It's been seven years since I started 7115, yet every time someone asks me about the inspiration behind our brand, I still have to pause and think. Not because I don't know the answer, but because there's no way that I can possibly distill everything into ten words. My work isn’t inspired by a romantic trip to France, a masterpiece painting or anything like that... It's inspired by people.
My team and I struggled for years with how we could communicate this. Then it hit us. Why don't we just introduce the world to the people that inspire the brand? And just like that, our segment 'Friends of 7115' was born. Influenced by our love for long-form content, we've sketched out in-depth portraits of the women who inspire us - extraordinary customers that we've had the honor of getting to know over the years.
These women are just a handful of the hundreds and hundreds of amazing customers I've met over the years - whose stories and lives are my entire source of inspiration. They are the reason why I strive to create the smartest and most hard-working garments possible. The pieces we create are a reflection of the women who wear them. We hope you enjoy meeting our friends.
P.S. There may be a sneaky discount for all our friends somewhere in this piece.
There are two types of people in New York: those who love it and those who hate it. If you linger in this city long enough for the honeymoon phase to settle, you’ll inevitably bump into someone of the latter; someone who loves to complain about the forever-rising rent prices, the unreliable subway schedules, the abrasively fast pace of the city... But once in a blue moon, you’re sure to stumble upon a gem like Christy Shibata, who comes as a much needed reminder of what makes this city so magical in the first place.
We’re tucked away in a small cafe on Grand St in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Christy Shibata is reminiscing over the relaxing weekend she recently spent in the woods upstate. For a moment, she meditates on the idea of living somewhere like that - somewhere peaceful - before floating back to reality as the door of the cafe swings open. Street noise spills in, drowning out our conversation, and it’s hard to believe that it’s only just half past eight on a Friday morning. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else though,” she quickly reassures us, “I mean it’s crazy, but I need that energy.”
By day, Christy is the Chief Financial Officer for NBCUniversal’s Cable Entertainment Group. She oversees the financial performance and operations for a $5 billion portfolio of leading cable brands including USA, Syfy, E! Entertainment, Bravo and Oxygen. By night, she owns and operates two authentic Japanese restaurants - Yopparai and Azasu - out of the Lower East Side, with her husband Gaku Shibata.
We first met Christy when Yopparai opened next door to 7115. It wasn’t until her sister-in-law came home with pieces from our store that she then became a 7115 convert. That was four years ago and the rest is history.
Christy is nestled against the window, listening intently as we ask her questions. She carefully weaves together answers, occasionally punctuating her anecdotes with laughter. She packs a busy and frantic schedule, yet every time we see her, Christy is so jovial and effortlessly composed. Getting to this point took many years of learning the art of acceptance and a willingness to step completely out of her comfort zone.
"I always knew I wanted to escape. I think that forces you to hustle."
Christy was born in Hong Kong, but grew up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. Her mother is Chinese and her father is American. Coming of age in a culturally diverse household instilled in her a hunger for experiencing what this world has to offer. Craving a more energetic and urban environment, she began plotting her escape from the lull of small town life at a young age. “I always knew that I wanted to escape,” she says. “I think that forces you to hustle.”
And hustle she did.
In 1993, while completing her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at Bucknell University, Christy spent a semester abroad in Beijing. Despite barely being able to string together a sentence in Mandarin, the experience was transformative. She quickly learned how to adapt and play to her strengths in a foreign environment, preparing her for the global roles in which she would later find herself working. It was also in Beijing where she first met her husband Gaku, who was a Japanese exchange student at the time. The two maintained a long-distance relationship for years until she graduated and moved to Japan to pursue what would become a decade-long career with General Electric.
When asked how she transitioned into the restaurant business, she laughs, “Gaku’s always been a crazy entrepreneur.” His first few ventures included a Chinese Mandarin language school in Tokyo and a hot-dog push cart franchise which involved importing Oscar Meyer hot dogs and New York-style push carts from the US to Japan. Determined to turn his love for food and cooking into a career - despite no traditional culinary training - he began apprenticing at Aburaya, a historic izakaya in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. When the couple relocated to New York following a job opportunity for Christy at NBCUniversal, Gaku further honed his skills at the renowned Nobu in Tribeca.
In 2012, the husband-wife duo opened the doors to their humble sake bar, Yopparai, which sits in a repurposed railroad apartment on Rivington St. The experience of dining at Yopparai is as unique and ambitious as the couple themselves. To enter the restaurant, you ascend a flight of stairs and ring the doorbell before being greeted by a friendly host and led into a quaint and warmly lit room. It was extremely important to the pair that the experience offered by Yopparai was both intimate and authentic. The inviting and well thought-out 30-seater space was designed by world-renowned architect Richard Bloch. Clever detailing works to enhance the otherwise modest size; beneath the tables, you’ll find cabinets to stow away your bags and coats- which lock with specially carved wooden keys.
Yopparai translates to ‘drunkard’ so it’s no surprise that the menu itself is staged around sake, the Japanese rice wine. A wide range of sake is offered on the menu along with traditional foods that pair well with it. High-quality ingredients are selected daily by their chefs: fresh sashimi, seasonal vegetables, and an assortment of fish and meats prepared on open grill. A lesser known, but sentimental detail to note: the head chef at Yopparai, Junya Miura, is the son of Gaku’s mentor at Aburaya.
Two years in and charmed by the quirk of the Lower East Side, the Shibatas decided to start up a second restaurant in the area - something more casual; a neighborhood joint for good affordable Japanese feeds. In 2014, they opened a sister restaurant named Azasu, just around the corner on Clinton St.
“It’s really interesting for me,” Christy says, discussing the dichotomy between her two jobs. “In the daytime, the numbers I talk are billions and then I come to the restaurant and I’m asking ‘why did we pay $3 for these paper towels?’” Yet there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to which job she finds more challenging or rewarding. “It fulfills different sides of my brain,” she explains. “I grew up in a very corporate environment so opening these restaurants was really risky for me, but it helped me think about things in a different way.”
“It’s a hard city to live in. If you love New York, you’re willing to do anything to live here.”
Since opening the two restaurants, Christy has learned her fair share from embracing the unpredictable and tumultuous nature of being a small business owner. “People will hear me say that I own restaurants and they think it’s so glamorous and that it’s so great,” she says with a sigh. “And I’m like, ‘Do you know something breaks every single day?’ It’s the toughest business ever.”
We get it - completely. As alluring as it may sound to be one’s own boss, running a business - especially in New York - is no easy feat; it’s a labor of love.
And there have been moments where Christy has considered the alternative. In the first year that Azasu opened, it was not all smooth sailing. “We were worried that we’d have to close because it was just so slow last summer,” she recounts, lamenting the sudden halt on foot traffic caused by the influx of construction along Clinton St. Thankfully the dynamic duo persevered and rose to the occasion, re-imagining the menu for Azasu to introduce a more unique offering of Japanese comfort food and bar snacks that now draws in throngs of patrons from all different corners of the city.
Keeping in line with her unassuming nature, Christy doesn’t completely take credit for the ingenuity: “Gaku is really good with re-imagining stuff and changing things on the fly. I’m not so good with that but we bounce off each other.” It’s tough to run a business in this city, she stresses. You have to be really good with change.
So we find ourselves circling back to our original point of discussion: this city. “It’s a hard city to live in,” she starts. From time to time, she’ll romanticize the idea of leaving New York behind for good in favor of settling down somewhere like Hawaii. Hawaii is beautiful, she tells us. Yet one glance out the window and she’s instantly reminded of why she’s never been able to follow through with that thought. There’s just something about New York. It has a different kind of beauty. An almost desperate, but magical kind. One that’s not always obvious, but you know it’s there. It lingers on every corner. It’s the warm glow that envelops the city on summer evenings, the constant buzz, the little pockets of ethnic communities that come together to create one giant melting pot of cultures and lived experiences. The beauty of this city lies in the people that you meet.
As we mull over this, Christy voices what we’re all thinking. “If you love New York, you’re willing to do anything to live here.” It may be easier to live in other cities - functionally speaking - she supposes, before quickly adding, “but it’s not easier in terms of what inspires you or keeps you going.”
SHOP THE STORY
Reversible Kimono Vest FW16 // Signature Reversible Maxi
A friend of Christy's is a friend of ours: use the discount code YOPPARAI* at the checkout to receive 15% off your purchase. For those thinking of dining at Yopparai or Azasu, simply show your 7115 receipt (purchases must be made from 9/24/16-10/7/16) to receive 15% off your bill.
*Both offers valid until 23:59 EST 10/07/2016. Full priced 7115 items purchased with a discount code may only be returned for a store credit. No refunds will be authorized. For full terms and conditions please click here.