While many may know about the iconic streetwear brand BAPE (A Bathing Ape), few know about its early history, and how it rose to the success and popularity as it did. Today, we will be exploring the origins of the early 1990s streetwear brand: BAPE. 

BAPE’s Origins

BAPE was founded in 1993 by Tomoaki Nagao, better known as NIGO in the streetwear world. His journey in the creation of BAPE was rather unexpected, as he originally had no desire to launch his own independent streetwear brand. The first step towards the birth of BAPE can be traced back to the moment NIGO and Takahashi opened a small boutique in the Ura Harajuku district of Shibuya. Here, Takahashi offered his line Undercover and NIGO offered select streetwear clothes that were imported. Takahashi’s Undercover line quickly gained exposure and performed very well with customers to their shop, however, NIGO’s imported streetwear fell flat in comparison. This prompted NIGO to brainstorm his own line of streetwear with the help of Sk8thing, done over a binge session of Planet of the Apes. The brand largely owed its name and iconic logo to the inspiration of it. From that moment forward, A Bathing Ape was born, or as we more commonly call it: BAPE


BAPE's original design can be credited to Sk8thing, and drew heavy inspiration from utilitarian fashion and military-styled patterns. The infamous camouflage we know today was designed brighter and more vibrant as the years went by, with it incorporating pastels and more colors in the 2000s. 

bape a bathing ape

BAPE’s International Presence

International exposure for BAPE can be traced back to NIGO’s faithful encounter with James Lavelle, a music legend in the industry. Through this, he was able to expand his reach to other artists, one of which had a shop in Recon and can be credited as the first American retailer to carry BAPE's limited supply of streetwear attire. By 2003, BAPE was able to expand to London. During this time he met with several celebrities that ultimately allowed BAPE to reach heights it had never seen, especially at a time when it slowly became to decline in popularity back at home in Japan. Pharrell Williams in particular was able to boost BAPE into relevance through his celebrity status and by featuring NIGO in his music video, Frontin’. However, Pharrell was not the only artist that mentioned the works of NIGO, Soulja Boy had also based a song entirely on the concept of getting BAPE. Other artists such as Lil Wayne was spotted sporting BAPE while 2008’s World Wide Bape Head Show featured acclaimed artists such as Kanye West. 


The Rise and Fall of BAPE

By 1999, BAPE was hitting nearly $20 million in revenue. With 6 operating workshops in Japan, they continued to expand and open up their first store in Hong Kong. At this point, Bape’s growing popularity pushed for NIGO to increase their stockist and production, a move that would raise an eye in the world of exclusive Asian streetwear brands. Instead of choosing to retain the illusion of scarcity, NIGO saw the opportunity to heavily expand the brand. As such, one of the largest collaborations for the brand was with Pepsi, decking their soda cans with the iconic BAPE camouflage print, further expanding his exposure, reach and audience. At the peak of BAPE, they had their name on nearly anything you can think of. From stores to cafes, and art galleries, they even launched exclusive lines for different targeted audiences better known as Babymilo, Bapy (women’s couture line), and children’s wear. However by 2009, BAPE was not what it once was, and it reached a point where NIGO had to step down from his title as a CEO. Ultimately a Hong Kong-based clothing conglomerate purchased the company for under $3 million after the brand fell out of favor from American trends and oversaturated their market back home in Japan. 


NIGO Today

In 2013, NIGO officially left his brand and began working on other passion projects. His most popular project as of late is inspired by his Japanese heritage, known as Human Made. Since then, he’s been able to collaborate with huge brands like Adidas and work as a creative director for Uniqlo.  

 nigo bape

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January 06, 2021