Strawberry Western | Q&A with Founders Kisa Shiga and Eli Libman

Comfortable activewear with a Harajuku twist.

Written by

Gabriella Madden

Photographed by

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Courtesy of Strawberry Western

Strawberry Western, launched in December 2022 by Kisa Shiga and Eli Libman, is reinventing activewear. During the pandemic, Shiga and Libman both discovered how beneficial it was to get outside, move around, and exercise, but noticed how bland activewear looks, despite how useful and comfortable it can be. The two saw a gap in the market for fun, energetic pieces that aren't just a standard color or pattern. Enter Strawberry Western, an activewear brand inspired by Harajuku street fashion and culture, that aims to offer bright and colorful kawaii and punk inspired prints on functional and comfortable pieces. Shiga and Libman worked around the core values of self expression and wellness, from making users feel good with alt-subculture inspired leggings and a size-inclusive line, in addition to using as much recycled materials as possible. With plans for a pop-up store in Soho, group walks, underground dance parties, and more, Strawberry Western is focused on building a community in the wellness world.

Can you expand on the inspiration that fuels Strawberry Western? What is your relationship with Harajuku fashion, and what kind of subcultures/music inspire you?

We’re obsessed with cute/kawaii as an aesthetic and culture. Making things that give people joy when they look at them, and put them on, is our ultimate calling.  As we continue designing into new collections, one of our main guiding principles is when we look at a style or design, we need to ask ourselves if it makes us happy when we look at it. And the answer should always be yes. 

KS: I’m half Japanese and grew up going to Japan on my summer vacations. My family lives in the Hyogo prefecture but my dad and I would always go to Tokyo for a few days beforehand and explore Harajuku. It was insane stimulation for a kid and left a huge impression on my taste and interests. For me, harajuku fashion represents a mashing up of crafts, eras and themes in a way that is rule-breaking, anti-trend and pure self-expression. I have also always been fascinated with how Japanese fashion and culture more broadly absorbs and re-interprets Western culture. This idea also inspires SW. 

EL: Another aspect of our inspiration is the active lifestyle, and how we discovered it. We never really aligned with wellness cultures like yoga, or elite fitness studios & gyms and other active mono-cultures. But we lived in California for a few years and were there during the pandemic- a time that was tough on many people’s mental health. We discovered how beneficial it can be to just be outside and moving every day. Going for a long walk every morning would basically keep us from spiraling. This really cemented the idea that an active lifestyle is so personal, and can be as casual as just walking everyday. We felt like there were no brands in the active space putting out products that make you feel cute, fun and expressive for these occasions.

To talk about music - music has a heavy inspiration on both of our lives. It’s ever-present at the studio and in our daily lives. Kisa used to make music and play in a band, and Eli used to organize raves, DJ in clubs and on the radio. We started a record label years ago that is still active.   

The music subcultures that inspire us include: 

J-Pop: memories of Japan

Video game soundtracks: cute, nostalgic and energizing

Hyperpop: young, passionate, rule-breaking, genre-defying

Jungle, electro, eurotrance: hi-tempo dance styles that evoke our raver roots and soundtrack our workouts

Metal: intense & technical, dedicated fanbase that doesn’t care about what's hot and trending 

Bay area rap: songs that hit but have soul, and a good sense of humor

Can you explain the creative process behind your anti-waste ethos?

KS: All the designs start from ideas of clothing or accessories that I have personally felt a need for from a functional or comfort standpoint. That’s the seed- and usually these are things where I haven’t seen anything that fills that need or function in a way that’s felt special enough for me to buy it. Then I start brainstorming thematic juxtapositions that will take it into a new territory - punk-sporty-lolita, sporty-kawaii-outdoorsy etc. These themes can manifest in big or small ways. For example, the collage print activewear styles we made have a kind of punk style all-over print in sportier silhouettes and really sweet lace and satin bow details. That’s what I find really exciting and challenging is figuring out the perfect balance of these themes to create designs that feel new and special to me. And all our base materials are using recycled fibers -we don’t compromise on that. We’re interested in all the incredible technology and material innovations that are being created that just haven’t really been made accessible to tiny brands like us yet. A top priority for us is staying in the know with these developments and to keep evolving and moving ourselves towards a more circular system one day. Also, everything we make is made in small quantities. 

How did you get the idea to expand Strawberry Western with underground dance parties, group walks, online music mixes, etc., and why are you deciding to these community into your brand?

We see Strawberry Western as a brand that can become multi-faceted in terms of how it incorporates our various intersecting interests. Music has always been a big part of our lives, and it's such an important part of being active, so it feels natural for us to try to curate music around the brand. Group walks and the like - these are ways we’re going to experiment with trying to bring people together in a very chill and casual way IRL. Not looking to do anything flashy or ground-breaking, but hoping we can use the brand to bring people together around casual activity while encouraging them to express their style and have fun. 

What do you think is the most exciting part of Strawberry Western? And, why the name Strawberry Western? 

We think the most exciting part of Strawberry Western is our product. We try really hard to make things that give people joy and a reason to care for and cherish them for a long time. We hope the early customers taking a chance on us recognize the work we put into the designs, the detail, the quality and the responsible sourcing of materials. Not everyone chooses our products for being active, some just think they are cute. But for those who do, we think we are offering a new point of view on activewear & outerwear that will resonate with people who care about both being active and being cute / self-expressive and who haven’t related with any “active” brands up until this point. 

KS: The original concept was the idea of Western clothing through a Japanese lens. The strawberry is a perfect symbol of kawaii culture to me. But I think Eli prefers the meaning he more recently attached to the name which is that my face turns into a red strawberry when I exercise (I have freckles all over my face) and that we came up with the brand concept when we were living on the West Coast.

Who are you dressing? What are their passions, hopes, dreams?

We definitely feel most connected to young people exploring their interests and points of view, finding and expressing their personal identity, and also pursuing creative mediums; crafts, music and art. The time we spend as young people investing in developing our tastes, our identities, our style and our modes of self-expression, is so special. We really hope to be a part of that process for people. We also want to connect our customer’s style and self-expression to positive choices around being active. 

When you feel the most at home, what are you wearing?

KS: I dress differently all the time but a baggy pant and a band tee has always been my uniform.

EL: My underwear. 

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