A Guide to Proxying Japanese Clothes

Kapital Moleskin Ring Coat auction at Yahoo! Japan (current bid ~ $107 USD - most close around $150-200 USD)

Cultivating an interest in Japanese clothing can be a tough gig here in the US. Your options are often limited to a small number of third party retailers offering an even smaller selection of stock, and on top of that prices generally include the cost of import/taxes/duties + retail markup - all of which can add up quickly to a sum guaranteed to keep that frown upside up.

The problem would be solved, in large part, if you could just order what you wanted from Japanese sites and have them ship your purchases straight to your door. Unfortunately, the majority of Japanese retailers don't ship outside the country, and when trying to communicate with the other side of the world, things can easily get a little...


...lost.

Enter proxy services - companies who will act on your behalf, buy and receive your items in Japan, and then ship them out of the country straight into your loving arms. In return, proxies normally charge a small fee for their services, but on the whole this method of buying can save you a lot of money and give you access to things you wouldn't otherwise be able to purchase.

In this post, we'll be going over the reasons you may or may not want to consider proxying, how the process works (in this case using From Japan's proxy service), and the places and searches I've been using over the past few months.

Why Proxy?


Cost - Saving money is the most obvious upside to using a proxy. The more expensive the piece, the more savings in general, especially once you take into account international shipping.

Kapital Japan Web Shop - approx $192 USD

Here's a real world example: Unionmade, one of the best menswear stores in the states, carries this Kapital denim jacket for $405. On Kapital's e-store, however, the same jacket retails for approximately $192 USD (tax has not been factored in on either price). When you add in proxy fees and shipping prices to that, a rough estimate would probably put you around $230-260 USD, depending on how specific proxy fees are calculated and what shipping options are selected. That's still ~$150 less than you'd pay in the US - no small amount of money for most guys, including myself. And that's at retail pricing. Used Japanese clothes tend to be in very good condition (and are often graded for condition), and you can get some very good prices for like new or new condition clothes on the secondhand market.

Unionmade Site - $405 USD

Selection - I touched on this topic a bit, but for both new and used items the selection of Japanese products available is exponentially larger than in the US, as you might expect. I do the majority of my searches on used auctions, and if I were to search J.S. Homestead (the workwear-inspired heritage line of Journal Standard) on Yahoo! Japan auctions right now I get ~350 results. On eBay, I get 6. The disparity becomes less for brands with a lot of visibility in the west, such as Kapital (~900-1000 results in mens category on Yahoo! Japan vs. ~450 on eBay), but it's still there.

Why NOT Proxy


Sizing - There's both a simple and complicated answer for translating Japanese sizing into Western sizing. The simple answer is size one up from your normal. So where I'd normally wear a small in American shirting, in most Japanese brands I'd be a medium, or 2.

The more complicated answer is that it's not always that simple. I was actually discussing it with Derek from Die, Workwear a few months ago when he was giving me advice about a Needles Rebuild jacket I was looking at, but Japanese clothing is often cut with different proportions. Tops tend to have narrow shoulders, a boxy or A-frame silhouette, and a shorter body when you compare them to American clothes. Engineered Garments' Bedford jacket is a good example of this. This isn't true of all Japanese brands, but it's something worth considering if you've never dealt with it before. Unless I'm positive of my sizing, I generally won't buy an item without a detailed size chart.

Returns/Exchanges - It's usually relatively pain free to return items in the US when you get the wrong size or things don't work out as planned. It is exactly the opposite to do so to the other side of the world. In most cases, the easier thing to do is to try and flip it on eBay or Grailed.

Communication - When I buy something in the US, it's not uncommon for me to ask some sizing questions from store staff. This isn't something you can do easily proxying - at least not through the brand or store itself. In these cases you're usually dependent on feedback, reviews, and size charts you can scavenge on your own around the web.

How Proxying Works


I used From Japan for my recent purchase so I'm going to outline that specific process here, though most proxies work in a similar fashion. For what it's worth, FJ's own guide is very simple and straightforward to follow as well, but here is the general breakdown.

  • Find an item you want to buy on a Japanese retail site or auction (some options listed below). Most proxies have a search function on their sites, but I've found it easier to do my searches independently.
  • Place an initial deposit for the item price using a credit card or Paypal. This amount is the price of the item only. If it's something you're bidding on in auction and you want to deposit more money to leave bidding room, any unused funds will be refunded back to you at the end of the deposit period. This step is not present in all proxy services.
  • Enter the URL into the proxy web form and buy it. This is the 1st of 2 charges AKA "Charge 1," which draws money from your initial deposit.
  • Once the item gets shipped and arrives to the warehouse in Tokyo, you will get a notification asking for shipping instructions with quotes for each shipping option (*see notes below regarding extra export fees on certain Japanese post options). If you're getting multiple packages sent to you, they can be consolidated here.
  • You pay the remaining fee AKA "Charge 2," which is made up of domestic shipping (if applicable), plan fees, and international shipping fees.
  • Your package is shipped to you with the selected parcel service.

So in my case, here's my Charge 1:


And here is Charge 2:


The "Payment Fee" is assessed for all Yahoo auctions on FJ, and the 300 yen "Plan Fee" is the basic forwarding service. The 300 points used was credit that FJ sent me a few days after signing up. Being that I didn't want to declare the value as less or mark it as a gift, I elected to use DHL to ship internationally, which is one of the more expensive options - to my surprise it got from Japan to my door in about 24 hours (!).

As you can see, the bulk of the cost comes from the international shipping itself - the proxy fee is actually quite low. You may be able to do slightly better depending on the proxy and specials they run sometimes, but with a total proxy fee of about $4.50 USD (even cheaper on non auction items) I'm not sure it's worth the time of moving from service to service. I'll also note that FJ has been noted to have great communication and customer service, which is does not seem to be homogeneous across all proxies from what I've gathered on forum boards.

Special Things to Note


  • EMS, Airmail, Economy Airmail (SAL), Surface Mail now incur a 2800 yen fee called an Export Clearance Fee for products over 20,000 yen. This does not apply to Fedex/DHL.
  • Proxy services frequently run promotions (ie 5-10% off your order, membership points that can be credited towards your order, etc)
  • In the US, you do not have to pay customs duties on purchases less than $800
  • Many services will leave you the option of declaring the value of items at your choosing or to mark them as a gift, thereby theoretically eliminating duties. Do so at your own risk.

Places to Buy


Use a browser that has automatic translation services built in (I use Google Chrome), otherwise browsing becomes virtually impossible. Translations can be a little rough and are frequently phonetic, but you can usually make out what they are trying to say.



Basically Japanese eBay. Auctions can be listed Buy Now or with standard bids, much like you're accustomed to seeing in the US. When putting in a search term, you can filter out results to show you outerwear, pants, sweaters, etc. Note that multiple filters may have listings you're interested in. For instance, if you're looking for Kapital outerwear you should check both the "brand" filter and then the "men's fashion filter." Somewhat confusingly, each may have listings that don't show under both filters.


The biggest e-commerce site in Japan with over 100 million users, From Japan and other proxy services periodically offer discounts on Rakuten listings. Many listings on Yahoo! Auctions will also appear on Rakuten when sold through an established secondhand or "reuse" shop, though the Rakuten prices tend to be a little higher for whatever reason.

A virtual online mall carrying brands like Journal Standard, Urban Research, and Beams International to name a few. The concept is a merchant portal for brands that want to sell online without having to develop and maintain their own online shopping sites. Advertised sales in stores are generally reflected on Zozotown's prices as well, and you can filter by sale items for more substantial savings.

  • Standalone Retail Fronts 

While many brands choose to join a site like Zozo, there are still plenty of independent brand shopping sites as well. Here are just a few:
Freemans Sporting Club at UR Outlet

- Blue Blue Japan
- Beams
- Urban Research Outlet - There's a good amount of Freemans Sporting Club's Made in Japan items here on deep sale, including the same coat I bought brand new for roughly the same price.
- Visvim - delivers to USA but prices for delivery to Japan are a LOT lower, as pictured below. Spoiler: still expensive.

Japan Delivery - Approx $916 USD

US Delivery - $1310 USD - almost $400 more 

Yahoo! Japan Auction Searches



Here are just a few auctions that I have bookmarked for my own use which appear sorted by new items, with a small amount of sponsored items at the top of the list. Small pro tip - If you're having trouble finding items, sometimes you can get more by what I call "reverse-term searching." Find an item from the brand you want (you can even just google the brand name and find a Japanese site or blog) - in many cases it will be translated into English, and by hovering over the translation you get the Japanese characters. Copy that and paste that into the search function.


Alternatives to Proxying


Of course, proxying isn't the only way to get deals. I've noticed quite a few things come through the used market, but every now and again you can catch a good retail deal from a US stockist during end of season sales. Yoox often carries Blue Blue Japan and some other Japanese brands as well. So there are bargains to be had, just at a relatively lower frequency.

For used items, Grailed has the best selection, followed by eBay and the sales section of forums like Styleforum. eBay also has some Japanese sellers for the more popular brands like Kapital. You can save your Grailed filters and eBay searches to turn the process into a single click you can quickly check every few days.

Proxy Choices


The only service I have used is From Japan, so I can't speak to the service of other proxies, though Zenmarket in particular is also quite popular. Below you'll find a list of proxies, though there are more you can easily search (I left off some services that use a percentage-based fee system). A good proxy should have well-written and clear instructions on the purchasing process so there's as little guesswork as possible in the entire process. The last thing you want is to be surprised by an unforeseen cost, totally killing your shopping boner.

Additional Guides


There are a lot of great guides out there, many of them likely with more experience than I have and coming from a different perspective. A lot of the best guides are centered around streetwear like Bape, for instance, but what they all have in common is saving money.

A word of warning - a number that were written even a year or two ago make proxy recommendations based on outdated fee structures. As I touched on above, many proxy services used to charge more fees or use a different system such as charging a percentage of the item cost, which can get quite expensive for bigger purchases. Now most popular proxies charge a low flat rate rather than a percentage.

Styleforum
Bape Talk
Reddit Male Fashion Advice
Complex

Wrap Up


Kapital Century Denim jacket in brand new condition that sold for $178 USD

Coming into this process for the first time can be daunting - it definitely was for me. But the call of the wild as well as missing out on some amazing items I came across (like the Kapital Century Denim jacket pictured above) ultimately tipped my hand from contemplation into action. I'm glad I took the plunge, and I'm sure I'll do it again when the next compelling piece forces me to.

I hope this writeup was able to alleviate some fears and possible confusion about the process. With the proper preparation I think it can be done even cheaper, depending on your priorities and willingness to push the envelope with your shipping options.

Drop me a line if you've got any more questions about proxying or if you've had some experience with the process you'd like to share. It would be great to hear from you. Otherwise, some more shots of the new shop coat should be coming in the days ahead.

My new FSC Made in Japan Indigo Sashiko Shop Coat

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