Large Japan-based retailer Beams has a constantly updated “outfit of the day” photostream on flickr. When I first stumbled on it years ago I wondered if these people were customers or staff; they’re clearly not afraid to take some chances with their clothing but are mostly wearing practical, on-some-level basic stuff. The shots are sort of lo-fi: the subjects are clearly conscious they’re being photographed and for a reason, but these aren’t perfectly stage-managed Instagram selfies, softly lit and angled to flatter.
It turns out that the well-dressed folks in those photos are mostly if not all Beams sales associates, and Beams has elevated what their employees wear well beyond a dress code and a discount. In the latest Monocle, writer Fiona Wilson talked with the corporate drivers of Beams’ SA style.
The Styling Advice Division is headed up by two former chief buyers, Kenjiro Wada and Mika Maruyama, who both joined the company in 1990 and began their careers as sales assistants.
“The training is not about trying to make everyone look the same or follow specific rules – it’s about encouraging them to enjoy styling,” says Wada… “We think of it as basic education, the way children are taught about food at school.”
At Beams Harajuku, Wada is holding a styling session. The staff listen intently with clipboards at the ready as Wada goes through different types of aviator jackets. He has brought in visual materials and his own vintage extreme-weather hood.
What could be dismissed as frivolous has a serious business purpose. It is a simple equation: the better the staff look, the more people are likely to spend. “People who come to Beams expect staff to be well dressed; it’s part of the reason they shop here,” says Wada. Staff spend time with each customer, styling outfits that shoppers might not otherwise have the nerve to put together.
Staff don’t have to wear top-to-toe Beams but the general rule is that two out of three elements – tops, bottoms and shoes – should come from the shop and preferably from the current season. Sloppy dressing is unacceptable.