. Before joining Issey Miyake Japan in 2000, I studied Fashion Merchandising at the New York Institute of Fashion. I also designed and sold t-shirts when I was at university in Australia. Last year, after realizing that I needed to learn more about the actual construction of garments, I started attending pattern-making school. Learning about the structural aspect of clothing was fascinating. As well as picking up the essential principles, I was exposed to industry jargon, which means I can now Ealk' with my pattern designers and appreciate the physical and mathematical concepts behind making clothes.
2. What are some of the challenges you have faced in starting your business and how did you overcome them?
I don't think you can ever prepare financially or emotionally enough for a business! At the same time, you have to start somewhere. I've been very fortunate as my family and friends have been really supportive. Administration issues can take up a lot of my time, but they can be a useful incentive to be organized.
It has been a challenge dealing with some Japanese companies. At times they have been reluctant to deal with LiMLEE directly as they don't like to work with small and as yet unknown firms. Most of my business contacts I have made through introductions. In this sense, it is incredibly important to get out there and ‘flash your meishi.' I have met some very interesting people and have benefited a great deal from their advice.
Working toward my first collection, which I will launch shortly in New York at The Atelier Show (http://www.atelierdesigners.com) has been a steep but exciting learning curve.
Finding a balance between work and relaxation is also hard at times. Taking time to exercise and spending time with family and friends is important. It's also vital to have a sense of humor!
3. How did you form your business? (Yugen Kaisha, Kabushiki Kaisha, etc.) How long did the start-up process take?
I am currently in the last stage of setting up a Yugen Kaisha. Since I can speak Japanese, I have done the whole process on my own. But it sure takes a while! My article of incorporation has been a particularly lengthy process. Bureaucracy can be a hassle but is a good test of your resilience and determination.
4. Where do you see your business in 5 years?
Well, I would like to have my own stores in New York and Tokyo. I also want to participate in the major fashion collections. Although it might not seem obvious, my goal is also to help working women gain a greater a sense of power, freedom and status through my clothes. Business women lead active lives ∁EI want to create wearable and flattering garments can be worn at work and after five.
5. Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Why?
I'm not sure. But I know that as a designer in an extremely competitive era, I have to be resourceful and innovative. Fashion is tied up with emotions and imagination, but it also about business. So you ultimately need not just a dream, but also determination and a clear idea about where you want to go.
Many of my Japanese friends and colleagues have been surprised by the launch of my company. In Japan, people still tend to stay in the same job for as long as possible. I guess my Chinese genes are pulling me towards business…
6. What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
Someone with dreams ∁Ewho pursues them.
7. What piece of advice would you give to a person wanting to start his or her own business in Japan?
Incorporating takes a long time. If you can't understand Japanese that much, I recommend that you fork out the money and get someone to do it for you. Time is money.
As soon as I decided on my business name (after changing my mind and meishi a couple of times), I bought a website domain and registered my trademark.
8. Can you recommend any resources such as books, websites, or support centers for entrepreneurs in Japan?
JETRO has been good. If you become a member, I think they can help you even more on an individual basis. I also try to read publications such as Time , Forbes , Newsweek , Far Eastern Economic Review and IHT. It is important to be aware of the bigger picture, and besides which, it is surprising what kind of information you can gain. I also enjoy reading books on Japanese and Chinese history. I get some good ideas for my designs by looking at the past. Web groups such as Small Biz Japan have been helpful.
But most importantly, find people who might be able to offer advice and simply approach them. Nine times out of ten, people are very generous in helping or offering suggestions. Just don't forget to return the favor when you can.
9. Who are your mentors in business?
On the design side, I would have to say Issey Miyake. I have learnt a lot from him in terms of fabric and textile manipulation.
10. What makes you happy?
When people say that they enjoy wearing my clothes. Surfing and spending time with my friends and family also makes me pretty happy too.