Making streetwear interesting is something of a fine art. It’s not enough to slap a quirky graphic on the back of a hoodie and call it a day, at least not if the desire to create something more profound with deeper subtext exists. That “profound” street style exists at all could be considered something of an anomaly, but HUMAN MADE has shown that it’s entirely possible to bridge the gap between casual fashion and inspired thought.
The brand is the brainchild of NIGO, a Japanese fashion designer and DJ known primarily for A Bathing Ape (BAPE). Conceived alongside his collaborator, Sk8thing, the brand quickly became known for its quirky and highly visual concepts. Many of the pieces were rare, and some of the biggest names in the hip-hop world, including Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, rocked the brand and pushed it to their own followers.
BAPE achieved considerable success in a short period, but over time it lost that initial luster that helped catapult it to such lofty heights. NIGO eventually parted ways with the brand and developed HUMAN MADE, which allowed him to take a more refined approach to style. Where BAPE was a commercial success that dominated the industry largely for its celebrity ties, HUMAN MADE takes a more subtle approach.
Indeed, everything in the range speaks to a sense of high quality. Perfect fits are key, as are immaculate fabrics that promise to stand the test of time. NIGO’s goal for HUMAN MADE was to develop vintage reproductions that honored his appreciation for old-school style. That nostalgic appeal isn’t lost on the average streetwear enthusiast, as the collection evokes a sense of heritage-driven style reminiscent of the best of true mid-century Americana.
The result: utilitarian workwear, old-school varsity looks, playful prints, and even bowling shirts that all hold relevance in an ever-burgeoning lineup. There are logo-splashed sweaters, crest-emblazoned blazers, and down-to-earth trousers. Alongside those are the necessary staples, including simple baseball caps, lanyards, and even boxer briefs.
Stored in Minimalism
There’s an industrial feel about the HUMAN MADE stores situated throughout Japan that tells the tale in a way that only architecture can. The company’s Harajuku location, known as “Cold Coffee,” closed to make way for a newer outpost in Nakameguro. Set inside what was once a medicine clinic, the haunt, called “offline store,” exudes a sense of minimal style.
The medicinal tie is significant, as many of the previous facility’s elements remain in place. The former X-ray room features the same “in use” sign that was once prominent in the office. There are quirks throughout, like the eye-catching window bars bearing the brand’s heart logo and the bold wall clock nestled in a “HUMAN MADE Offline Store” wall clock. The effect is subdued, yet exciting in its own way – a sense that the real intrigue comes not from flashy pomp but from what hangs on the acks and sits on the shelves.
Hanging from the ceiling is a “Gears for Futuristic Teenagers” sign, a nod to NIGO’s desire to perpetually embrace youth. Indeed, it’s who he is to the core: the designer is renowned for his enormous collection of pop culture memorabilia, much of which influences his style. He’s curated quite the range, balancing his love of Star Wars and Planet of the Apes with his massive appreciation for the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
The Personal Touch
It all ties together in true NIGO fashion. The same man who delivered unforgettably loud hoodies adorned with tigers and sharks through BAPE brings an inarguably different approach in the decidedly understated HUMAN MADE lineup. It mirrors his nuanced affinity for different styles, from the playful to the fashionable. Indeed, HUMAN MADE marks a vast departure from the heavily sporty influences BAPE introduced to the fold. The brand puts its own fresh spin on off-duty wear, most remarkably in a way that melds the heritage-driven with the low-key.
At the heart of everything in the HUMAN MADE lineup is sheer quality. The range is manufactured in the famed Warehouse Co. factory in Osaka, with graphics produced by Sk8thing. In the range is a bit of everything, from jackets that would make any 1950s teenager proud to rip-stop shirts that would look right at home on any campground to denim work jackets that look like they were copped from a warehouse decades ago.
It’s the stuff of dreams for anyone with an affinity for time-honored fashion. The pieces are quintessential to many a man’s wardrobe, what with their comfortable structures and smart fits. There’s naturally an underlying playfulness to it all, as seen in pieces like varsity jackets embroidered with ice cream cones and sweaters etched with contrasting hearts.
The feeling is subversive, whimsical, and a little bit adventurous without being too boldly ostentatious. It’s all wearable, with silhouettes that verge on downright baggy at times, yet there are other pieces that are far more tailored and refined by comparison. That the range includes everything from boilersuits to cargo pants is to its credit.
With a focus on endurance, the brand notably collaborates only with the industry’s very best names. Its most recent partnership spurred the HUMAN MADE x adidas Originals collection, which includes redefined edits of the iconic Stan Smith and Superstar 80 kicks. True to form, the Stan Smith evoked all of the classic elements that made it such a standout when it first debuted in the 1970s, including clean lines and a simple silhouette. In lieu of the brand’s signature Three-Stripes, however, HUMAN MADE elevated the design with three rows of hearts.
Similarly, the Superstar 80 lineup includes three different colorways. There’s an all-white version, a black version with white details, and a white version with black details, all of which feature the same distinctive elements that made the shoe so popular during the ‘80s. From the thick and sturdy sole to the shell toes, this style is a fun and funky nod to the past. Again, HUMAN MADE puts its own fresh spin on the design. Here, the Three-Stripes are right where you expect them to be, but the words “Gears for Futuristic Teenagers” are emblazoned along the lines. HUMAN MADE branding is stamped onto the heel to complement the signature adidas Originals tongue logo.
HUMAN MADE has also partnered several times with Girls Don’t Cry, the Japanese label helmed by Verdy. The two labels have churned out several capsule collections, with each providing a glimpse at what happens when a graphic designer and a pop culture enthusiast unite. There are references throughout, naturally, that nod to both lines. HUMAN MADE wouldn’t be recognizable were it not for the eye-catching heart motif, while the hallmark font used on most Girls Don’t Cry pieces sets it apart from everything else.
The pop culture narrative remains an underlying theme throughout the life of NIGO’s brands. In 2018, the designer collaborated with KFC to open a temporary pop-up shop in the East Village. NIGO himself appeared for the one-day event, which was packed with enthusiasts clamoring for a chance to snag a HUMAN MADE T-shirt, baseball cap, and tote bag adorned with the famed fast-food joint’s legendary Colonel logo.
In the Mix
One could build an entire wardrobe sourced with pieces from the HUMAN MADE range. For those who are all about the basics, begin with a package of three T-shirts, each featuring one of three distinctive HUMAN MADE logos placed discreetly in the corner. There are brighter varieties available, too, for those who need something a little more vibrant to wear with their jeans and cargos.
Jeans? Yep, HUMAN MADE designs those, too. Guys can stay right on trend in a pair of contemporary, slim-fit denim jeans, or try the complete antithesis: a pair of sweatpants made with a fabric that looks just like denim. The brand’s beach pants offer a refreshed interpretation of the traditional chino pant, complete with a baggier silhouette and a more relaxed cut that makes them perfect for everything from fitted white crew-neck T-shirts to cardigans.
Some of the most beloved and iconic options in the range are the jackets, which range from effortless work jackets to sharp toppers made with suede leather. Because accessories make the outfit, there are plenty of those available in the mix, too, including sturdy boots, corduroy baseball caps, and playful socks adorned with the brand’s signature heart logo.
HUMAN MADE is as much a lifestyle collection as it is a fashion range. There are unexpected items, like pill cases and hand towel sets. Travelers will find plenty of use for the roomy packing cubes and oversized fabric bags ideal for storing toiletries on the road.
For NIGO, the HUMAN MADE journey is personal. It was the result of a desire to dig deeper into the sartorial archives and develop styles that resonated with him in a more meaningful way. Sweet, effortless logos like ducks and hearts lend the range approachability, but it’s the sensibility and wearability that makes it all so appealing.