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Japanese skateboarder carves his way into Vancouver fashion industry

"Two things that I have loved since birth: skateboarding and clothing," says the immigrant entrepreneur.

Vancouver's fashion designers represent a multicultural community and often bring a blend of western and non-western trends to market.

One brand that has added to the city's eclectic fashion industry is The Pool Riders, a local apparel label that offers styles inspired by Japanese craftsmanship and French vintage workwear.

Ted Nakayama, head designer and founder at The Pool Riders, has come a long way to become one of the city's most beloved designers. The 54-year-old stylist and award-winning skateboarder is on his journey to make a name for himself as an adventure-loving fashion designer.

"The brand name is inspired by Ted's involvement with skateboarding," explained Nakayama's stepdaughter, Mio, who translated his responses from Japanese.

Born and raised in Osaka, Japan, Nakayama immigrated to Vancouver when he was 35 years old after several years of operating a restaurant. At 18, his parents passed away, which led to him dropping out of design school. Nakayama "ended up running a restaurant," which he later realized was not his passion, but just a means to support the family financially.

After his parents' deaths, Nakayama never considered working in design until two years ago when he launched The Pool Riders.

Nakayama landed in Vancouver with a plan to start a Japanese barbecue restaurant. Three years into successfully running Richmond's first Japanese barbecue restaurant, he realized the sense of fulfilment was still missing. It took him another five years to finally make a move.

With support from his wife, things became possible, said Nakayama, who recalled that key moment: "My wife and I realized [the restaurant was] not something I wanted to do or continue doing so she encouraged me to make that jump."

Nakayama struggles with English, which is why Mio helps with translation and marketing materials for the business. Even though there has been a bit of a language barrier, his passion for skateboarding led him to build a community and get to know people.

"My words weren't as clear, but everyone was super friendly. This made me feel appreciative and glad that I came to Canada," the founder of the family-owned business said.

The Pool Riders supports several other local boutiques. The brand works with a Vancouver-based seamstress and other businesses like Goodlad clothing and Greyhearts Denim. The firm is proud of its made-in-Vancouver products and wants to preserve production in the city. In addition, the brand donates shorts made from fabric leftovers to young skateboarders in Vancouver.

"When I was younger a lot of people supported my skateboarding passion and I want to do the same," added the former competitive skateboarder.

"As an immigrant entrepreneur, everything was a first for me. I had to make my own ways of getting things done."

Nakayama also said he is still learning and looking for people to advise him on fabrics, fashion trends, and patterns.

Started in 2019, the brand sold a hundred jackets within the first year of the business. They have seen their sales growing since the launch year and hoping to sell more this year.

"Two things that I have loved since birth: skateboarding and clothing. These two things represent The Pool Riders," noted Nakayama.

Nakayama's workday starts with a cup of coffee before he moves on to doing research and designing from his studio in Richmond. Research also involves walking around the city to look for fabrics and understand fashion trends. Even at 54, Nakayama skateboards two to three days a week and enjoys performing tricks in a 10-feet bowl near his studio.

His passion for adventure is still alive. Later this year, Nakayama will be travelling to the U.S. to compete in a snowboarding tournament's senior division.

The family has high hopes for the future of The Pool Riders and plans to expand all over Canada in the coming years.