George Lozano Inaki: Filipino fashion wonder boy in Tokyo
LIVIN’ AND LOVIN’ - Tetta Ortiz Matera (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2014 - 12:00am

We often hear of Filipino fashion success stories coming out of the United States but hardly ever from other parts of the globe particularly Japan. Blame it on the language barrier, the cultural differences or simple inaccessibility, the Japanese fashion industry is a tough nut to crack. Having lived here on and off for the past three decades, I could count with one hand the number of Filipinos who have made a name in the Japanese fashion industry. One of them is 26-year-old George Lozano Inaki.

George’s story and how he became a sought-after public relations figure in Tokyo for fashion brands, such as Chanel and YSL Cosmetics, remind me of a teleserye, of how an underdog rises above challenges against all odds and triumphs, finding himself living the life he once only dreamed of.

George was born in the Philippines to a Filipino mother and a Japanese father. At the age of nine, he and his mother moved to Japan to be with his father and called Nagoya home until four years ago. He struggled to fit in upon arrival. At the Japanese school he was enrolled in, kids made fun of him because he did not speak the language and because he was a “mixed” kid. He persevered and, despite being an average student, he eventually mastered the language and finished college with a degree in English Literature at the Aichi Shukutoku University.

His life as a “Japino” (slang for Japanese-Filipino mixed kids) was fraught with personal difficulties, but he fought and worked hard to overcome the bias. With his boyish charm, friendly demeanor, determination, dedication and knowledge of the fashion business, he made his racial profile inconsequential. In an exclusive interview with The STAR just before he flew to Paris for the Chanel Haute Couture show, George told me how he went from being bullied in school and going against his mother’s wishes, to following his passion and literally breaking the glass ceiling of fashion in Tokyo.

PHILIPPINE STAR: It is such a pleasure to see you once again. I follow you on Instagram and I noticed that all your entries are both in English and Japanese. Which is your primary language? Which one are you most comfortable using?

GEORGE LOZANO INAKI:  I am very comfortable speaking in English as I feel I can express myself better, be open and be myself. When I read and write, I prefer to do it in Japanese. When I moved to Nagoya until I graduated from the university at 21, I hardly spoke English because I went to Japanese schools.

How did it feel to move to another country as a young child and spend your formative years studying in Japanese schools?

It was actually quite tough. I was bullied in school because I did not speak Japanese and mixed-race kids were not common back then. It got better as I learned to speak Japanese, but growing up a Japino in Nagoya, there was always a bias against me.

Do you still feel like that being a Japanese-Filipino in the Tokyo fashion industry? Do you get treated differently?

To be honest, I had a complex being a Japino. I came from a poor family in the Philippines and many of my relatives were unemployed. At the back of my mind, I vowed to be successful and work very hard. It is not easy to live and work in Tokyo since most of the other foreigners working in the fashion industry come from privileged backgrounds, most of them studied abroad. So to be competitive, I used my charm and street smarts, along with my entertaining persona, I developed a professional work ethic and a distinct fashion image. Some people presume I grew up in the US because I am trilingual and I speak very good English. They get surprised when I tell them I didn’t. Now, I am comfortable with who I am and I feel that the people I work with accept me for who I am.

Well done, George. Your determination seems to have paid off since you have become a very well-respected, sought-after figure in the Tokyo fashion industry. Can you tell me exactly what it is that you do? How would you describe your job? 

It is a little bit difficult to describe what I do since I am involved in a lot of different aspects of fashion including project strategy, venue scouting and concept development. I give digital PR advice to brands like Chanel, YSL Cosmetics and the Japanese shoe brand Randa. I am also the publicist of Japan-based American blogger Misha Janette who was voted by BOF as “People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry.” I was also the project director for A Shaded View of Fashion Film Tokyo 2013, a documentary by the iconic Diane Pernet. 

You mentioned that you did not have a penchant for studying. When did you realize that fashion was your calling. Was there a defining moment?

My mother actually wanted me to work in Toyota since it was the biggest company in Nagoya. I did not follow my mother’s advice and instead found a job as a buyer in a small boutique in Nagoya. My boyfriend then was moving to Tokyo so I decided to go with him. The financial crisis was in full swing by then so it was hard to get a job in Tokyo. I applied to several fashion brands but failed to get employed even as a sales assistant. Then a very good friend of mine who was working at American Apparel helped me land a job with the brand. I was hired as a sales assistant at the flagship store in Shibuya and worked my way up to becoming the public relations manager. The timing was perfect because I was running out of money by then. In April 2013, I left to join a PR firm and here I am.

What an amazing accomplishment for someone as young and as new as you in the business. What would you consider the most challenging aspect of your job?

It would probably be competing with older people in the fashion industry. Here in Japan, no matter how good you are or how fresh and exciting your ideas are, if you are young it is close to impossible to becoming the PR manager of a major luxury fashion brand. I received several offers from international luxury fashion brands for the assistant position, but I turned them all down. I figured I would much rather work with companies who appreciate what I can do and are willing to treat me equally.

Who are your closest friends in the fashion industry? Do you have a mentor?

Actually, most of my close friends are not in fashion. Mentor? I never really had one; I basically taught myself how to do PR but, of course, I find inspiration in other people in the industry. Jed Root who is an international and well-regarded fashion publicist and PR guru inspires me.

I know that you recently paid a visit to the Philippines. Did you ever envision yourself returning and working in Manila?

Never. I always thought the Philippines, was not ready for me. But during my trip in December, I was surprised with all the developments was impressed with how international the Philippines has become. Now, I am very inspired and excited to be a part of promoting the Philippines to the world. I already started by writing about my visit on my WWD (Women’s Wear Daily) blog.

 What impressions did you take back with you to Tokyo about the current state of fashion in the Philippines?

I realized how Japan has yet to catch up with the rest of the world in utilizing social media to promote the fashion industry. While social media has become a major factor in influencing styles and promoting brands in other parts of the world as I saw in the Philippines, in Japan social media is about three years behind. Facebook has just recently caught on in Japan whereas countries in Europe, America, and Asia, particularly the Philippines, have already moved on to Instagram. I am hoping to help change that with my work. I am developing relationships/connections between the brands and the young, fashionable generation of Japanese who is influential in social media.

Did you get to know any of the Filipino fashion brands?

Well, I follow Francis Libiran on Instagram. I have yet to see his designs in person, but I think they are interesting.

What would you consider your biggest break in the Japanese fashion industry?

Making the American Apparel women’s store in Shibuya the best-performing store worldwide in 2012 would probably be the turning point in my fashion career. Because of that, I was able to establish a credential for making things happen with my fresh ideas, allowing me to transition to international luxury brands.

It is a fashion feat to write a blog for Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) Japan. How did this come about? Do you get recognized in the streets of Tokyo for your blog?

A friend of mine was a former editor of WWD Japan and he offered me the chance to blog.  People actually recognize me more for my Twitter and Instagram accounts, but because I hang out with Japanese celebrities who post our photos in their blogs, I get recognized indirectly. While I may be considered young, my image has become more mature and I am considered somewhat of a style-setter on social media. I am still building up my following on Twitter and Instagram, but I have Japanese celebrities following me on Instagram. Sometimes people come up to me and tell me how much they like my style and how my articles inspire them. I get encouraged because it means I am doing something right.

I recently read that New York Fashion Week organizers plan to decrease the number of invitees to the shows by 20 percent; there are speculations that bloggers will be the first to get cut from the list and front row will again be reserved for the mainstream press and the designers’ A-list clients. What is your opinion on this? Are bloggers popular and fixtures in fashion shows in Japan?

There are too many bloggers nowadays so I think their decision to do that is good. In Japan, there are no fashion bloggers except for Misha Janette, Junko Suzuki and Rei Shito. While they attend shows Dokusha models (amateur models who pose exclusively for magazine editorials), fashion brand producers and, of course, celebrities have more fashion influence here in Japan.

How would you describe your personal style? What is your most favorite thing to wear?

When I used to work for American Apparel, I loved to wear colors. Now, I prefer to wear black, navy or gray in minimalist style. I like streamlined casual street style because it is not tacky. I wear my Cartier Juste Un Clou ring every day because it was given by a very special someone. I also always have on my Nike Fuelband SE.

What won’t you be caught dead wearing?

Harajuku-style fashion. I don’t understand it and I don’t find it flattering at all.

Who are your favorite designers and brands?

Valentino, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen and BLK DNM. I like European designers a lot.

Which is your most favorite place in Tokyo and why?

Two Rooms, it’s where I live. Upon seeing the view from the balcony of an apartment in this building, I knew I found my home in Tokyo.

Your job must keep you very busy. What do you do when you are not working?

I enjoy kickboxing at the gym so I try to fit that into my schedule as often as possible. I like to hang out with my friends at our favorite cafes and talk about silly stuff.

Being a fashion insider, what do you consider Tokyo’s biggest fashion secret?

Tokyo is the safest place to express your style, make a fashion statement — you can wear whatever you want and no one will judge you here.  You can walk down the streets wearing a pink wig and fluffy petticoat and no one will scream at you like they do in Paris. Boys can wear heels and skirts even if they are not gay.

Tokyo has become a big destination for Filipinos and you must have your own favorite places to shop in Tokyo. Would you care to share them with our readers?

Of course! C’est Vingt-Trois in Daikanyama, Candy in Shibuya, and GR8 in Laforet Harajuku. They’ve got great selections including very cool street wear.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Energetic, entertaining, and ambitious.

 George is about to embark on the next chapter of his fashion journey — in New York, a city he will soon be calling home alongside Tokyo. The passionate and very engaging Japanese-Filipino boy wonder is very excited about the endless possibilities to spread his fashion wings and expand his public relations horizon in the Big Apple. He is hoping for a successful landing to rival, if not surpass, the one he made in Tokyo.

* * *

Follow George on WWD Japan, Numero Tokyo and Elle Girl Online plus his Twitter and Instagram accounts @georgeinaki. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @tettaortiz.

 

FASHION INDUSTRY JAPAN JAPANESE NAGOYA TOKYO TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM
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