I didn't really know what to expect when I heard that Houstonians had started an online shop dedicated to Japanese goods. Would it be filled with Lolita fashion? Stocked with all things Sanrio and kawaii? But Japan is not just the land of all things adorable, it's also the homeland of minimalism as famously interpreted by Uniqlo, Issey Miyake and Marie Kondo.
It's the latter style that caught the attention of Houstonians Jessie Lee and her partner James Kang. Lee is a software consultant, but for as long as she can remember she's been drawn to the fashion industry, even interning at a garment wholesaler in Los Angeles during college and more recently working part-time at Rice Village boutique Myth & Symbol to learn about the business.
"I'm always searching for something that not everyone else has, always searching for something unique and really well made. I used to buy very occasion-specific clothing but in the past few years I've been buying things that work for my personal style, things that I can wear daily," says Lee. "We started getting into these brands from Japan and Korea that we'd see online, but we could never find them in the States."
Now Lee and Kang have launched Namu Shop, a Houston-based online boutique that sells about a dozen brands of clothes—most of them Japanese and South Korean— for men and women. (Namu is the Korean word for wood and tree, chosen because it reflects their idea of clothing that's natural—meaning it fits well and looks comfortable but also is made of natural fabrics and dyes.)
Among the lines at Namu Shop are Anaak, which works with women's cooperatives all over the world to produce one-of-a-kind garments in fabrics that are hand-woven by artisans, and Ichi Antiquites, a Fukuoka-based line that specializes in classic silhouettes and one-size pieces meant to transform with the wearer.
"We're curating men's and women's clothing that's focused on casual yet relaxed styles and on wearability—not too trend-driven, largely natural fabrics and some cool day-to-day pieces with some elevated details," says Kang. "We like things that look timeless; things you can have for a while with longevity in mind."
Namu Shop is celebrating its recent launch with its first pop-up at Myth & Symbol on April 29 from noon to 5 p.m., which will focus more on the womenswear side of their wares. Says Kang: "We are an online shop, but Houston is home."