By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno
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Videographer / director: Colin Weatherby
Producer: Joe Roberts, James Thorne
Editor: Beth Angus
The group is made up of a diverse range of individuals from across the LA area who all share a passion for ‘Harajuku’ fashion – named after the famous district in Tokyo where a colorful alternative style developed.
Sean Chong-Umeda, known online as 'seannyboy808', has been part of the community for some time, and has built up quite a following online for his brightly-coloured outfits and makeup.
The “unicorn prince” told Barcroft TVu: “Society has a way of being like ‘no, you can only wear this and this is only acceptable and if you do anything outside of that, that's weird, that's crazy, that's different, we don't like that.’
“But fashion is for everyone and if you feel cute inside then you look cute outside. It’s all about self-expression and it is all about like self-love.”
Harajuku style, and its many sub-genres has proliferated around the world in recent decades but Los Angeles is home to a particularly thriving sub-culture dedicated to alternative fashion.
Sean, 26, said: “The one good thing about living in LA is there's less judging than most places because they understand the hustle.”
The young event planner and model recently attended one of LA’s Harajuku Day meetups – a monthly event organised by Monique Morentin-Guzman, who also shares a passion for unique, Japanese-inspired fashion.
Whereas Sean’s distinct style is heavily inspired by Kawaii – the term used for the culture of ‘cuteness’ in Japan – Monique, 23, is passionate about Decora – a style defined by its use of numerous accessories such as hair clips and bows.
“I think with my style I'm trying to say Decora is not dead,” explained Monique, who is known online as ‘decorademon’. “We are alive and kicking and you can combine whatever styles you want as long as it makes you happy.”
Monique and Sean were joined at Harajuku day, held in LA’s Little Tokyo district, by another of the city’s Harajuku fans and a relatively new recruit to the meetups, Kaiiya Cimini.
20-year-old Kaiiya has been building an online following for some time, with her rainbow Kawaii outfits and collection of Japanese toys and memorabilia.
Known online as ‘t0y.baby’, Kaiiya has racked up almost 40,000 Instagram followers and says she is trying to reclaim toys for adults.
She said: “I would sum up my style as being like a Kawaii 90s toy-loving rainbow monster. I’m trying to say that colours and rainbows and happy things and toys aren't just for kids they’re for adults.
“And pretty much anyone regardless of religion, sexuality, gender, any age, anyone can love these things and embrace these things.”
Despite their shared love of similar fashion, the group don’t like to label themselves, but one element that unites all the attendees at Harajuku day is a desire to rebel in some form.
Kaiiya said: “Some of that ties all of us together is the desire to rebel against traditional fashion and social norms. Ever since I was a kid I really loved like crazy and unusual kind of rebellious fashion.”
And it’s a similar story for Sean, who was put under a lot of pressure by his parents to appear “more masculine” during his formative years.
“When I was growing up, I wasn't the most masculine man out there,” he said. ”But my family was very much like ‘you need to act more masculine, it’s not safe out there.’ And so I wore all black, and was very edgy like everyone else.”
But after attending an anime convention and dying his hair pink, he decided to embrace a more unique and colourful style.
He said: “When I saw myself in the mirror, I was like, ‘oh this is something,’ and from there it fully opened the doors to be as free as who I wanted to be.”
Now, neither Sean, Kaiiya, Monique, or any of the other Harajuku Day attendees have any hang-ups about leaving the house in their eye-catching styles.
Kaiiya said: “I can't think of a negative comment I've ever gotten on the way I dress. Weird stares, yeah, that happens sometimes but you learn to look past it.
“You spend more time having fun being who you are than you do worrying about people's judgment honestly.”
At Kaiiya’s first Harajuku Day meetup in May, she was finally introduced to the wider Harajuku community in LA by Sean and Monique – meeting a diverse range of LA’s fashion rebels.
Attendee Stephanie said: “I like the lifestyle because everyone’s really nice. Everyone’s kind of socially awkward so if you go up to someone they’re not going to be like ‘get away from me,’ they’re going to be like ‘oh my god, thank you so much for actually talking to me.’”
Another Harajuku Day member, Jasmine, said: “We’re all just nerds to be honest. We all come from the anime community and then kind of just separate that into the fashion. We’re all just the dweebs that you met in high school. We’re adults now and this is what we do.”
And while many might consider the group’s ostentatious style as representative of a very particular and insular community, the group’s ethos is much more about allowing people to be themselves.
Sean said: “A lot of times people use fashion and clothes as a way to express themselves. And especially with this idea of femininity, masculinity, what can guys wear, what can girls wear and all that stuff, I think that is something we definitely need to break.
“If you want to wear something, just wear it. If you want to wear a potato sack, you got to work that potato sack.”