We chat with the minds behind this specialty store about its unusually uniform niche and learn to appreciate the plain.

The temperature is rising in most of Japan, and the number of layers people wear is dramatically reducing in response. Instead of undershirts, cardigans, and the like, most of us are taking any excuse we can to just wear one shirt—or Japanese-wear equivalent—and ideally, one that doesn’t show the sweat, thank you very much.

In 2016, a store opened in the Sendagaya neighborhood of Tokyo that was dedicated to that single-shirt concept: #FFFFFFT (which the owner said is pronounced shiro-tii, meaning white T-shirt). The store only sold white T-shirts, fittingly enough. Now, supported by a prominent host group from the city’s Kabukicho district named Smappa!, the chain is branching out into Kabukicho with the world’s most obvious sequel: a store that only sells black T-shirts titled #000T (pronounced kuro-tii, meaning black T-shirt.)

We were fascinated by this extremely unique business concept. The stores operate unusually too, as they do not sell products online and the physical store is only open for business one day per week, with the specific day (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) changing week to week. We quizzed both the stores’ owner, Takuya Natsume, and the chairman of Smappa! Group host club, Maki Tezuka, to try to understand the process and passion behind these strange stores.

▼ Around 60 products are stocked on the shelves, out of a stock of 300 shirts.

We started with the obvious question to Natsume: Why did he set his heart on only selling just one color of T-shirts per shop?

He answered:

“I never especially planned to open my own store. But then, a few years ago, I came across a white T-shirt that just met all my standards perfectly. Then I just fell in love with the whole concept of white T-shirts, and so I’ve taken it upon myself to collect all the various kinds there are.

So my reasoning for the shop was very simple in the end, but the world tends not to be especially deep… I started one because there were no dedicated white T-shirt shops anywhere in the world. I thought, well, it’s up to me to do it then! And it all started from there.”

We then pressed him further. The store itself is only open one day a week, and there is no option to purchase a shirt online. Basically, there’s no way to buy a shirt from this store unless you’re physically present during business hours and also ask in advance which day it will be open. Doesn’t that hurt your sales?

Natsume, naturally, had an answer ready.

“I have a reason for only opening once a week, and for not doing online sales. In a physical store, you can see the product with your own eyes. You can feel the fabric, and I want customers to check the differences between the products for themselves. I think of white T-shirts as being similar to white rice—you can have it every day and never get sick of it. It goes with everything. There are all kinds of subtle differences between the different brands. And I guess my final point of comparison is that it’s really tough to convey those little details online.

Customers who visit the store are similarly particular about their shirts, and I want to help them get to the bottom of what it is that they want, especially since the product in question is so simple. I’d rather deeply consider and select a shirt for a customer than create a lot of stores and sell stock like hotcakes.”

Now it was time to address the matter at hand. Considering his passion for white T-shirts, why did Natsume decide to set up a black T-shirt store in Kabukicho?

“People have always been asking me why I didn’t start a black shirt store, but for some reason, doing something like that in a normal way just doesn’t sit right with me. If I was gonna do it, it’d have to be somewhere that the concept of black really stood out…like Kabukicho, for instance. Around that time is when I met [Maki] Tezuka and we made it work.”

Smappa! Group, the host club that Tezuka chairs, is known for its ostentatious settings and various establishments such as salons, restaurants, and bars. Their businesses are something of a Kabukicho constant. Tezuka had his own eager ideas for the store:

“I asked [Natsume] to open a black T-shirt store as soon as we met! I felt that “black” suited the Kabukicho neighborhood perfectly. Kabukicho is a leading entertainment district in Japan, and it absorbs people within it regardless of their age, sex, or nationality. That feels like a perfect fit to the concept of black to me.”

“I feel like we can create a new cultural movement with a black T-shirt store. Even those who are hesitant to visit Kabukicho may feel inspired to do so when they know this store exists, and that might cause something new and exciting to develop.”

In keeping with other projects that Smappa! Group has worked with, the shirt store comes equipped with a bar and a space to display art. This will blend food, fashion, and fine art into a single space, making it into a microcosm of Kabukicho’s lively atmosphere.

Still, we had one burning question.

Why now, while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge throughout Japan? Isn’t now one of the worst times to start a new business?

Natsume disagreed:

“On the contrary, I think that now is a perfect time. [Tezuka] and I met last fall when nightlife districts were being viewed most critically. I chose now to open specifically because I think it will be the start of a brand new wave of culture.”

To be fair, it’s not as though we can see far enough in the future to see how the climate will be for a black T-shirt store, or whether its prospects will be bright. Digging in your heels and choosing to open a store anyway is a gutsy stance, whichever way you look at it.

After all that discussion, we had to purchase our very own handpicked black T-shirt. Though you can glibly say “a store full of black T-shirts”, it doesn’t convey all the differences in sizes, shapes, and fabric choices on display.

So we asked Natsume to pick out the black T-shirt he thought would best suit our representative, Mr. Sato, and he volunteered the Sloane. This 9,800 yen (US$89.66) oversized shirt is made of 100-percent cotton, and we think it made our reporter look very stylish indeed.

The high quality of the fabric, fine needlework, and casual drop-shoulder design all culminate to make it a very special black T-shirt indeed. Why not pay the store a visit and discover for yourself what brand of plain black T-shirt best suits you?

Store information
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabuki-cho, 1-12-4
東京都新宿区歌舞伎町 1-12-4
Open 4 p.m.-8 p.m. (when open on weekdays),  2 p.m.-8 p.m. (when open on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays)
Always closed Mondays

Images © SoraNews24
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