Daisuke Gemma and NOWHAW’s Kotaro Togawa in conversation — Pajamas: fashion’s ultimate example of self-satisfaction

In collaboration with both Japanese and international artists, “TOKION” is producing various merchandise to be sold at “TOKiON the STORE” in Miyashita Park and online. For this project, TOKION’s curator Daisuke Gemma explores the numerous opportunities for product development in conversation with his personal selection of trending individuals.

For this interview, Kotaro Togawa, designer of the pajama-making company “NOWHAW,” tells us about the brand’s concept of a “new, unpredictable, and surprising holiday and world.” Along with his wife and producer Chuuson, NOWHAW produces conceptual outfits such as jacket-shaped pajama day, which can be worn all day, or the “calming” design of the no-collar, fly-front pajama shhh. The brand also excels for its convenience, full of amusing and sensible details such as small pockets to fit paperback books, belt loops for when you need to go out, secret pockets on the back of the collar, phosphorescent woven name labels, and more. The pajamas are not only comfortable to wear but also very durable and easy to wash, thanks to their strong and stable stitches. NOWHAW also collaborates with contemporary artists such as Ken Kagami and Masanao Hirayama.

As the spontaneously funny brand’s concepts and designs suggest, Togawa himself is especially humorous, leading to a friendly and peaceful dialogue from beginning to end. What kind of pajamas will be born from this conversation?

Daisuke Gemma: About six years ago, I found NOWHAW’s kung-fu (a Chinese-style jacket) in a magazine and thought it was super good. After that, I contacted Togawa-san immediately and met him for the first time at his exhibition.

Kotaro Togawa: I was so surprised when you came. Without even thinking, I just blurted out something like, “What?! You have free time?”. (laughs)

Gemma: NOWHAW itself is good, of course, but I also thought that all members of its team had good character and were insanely funny.

Togawa: You laughed no matter what we said; Chuuson and I were so happy. I thought you had to be a reliable person since you took an interest in such an underground pajama brand like ours.

Gemma: The more I know about the brand, the more I realize how exquisite the level of design is; every outfit follows a specific concept.

Togawa: I’m happy to hear that. We started the brand because of people like you and Hiroshi Fujiwara, who make a living through your taste in fashion and music. You actually wear our pajamas, right?

Gemma: In the summer, I wear T-shirts and shorts, but I often wear kung-fu in the winter. You can even wear it to go to the convenience store.

Togawa: It’s cool to put your effort into dressing up nicely, but I really like when it looks effortless, which is one of our strong suits and what we aim to. When I started NOWHAW, I lived in Daikanyama, and the idea was to make pajamas that people could wear at a place like the nearby Tsutaya bookstore, so you don’t have to change before going out.

“Everyone loves to loaf around, right?”

Gemma: What made you decide to make pajamas in the first place?

Togawa: I’ve always loved wearing pajamas and spending time at home. I started NOWHAW after I turned 30, and one of the reasons was that I wanted to make something I could continue doing comfortably for a long time. Also, the public image of loafing around at home isn’t very good, but I’ve always thought that secretly everyone loves to.

Gemma: I actually love to. I have a sofa in my house that I call the “one-person sofa,” which lets you stretch your legs; on my days off, I just sit there looking for movies I want to watch and just spend my time without thinking about anything.

Togawa: I’m the same. I go through my daily routine just for that kind of time. That’s why I decided to create a brand that specializes in loafing around at home, and at the same, integrates my favorite cultures and influences I got through the magazines I used to read, even letting me collaborate with different artists.

Gemma: Before the corona pandemic, I kind of thought that everyone was trying too hard to get out of their houses.

Togawa: Loafing around is surprisingly good for you, too.

Gemma: You also become more particular about what you put in your house.

Togawa: At first, everyone told me it wouldn’t go well. Generally, people spend money on clothes they wear outside; pajamas are a niche market, after all.

Gemma: Well, people enjoy clothes through self-satisfaction, and pajamas are a prime example of that.

Togawa: Exactly, I thought so too. Some people tell me that NOWHAW is in line with the times, but you were the first one who found us. You even came to the exhibition six years ago.

NOWHAW’s functional beauty and fit

Gemma: NOWHAW’s pajamas have different concepts behind them, right?

Togawa: Well, one of their strong points is that they’re not making that too obvious. Pajamas are different from common fashion; they’re mostly seen as daily necessities, but I think that you can play with the design as long as comfort and functionality are guaranteed. Besides, other people are not supposed to see them, so it doesn’t matter if they fit or not, you can just buy them if you want to wear them.

Gemma: Now that I think of it, pajamas are the ultimate private outfit. I don’t really show them to anyone, so when I buy them, I choose what I actually like, and in that sense, I think pajamas are the essence of fashion. Did you make any clothes before starting NOWHAW?

Togawa: I was a pattern designer for a designer brand—or I wish I could say that, but that’s not actually the case. When I was in my twenties, I used to ride garbage trucks for work; I even worked in the kitchen of a shop called “Wakeari Jukujo Kurabu” (in Japanese, Secret Agenda MILF Club). I was just aimlessly living my life without committing to a regular job. After that, there were twists and turns; I was also a sales staff for A.P.C. I was doing quite well, too.

Gemma: What an unexpected side of you.

Togawa: My experience with serving customers really comes in handy, even now. Customers go shopping with a limited budget, right? So, when they’re wondering if they should buy a product, trying to convince them with sales talk like, “It suits you,” or, “It works with your pants” is just pointless; it doesn’t stick. In these situations, talking about the features of the product gets the customer excited.

Gemma: Oh, that’s interesting.

Togawa: For example, “This pocket can fit an iPad mini.” Even if it’s made-up, talking about the functional beauty of things helps to push the customer forward. NOWHAW pajamas include many functions suitable for being inside your house. Also, comfort-wise, it’s better to wear pajamas loosely, so I recommend a larger size for those worried about the fit.

Gemma: They’re functional, and they look cute if you wear them loose.

Togawa: Since ancient times, there’s a saying: “Better too big than too small.” My mom used to say that often. Sometimes I remember my mom’s punchlines.

Gemma: You have to listen to what your mother says (laughs). Many of your designs are based on daily life; when do you come up with such ideas?

Togawa: I’m not doing it on purpose, but if I notice some kind of problem in my daily life, I’ll incorporate it into my designs later. However, I’m not the deft type, so I tend to scrap my samples. Chuuson’s judgment is pretty strict.

Gemma: Your voice suddenly got quiet (laughs).

Togawa: I’m the one who plans and designs, but it’s Chuuson who decides whether it’s good enough to sell. She doesn’t mince her words; she says stuff like, “Who would wear that?”.

Gemma: Chuuson is a good one. She’s making you stronger, right?

Togawa: I always reply with a sad yes and return to my work as if nothing happened. To be fair, I’m grateful that even if she doesn’t like something, she’ll let me make the sample anyway.

Gemma: Sounds like a good relationship.

“What we want to wear” — The collaboration with TOKION

Togawa: We’re not very good at sales; Thankfully, there are nympho-like fans like you who ask about our products.

Gemma: Who are you calling a nympho? (laughs)

Togawa: The thing is, we love our nymphos; we are influenced by them, and they understand us. To me, you’re like a senpai, so it’d be an honor to collaborate with you.

Gemma: It’s important to share an archetype, or rather, common sense when making something together.

Togawa: Collaborations are fun for me too. At the end of the day, though, we all want to make what we want to wear, right? You like shorts, and I think they work with a long-sleeve top. If it’s the middle of summer, you can wear shorts and a T-shirt, and if it gets a little cold, you can wear a long-sleeve top like a coat, and you can wear that for a long time. NOWHAW pajamas’ tops and bottoms are always made with matching materials; the real thrill of collaborating is how much you can play inside such restrictions.

Gemma: It could be interesting to put gussets in the pockets.

Togawa: I always want to make tote bags of the same size as the L-size plastic shopping bags of the supermarket I often go to. I think it’d be very cute to wear pajamas with a bag that has the same pattern.

Gemma: Once, I was stopped and questioned by the police, and when I asked them why they told me that it’s because I was wearing all black (laughs). So, this time I want to make plain navy pajamas instead of black ones.

Togawa: “Pajamas for those who don’t want to be questioned;” sounds good (laughs).

Kotaro Togawa
Born in 1980, Hokkaido, Kōtarō Togawa started his brand NOWHAW with his wife Chuuson in 2013. He also collaborates with artists such as Ken Kagami, Masanao Hirayama, Yuki MIKAMI, BAKIBAKI, Shunsuke Imai, and calligrapher Mami. In addition, he is currently developing other lines such as Twilight, a line of before-and-after pajamas room wear, and HOMESICK by NOWHAW, 100% made of silk pajamas that will make you miss your home.

Daisuke Gemma:
Born in 1975, Gemma moved to the U.K. in 1996. In 1997, he began working for Browns in London, launching his career as a buyer. After returning to Japan in 2002, he established the Nakameguro select shop FAMILY, where he became executive director. In 2007, he ventured off to establish his own office. Since then, he has worked as branding director of CELUX (a members-only club for LVJ Group). Currently, he works as a creative director at sacai and a buying consultant for Lane Crawford, a specialty luxury store from Hong Kong. He is also a member of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Fashion Policy Council.

Photography: Kazuo Yoshida
Translation: Leandro Di Rosa

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