Japan clothing magnate Maezawa chases spot in business firmament
By Sam Nussey
TOKYO, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Japanese fashion billionaire
Yusaku Maezawa's first meeting with role model and SoftBank
Group Corp boss Masayoshi Son came in 2010 when they
bathed together - a popular communal activity in Japan - on the
26th floor of the tech giant's headquarters.
The next year, the two men teamed up to launch a business in
"If I was to work under somebody it would definitely by
Son-san. He is the only executive I think that about," he said
in a comment posted to a 2016 Newspicks article about the
Although Son has been an inspiration for the 42-year-old
billionaire, Maezawa has taken a different approach to
publicity, saying on Monday he would be the first private
passenger taken around the moon by Elon Musk's SpaceX.
In a project which Maezawa has dubbed Dear Moon, he will
bring up to eight artists to inspire works based on the
It will also shine starlight on his publicly listed company
Zozo, officially known as Start Today, and generate
media coverage stretching to 2023 and beyond.
Yet his most expensive hobby - Maezawa declined to reveal
how much the trip would cost but told Reuters it was "much
higher" than the $110 million Basquiat painting he bought last
year - may be his riskiest bet.
Unlike a Basquiat or Picasso, a trip to the moon cannot be
sold to another collector, and only 24 astronauts have ventured
beyond Earth's protective magnetic field.
While success alone helped Son and Fast Retailing's
Tadashi Yanai become household names, Maezawa is a new breed of
Japanese billionaire adept at self-promotion, said Parissa
Haghirian, professor of Japanese management at Tokyo's Sophia
That has made Maezawa a regular fixture in the country's
gossipy weeklies with his collection of foreign and Japanese
art, fast cars and celebrity girlfriend.
His heavy Twitter use bears more resemblance to Musk than
Son, who effectively quit tweeting three years ago.
Maezawa uses Twitter to connect with his followers,
frequently answering questions on everything from his art
collection and hopes for world peace to customer service
That off-the-cuff approachability has at times landed Musk
in hot water, and the South African-born billionaire has been
criticised for running electric car maker Tesla Inc as
a one-man show.
By contrast, Maezawa has in recent years surrounded himself
with lieutenants as the business has matured, said Michael
Causton, an analyst at JapanConsuming.
The diminutive Japanese entrepreneur, who as a young man
struggled to find clothes that fit, attended a feeder high
school for the prestigious Waseda University.
But preferring to be a drummer in a punk band, he ditched
college and the escalator to salaryman drudgery.
In 2004, he opened the Zozotown online fashion mall that has
made him rich.
Zozo is now seeking to transform itself into a fashion
brand, with a large-scale deployment of its polka-dot Zozosuit,
which allows users to upload body measurements and order
That growing ambition is causing friction with established
big personalities, such as Yanai, the founder of the Uniqlo
chain, who called the Zozosuit "a toy" in comments to the Nikkei
"That's the highest praise. It's what we're aiming for,"
Maezawa responded on Newspicks. "We will increase the numbers of
people having fun measuring themselves all over the world."
Zozo's growth targets are ambitious, with the company
shooting for 80 billion yen ($713 million) in overseas sales in
But it faces stiff competition, with big names such as
Amazon making a major push into fashion in Japan.
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos is also behind Blue Origin, a
rival to SpaceX.
Zozo's recent share price decline - down a third from record
highs hit in July - reflects concerns over its ambitions. The
company has a market valuation of $9 billion.
"Amazon doesn't like us," Maezawa told Reuters. "We're a
Regardless of his company's fortunes, Maezawa has already
made an impact on society, experts say.
His public displays of conspicuous consumption - he tweeted
last month that his new jet's interior is being fashioned by
luxury label Hermes, and he is considering buying a baseball
team - stand out in a country where humility is seen as a
That shows young Japanese people that you can make a lot of
money and be open about it, Sophia University's Haghirian said.
"That's affecting a lot of people in a positive way - people
get inspired," she said.
($1 = 112.2800 yen)
(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Additional reporting by Eric M.
Johnson; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Gerry Doyle)
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