An Interview with Brand 6%DOKIDOKI
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of CONNECT.
Holly Walder (Gunma)
Opened in 1995 by Sebastian Masuda, 6%DOKIDOKI stands at the forefront of kawaii fashion. The brand is categorised by its use of bright colours, intense patterns, and a number of original and existing characters, such as Care Bears. The designer himself, Sebastian Masuda, has been dubbed the “king of kawaii.” He was the art director for pop artist Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s famous music videos such as PONPONPON, designed the Kawaii Monster Cafe (that sadly closed its doors during the pandemic), and has been producing art for exhibitions as well. I had the unique opportunity to speak to shop manager YUI-sama and shop girls Pi-chan and Niko about the brand’s concept and what’s next for the store.
Interview with shop manager YUI-sama
First of all, why is the brand called 6%DOKIDOKI?
“Doki doki” is Japanese onomatopoeia, for the sound your heart makes when you are excited or nervous. So that’s what the “doki doki” part means. 6% means just a little bit. The idea is that when you are wearing something from 6%DOKIDOKI, your heart flutters a little.
What is the brand concept for 6%DOKIDOKI?
We want to promote kawaii culture. When selling a product, we want our customers to buy them and feel the most cute that they ever have. We want everyone’s future to be more colourful.
Who can wear 6%DOKIDOKI clothes?
We are happy to see people (like you) dressed to the nines in kawaii clothing. Kawaii-loving girls are our biggest customer base, but anyone who is interested in the artistic aspect of our brand, even elderly folk can wear them. We also like people like me—who are maybe a bit shy about wearing such full-on outfits, but still love kawaii—to wear a brooch, or maybe carry a few colourful things in their bags, and enjoy kawaii in that way. We want to make every day a bit cuter for everyone. We want everyone to feel happy when they look at kawaii things, and everyone is welcome.
I know this must be a difficult question, but do you have a favourite product?
I have been working here for over 20 years—this job is such a big part of my life, it’s impossible to choose, but I’m wearing our new ribbon clip as a brooch right now.
Sebastian is currently living in New York—between New York and Japan. He’s had a lot of work in the US, like his new Sushi restaurant “Sushidelic.” It’s based on the same concept that “Kawaii Monster Cafe” was—it’s super cute. Just like the Kawaii Monster Cafe, the door staff are dressed very cute. I visited in July. It was very fun, and the sushi was delicious. If you’re ever in New York, you should definitely visit. Sebastian feels that a restaurant like this makes kawaii experiences more accessible to ordinary people than a clothing store like this one, and also helps to spread japanese food culture.
He also designed the look for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical. It was in Tokyo in October, and it will be in Fukuoka and Osaka in January.
How does the brand tackle the dichotomy between uniqueness and commercial appeal?
It’s a difficult balance to strike. Since being unique and commercially appealing are not the same thing, we are always thinking of different ways to navigate it, so we do lots of different projects, like the 2011 debut music video for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. For lots of people who saw that music video, it was their first exposure to this aspect of Japanese culture, and we love anything that spreads kawaii like that, so that when people think of Japan, they say anime, ramen, sushi—but they also think of that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu video and say kawaii as well.
The brand has collaborated with foreign artists, and Sebastian Masuda is doing a lot of work in America at the moment. Is there any foreign influence on the brand?
We have been interacting with people overseas since 2009. Through MySpace, then Facebook and messages, we saw many people asking us to visit their countries, so we went and did fashion shows, pop-up shows. At the time we didn’t do a lot of conventions, but we do now. We’re still doing a lot of activities abroad, so it’s possible that it has influenced us in some way. I think it would be a good thing, if it has. We also have people from overseas working for us, and I think they are a good influence on the brand.
The brand is called kawaii fashion—but what does kawaii mean to you?
Kawaii has a different meaning to different people, but Sebastian often says that kawaii is a kind of universe. A microcosm. Sometimes we see something that we love and say “kawaii,” but what we think is “kawaii” might not be “kawaii” to the next person. For example, these colourful, pink brands like 6%DOKIDOKI are kawaii, but people also say that kids are “kawaii,” or even aeroplanes, trucks and cars, this is the kind of philosophy that Sebastian has. In English, you say cute, but I think kawaii has more meanings than that. It has more of a fashion around it. For example, kawaii only has a positive meaning, while cute can be used negatively.
During lockdown, Sebastian Masuda ran the “Digital Tribe” project—contacting various fans of kawaii fashion, the kawaii tribe, to discuss their connection with kawaii. I myself was part of this project, but how do you see the kawaii community?
I think it’s important to create a space where kawaii lovers feel like they belong; a place of acceptance. It would be great for people to share experiences there as well. I think that’s what the kawaii community is. It’s a festival to accept what others like, for people to gather and create. Whether in a physical place like this or online, I hope that the brand 6%DOKIDOKI will be an opportunity for all kinds of people in the kawaii community to interact.
Many shops in Harajuku suffered as a result of the pandemic. What was that like for you?
Yes, 2020 was a particularly difficult year. There was nobody in Harajuku at all, and we had to close the shop, but we still had rent to pay, so we turned to crowdfunding. Support came flooding in from everyone with happy memories of 6%DOKIDOKI. We received lots of messages, and I think we have made a very strong impression on people. We could really see the drive of the kawaii community at that time. There are still not as many overseas tourists coming to Harajuku as there were pre-COVID, but we hope there will be more soon.
Sebastian Masuda, and the brand as a whole, advocates for the globalisation of kawaii. Please expand on that.
Sebastian Masuda is a cultural envoy for the Agency of Cultural Affairs, and uses that role to spread his kawaii philosophy. So he made the sushi restaurant in New York, and there are even more people gathering in Tokyo. So with Tokyo at the heart of our activities, a lot of people come and participate and learn more about our culture. We’d also like to go to London again—Sebastian went to London in 2017 or 2018 to plant a Time Capsule. We’d like to come again. Next year we’re not just going to America, but Europe as well, and we’re also thinking of going to the Middle East.
Have you noticed any recent changes or trends in the Harajuku fashion scene?
I feel like we are looking after the new generation. The decora fashion that was so popular 20 years ago is coming back around, as you can see from the shop girls. It’s experiencing a rebirth. You can see these kinds of things when you’ve been in the same shop for so long. It’s been here for 28 years now—longer than you have! And like before, we want as many people as possible to know about kawaii, and for it to bring positive influence on them.
What are your upcoming plans?
The first is our collaborations with GHOST GiRL GOODS from Canada. She’s setting up a pop-up shop here.
The second is that we will be at a convention in Portland, Oregon for a fashion show, and Sebastian is also running a workshop.
The third is that Sebastian will have an art exhibition in Los Angeles for 6 months starting next year, including elements of the Digital Tribe work.
There are other things I can’t talk about at the moment, but we are going to have a collaboration with an American artist in the near future. We met in 2013 and we are very excited to finally be working together.
YUI-sama has been the store manager for 6%DOKIDOKI since 2001. She has attended many events at home and abroad with Sebastian Masuda, and will travel to the USA again next year. She likes wearing classic outfits with a kawaii twist.
Interviews with shop girls Pi-chan and Niko
What is your favourite product?
Pi-chan: Charmy! He comes in lots of different colours, with lots of decorations. He can fit in your hand or look nice hanging off your outfit like this. He’s so fluffy, with these funny little cheeks! And this one is a bag. You can fit a lot in it.
Niko: The skirt belt. Just having one of these can really elevate your look.
What is your favourite new release product?
Pi-chan: The unicorn scarf. It’s really popular this season.
Niko: I like the new ribbon clips. You can put them in your hair, or on the outfits. I really love them.
What is your favourite season?
Pi-chan: Winter! I can wear a lot of kawaii things, and my makeup doesn’t slide off. I like big fluffy clothes in winter; I feel like a bear!
Niko: Also winter! Since I wear decora, in the summer you can’t really do anything, but in the winter you can wear a colourful coat over colourful bottoms and colourful leggings, and my fringe doesn’t get too hot.
Would you call your style “decora?”
Pi-chan: I would say that it’s not really decora as much as pastel colours.
Niko: Yes, it’s decora. Before I got into decora in university, I knew I liked colourful things, so I started wearing a lot of cute things, and it slowly became a decora look. What I like about decora is that you can start a decora-style coordinate look even if you only own a few pink or blue t-shirts. Decora fashion is easy to do, because it is what you make it, and everyone can have fun and look cute in their own way.
What does kawaii mean to you?
Pi-chan: Kawaii is whatever you like. Since everyone has their own ideas of what they think is kawaii, I don’t think that there is one perfect answer to this question.
Niko: It’s an easy word to use when you are with your friends, it can make your friends happy, and you feel happy when you see kawaii things. I think if everyone was more kawaii, they would be happier.
Pi-chan has worked as a shop girl at 6%DOKIDOKI for about 3 months. She likes the colour pink, and looking like an alien.
Niko has also worked as a shop girl at 6%DOKIDOKI for about 3 months. She found a love for decora fashion after watching PONPONPON for the first time and exploring Harajuku fashion subculture.