Retro Gate, Singapore’s first Japanese-American inspired vintage and streetwear thrift store, launched its latest concept store on 12 January this year. In what started out to be a passion project between founders Ryo Yamamoto and Paul Low, Retro Gate has made a name in the local streetwear scene with its dedication to affordability, accessibility, and abundance.
From vintage thrift shopping to gaming and chillout areas, and a corner to polish your sneakers, its latest store is many things in one. Previously, Retro Gate was located at a unit in Citimac Industrial Building, which is next to Tai Seng MRT. Since then, the store has expanded and is now larger than ever before, with 3,000 square foot retail space on the fourth floor of the iconic Golden Mile Complex.
When asked about what sets the store apart in a time where street culture is prevalent, one of its founders, Ryo Yamamoto, emphasised that he wanted Retro Gate to showcase variety with a surprise element. “We want to champion different subcultures,” he explained. “From dancers to skateboarders to musicians, and vintage to contemporary streetwear, we want to be a hub for street culture in Singapore. Not all brands are known. It’s like a treasure hunt – every piece is unique. There are no replicas.” Besides that, Ryo specified that their store is currently the only streetwear store that also offers shoe polishing services.
Retro Gate’s more prominent retail space also allows for a more extensive variety of street culture apparel that extends beyond its T-shirt collection. There are now vests from Japanese streetwear, including one that is a creative recreation of a construction worker’s uniform. Retro Gate is best for those who walk in the store with a penchant for fashion experimentation, rather than someone who looks out for popular brands and trends. “We envisage having open mics, dance performances, skateboarders in our store – just having a good time,” said Ryo, showing that the store’s dedication to creative expression is related but certainly not limited to streetwear.
From a quick glance of the trove of unique streetwear collections stocked at Retro Gate, the intriguing differences between American and Japanese streetwear may not be distinguishable at first sight. Ryo shared more about how fashion harnessed the ability to reflect differing socio-cultural contexts, “American streetwear is usually louder, and the Japanese tend to be more toned down, simple, and baggy – all with the focus of self-expression at the same time.” He also added that American streetwear also includes trends borne out of suppression, owing to its African-American influence in history.
Indeed, when you look at some of the baggy pants of prominent rappers such as Lil Wayne and Travis Scott, the quintessential statement piece originated from the “no-belts rule” in the United States prisons. However, it is worth noting that Japanese streetwear can also be loud, often with shocking deviation from the norms, due to its cultural proclivity towards both comfort and unruliness.
When quizzed on his favourite piece(s) from the store, Ryo brought out a colourful Nike sample from the Spike Lee Urban Gym series in 1992. Valued at USD3,500 (~S$4,700), this was a rare vintage piece given to Retro Gate staff members by Nike, a prized jacket that the store owners would take turn wearing. “We like things that have a meaning. Director Spike Lee is someone we really admire,” said Ryo as he put it on. The piece is a collector’s item, so while it is not on sale, fans can request a try-on at the store.
While many items in Retro Gate could be made more affordable, there were others that had to be priced more highly due to their rarity or significance. This, Ryo stated, could be challenging to explain to customers. “Customers will ask why certain items are expensive. It is difficult to communicate that at one go.”
Ultimately, the founders of Retro Gate want the store to be a no-judgment zone where customers can wear what they think would look good on them, and to provide a safe space for their customers to express themselves freely. As Ryo puts it most aptly for Retro Gate, “We don’t want to define streetwear for you – (streetwear) is about what you think and how you want to express yourself.”
Retro Gate opens daily from 1pm to 8pm, and is closed on Wednesdays. For more information, visit their Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/retrogateofficial/.
Photos by Jerron Chua of the DANAMIC team