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A Conversation with Mike Nieuwstraten aka Baardei, BAPE Collector

To celebrate our BAPE collaboration, The 10,000 spoke with Mike Nieuwstraten, better known as Baardei, about his collection of the Japanese streetwear brand, which is coveted by the likes of Sean Wotherspoon and Virgil Abloh. Read on to learn about the origins of Baardei’s collection and a few tips to curating your own.

Your collection is known to be very rare. Tell us about it. When and how did you get started collecting streetwear, and more specifically Bathing Ape (BAPE)? 

I actually started collecting quite late, around 2009 or so. At the time I was buying parts in Japan for my Toyota Trueno, which gave me some decent knowledge on how to buy and navigate the Yahoo Japan auction site. That and the time zone I was in, gave me a bit of an edge on buying rare pieces. 

My collection started out with rare Kaws pieces, and after seeing his collaboration with Bape, I became more interested in collecting Bape. I started reading more about Nigo, bought countless Japanese magazines, and saw we shared many interests, like the love for Planet of the Apes and vintage Americana. I sorta made it my challenge to find as many rare and early pieces as possible, but even now, after all these years, I still come across pieces I have never seen before. 

Do you have a favorite collab or piece in your collection?

For the longest time it was my 1993 Chrome Head tee, which was one of the first tees they printed. I have only seen two of them come available over all these years. They had three initial designs and recently a friend in Malaysia alerted me of another. So, now I’m trying to hunt that one down as well. In Malaysia they have a huge vintage t-shirt scene, and I’ve made quite a few friends over there. It’s always fun to hunt the rare pieces together. 

Is there a specific BAPE item you sought after for a long time, or is there an item that will ultimately make your collection feel more “complete?” 

The handprints have always been one of my favorite pieces, and actually got me into screen printing myself. In the early 2000s, Nigo did quite a few handprint designs, which gave him much more artistic freedom. For instance, some of the designs would be printed on the inside, but he would also print two designs on top of each other.

Nigo printed 4 designs by hand for the Japanese magazine Asayan, and one of them was a collaboration with the Japanese brand NGAP. It has a huge NGAP paint can printed on it, and has sorta been my unicorn after all these years. Again, a friend in Malaysia alerted me of one available there, but I was never able to find it.

For someone unfamiliar with BAPE, what makes items from the brand worth collecting? What attracts you to BAPE compared to other streetwear and collectible brands?

Since 1993, they’ve done so many collabs, so I think there’s something for everyone in there. It goes from furniture, to watches, scooters, games, electronics, movies, tv shows— there’s pretty much nothing they haven’t done a collaboration with. It’s always fun to start finding the pieces you yourself have a connection with, from Planet of the Apes, to Scarface or Star Wars, but also with brands like Pepsi or artists like Kaws or Futura. There’s something for everyone in there. 

What makes a BAPE piece iconic or collectible, and do you have any advice to new collectors?

Something I wish Bape did a little more often nowadays  is collaborating with artists. In the past, especially around the early / mid 2000’s they did a lot of collaborations with renowned artists, like Kaws, Sue Kwon, Stash and Soroyama. For me that gives them an edge and makes something more collectible or iconic. Collaborations with Skatething, Futura, Stash and Cornelius had an amazing influence on the beginning of the brand. 

For the new collectors, I always advise to go straight to the source. Get on sites like Yahoo Japan, Mercari, Rakuten and Fril. Just start with searching “Bape” or “Bathing Ape” and go from there. Japanese sellers will often put items in the wrong categories, or list something with just “エイプ” (ape) for instance, so searching in the native language will sometimes give you pieces your fellow collectors wouldn’t spot. 

What makes founder Nigo such a genius? Have you ever met him? 

Something he did really well, and they don’t call him the General for nothing, is finding the right people at the right time, and getting them involved. The list goes on and on in the history of the brand. Those initial days were such a great time for these Harajuku brands, you can see them bouncing off each other and taking inspiration and collaborating. Brands like Neighborhood, Undercover, Bounty hunter, WTAPS to name a few. 

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to meet him yet, I was close a few times when he was visiting Oallery store in Amsterdam, but both times unfortunately I couldn’t make it. I absolutely would love to pick his brain some day. 

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