SF is home to a treasure trove of vintage clothing stores, but Chameleon Vintage is doing something new. They specialize in Japanese vintage and designer clothing, selected by shop owner, Kenny Okagaki on his frequent trips across Japan.
About 50% of Chameleon’s stock comes directly from Japan, with the other half consisting of American vintage from around the Bay Area.
During a visit, you might find a gorgeous vintage kimono, a Comme Des Garçons tee, a Suzuki motorcycle jacket, and pants from Ben Davis Japan.
Okagaki does most of his buying in Tokyo and Osaka where he visits dozen of shops and flea markets.
“Buying trips are super fun,” Okagaki exclaims. “The secondhand clothing industry in Japan is massive and you can find it pretty much everywhere. I try to recognize what’s popular over there [Japan] that might not be popular here yet and vice versa.”
When Chameleon Vintage opened its first location in SF’s Japantown Mall, it felt like a dream come true for Okagaki – a fourth-generation Japanese American and SF native.
Okagaki grew up wandering the streets of Japantown and has a deep love for the community. He fondly recalled afternoon Aikido practice, summer programs with the JCYC, eating salmon teriyaki with his grandpa at Takara, and taking dates for photo booth pics at Pika Pika. Unfortunately, many of these beloved businesses from his youth have shuttered.
“A lot of those legacy businesses closed, which is really sad. These are places that my parents went to when they were young and that I would go to growing up, ” Okagaki shared. “Seeing those businesses closed down during the pandemic, I realized that if no one from the community actually opens something up then there won’t be a Japantown in the future.”
There are only three remaining Japantowns in the US, and SF is home to the oldest and largest.
Business owners like Okagaki, play a pivotal role in ensuring the future of the neighborhood. He’s part of a wave of new businesses that have filled the formerly empty storefronts – breathing new life into the Mall.
A year after opening their Japantown Mall shop, Chameleon Vintage has expanded to Haight Street, in the heart of Haight-Ashbury.
As SF’s unofficial “vintage row” Chameleon is in good company on Haight St, attracting locals and tourists that are all too willing to dig through the racks in search of something special.
You can visit Chameleon Vintage at:
- Japantown: 1581 Webster Street, #200 (on the Webster Street Bridge connecting Japan Center Mall East and the Kinokuniya Building). 1pm-8pm
- Haight-Ashbury: 1605 Haight Street. 1pm-7pm