Since 1946, when the Nakata family established its factory specializing in clothing hangers, the handmade wooden product has not evolved much. But its fans wouldn’t want Nakata Hanger’s product to change.
“The shape of the hanger is extremely important,” said Mark Cho, co-founder of the Armoury, a men’s wear retailer in Hong Kong and New York that has used Nakata’s hangers for 10 years and now sells them. “The thickness of the shoulders and the curvature of the back of the hanger help immensely with preserving the shape and condition of the garment.
“A hanger that is too thin or too insubstantial will cause the garment to stretch out in unpleasant ways that are difficult to reverse. Additionally, a hanger made of solid wood with a hook that is well attached will last for many years of use.” (Mr. Cho toured the Nakata factory last year.)
When I entered the Nakata Hanger showroom in Tokyo recently, I casually placed my leather jacket on the back of a chair, but Shuhei Nakata, president of its parent company, Nakata Kogei, immediately handed me a glossy cherry-red hanger. I thought: “How can I ever go back to using regular hangers?”
The business began when Mr. Nakata’s paternal grandfather returned from World War II and met a craftsman who made hangers. Demand continued and by the 1980s, the company was supplying fashion brands such as Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. “There was no internet at the time, so it was important for each store to choose how to display their products beautifully,” Mr. Nakata said, “and the hangers were very important for each brand’s visual concept.”
But by the 1990s, Japan’s economy was struggling. “The former president, my father, launched the corporate website in 1997, and started to sell hangers online in 2000,” he said, adding that the skill of Nakata’s artisans has given the hangers a distinctive presence in the global market. (Nakata also makes clothes brushes, shoe horns, clothing racks, valet stands and kimono hangers, as well as what the retail industry calls white label goods, or products that other brands can label.)
Today, the clothing hangers are created at the factory in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture. It employs 40 artisans, and it takes them a few days to make one hanger from start to finish.
Only European beech is used for Nakata hangers because, Mr. Nakata said, it is moderately hard and can be polished to a smooth finish.
“We make thousands of different hanger types,” he said, including men’s, women’s and children’s sizes.
And hangers can be customized, with a logo or a name added by silk-screen printing or laser engraving, a feature that makes them popular presents. “In Japan, where guests receive a gift for attending the wedding, hangers can be personalized with each guest’s name,” said Mr. Nakata, referring to the practice called hikidemono. They also have been given at graduations and at corporate events.
The gift concept was Mr. Nakata’s idea, but he was influenced by his grandfather’s company motto: Fuku wo kakeru, or “Hanging clothes is happiness.”
Mr. Nakata, the third generation to head the company, became president in 2017 and has realized one of his father’s dreams by selling its products to the rest of the world. They are now shipped internationally from Japan; stocked at the Armoury’s stores; and sold online by the London boutique Arterton and on Amazon’s U.S. site.
Individual hangers are 2,000 yen to 30,000 yen ($13.40 to $200), and there is a special hand-lacquered one depicting Mount Fuji at ¥165,000.
Mr. Nakata said he wants the rest of the world to discover Japanese artistry. “Our goal is to express beautiful craftsmanship and share the possibilities of hangers,” he said. “They’re not just good for clothes, but also for good for your feelings.”