By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Following in his father’s footsteps, David Matsudaira has made quite the name for himself in the fashion industry.
Matsudaira began to understand the difference between style and fashion from working for his father when he was young.
“Clothes tell the world a little about you and your personality. Every day, you have the ability to choose what you’re going to wear. I just enjoy the process of giving that more thought than the next guy because it’s more than just clothes, it’s an expression of myself,” he said.
Early start in fashion
Matsudaira’s father opened Mich’s Men’s Shop on Jackson Street back in 1976. That’s where he was first introduced to the retail world.
“I remember watering his plants, washing his windows, vacuuming the floors,” he reminisced.
Slowly over the years and after several location moves, Matsudaira eventually got promoted to stock boy and even buying clothes for the store.
“That’s when I was on the sales floor, I learned how to help customers, take care of them, and roll out the red carpet. I learned all of the elements that you need to learn for delivering high quality service,” he said.
Moving on up
After working for his father, Matsudaira worked his way up in the industry at several different retailers, including the Bon Marche, Gottschalk’s, and Bon-Ton.
Over the years, Matsudaira had been tasked with turning businesses around. He’s never been afraid of challenges.
His ability to be a straightforward and out-of-the box thinker has helped him be successful.
“I recognize a number of things to focus on, to get things turned around, particularly in Wisconsin. I focused on meaningful marketing, in-store merchandise, presentation, and customer service,” he said.
The owner of one of the stores Matsudaira worked for ended up having to close, but Matsudaira recognized that the community really needed a store like that, so he took matters into his own hands. He got a loan to open up the store again, hired the same staff, bought what he needed from a liquidator, and renamed the store Squire Fine Men’s Apparel in June 2011. This all happened four months after the previous store closed.
“The store has been on a very nice growth path since then and sales have been great. It’s a nice business that continues to gain market share every month,” he explained.
Matsudaira and his family left Seattle in 2000, but their original plan was to return in five years.
“We knew we wanted to come back and we would find a way to come back,” he said.
Returning to Seattle roots
Randomly, Matsudaira was having a conversation with a vendor when he mentioned that it would be better if his store was back home in Seattle. The vendor’s eyebrow went up and asked if Matsudaira had heard of Butch Blum.
Coincidentally, Butch Blum had been one of Matsudaira’s favorites since high school, when he used to walk past it every day from school. Butch Blum is a premier store for luxury fashion and it has a strong following and reputation in the Northwest region.
A conversation was set up with Butch and they hit it off right away. Matsudaira eventually met Butch’s wife, Kay Smith Blum, and discussed how important it was to find someone to buy the store who had Seattle roots — someone who understood what the store meant to the Northwest community.
“They wanted someone who understood the importance of maintaining that, as well as the giveback component for the community. They’re a strong supporter of the community and that’s something I also believe in,” Matsudaira said.
Eighteen months later, after many conversations, negotiations, and attorney fees, they made an official deal.
Although it was first announced at the beginning of the year, the transition of ownership of Butch Blum was complete and finalized on Aug. 9.
Now, Matsudaira owns two stores, Butch Blum in Seattle and Squire Fine Men’s Apparel in Brookfield, Wis.
Looking ahead, Matsudaira hopes to maintain growth at Squire’s in Wisconsin, but at the same time, grow business at Butch Blum and continue giving back to the Seattle community.
“I’m having a ton of fun and business is good. I couldn’t have imagined a better scenario to come back home. I feel very fortunate that everything ended up happening the way we envisioned,” he said.
Everything Matsudaira learned about running a successful specialty store, he learned from his father.
“In a small class of Asian-owned businesses, people remember me and that’s a good thing,” he said.
Despite all his successes in the fashion industry, Matsudaira is most proud of his four children and how they’ve developed into wonderful young adults. He gives his wife a lot of credit for always being there for their kids.
“My Japanese culture plays a role in who I am. Knowing that my successes and failures are not only reflected on me, but on my family, those are part of what I do and the decisions I make. I aim to be as successful as I can be, not only for myself, but for my family. I want to do the best I can for those around me,” he explained.
To be able to return to Seattle to continue what his father started and to continue the retail tradition is an honor for Matsudaira.
“The values of service, integrity, and honor that I’ve kept with me all of these years played a major role in my success and I owe it to my dad,” he said.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.