By Caitlin Thompson
It isn’t always easy joining the family business—especially when your family is synonymous with one of the most storied names in sports. This year the legendary Japanese brand Yonex marks its 75th Anniversary and it released a beautiful collection full of both the modern technology that makes it a favorite among players but also plenty of throwback looks that are bringing the brand to new places.
I talked to Casey Yoneyama, part of the third-generation family at Yonex, about his role leading the global communications team and his role in bringing the 75th Anniversary Line to life. Our chat has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
You grew up between Japan & California—how did each of those places shape you?
I was born and raised predominantly in the US—Los Angeles, specifically. I went to middle school in Japan but did high school and college in the US. After graduating, I moved to Asia and have been doing a lot of international projects, which has been keeping me moving around.
My mother is fourth-generation Japanese-American and my father is from Niigata, in the Japanese countryside. He went there to learn English, then got in a car and drove to LA and started Yonex USA.
Your grandfather Minoru Yoneyama started Yonex in Japan years earlier, was it always a given that there would be a Yonex USA and that your dad would start it?
My grandfather had a strong interest in the US because of the war—he talks about it a lot in his books. During the war, he was stationed in Okinawa and he was able to see that the US had advanced machines, weapons and that this was possible because they had all the economic activity and innovation. So my dad, having heard those stories growing up and having understood that speaking English would make it all possible, went to do that. After a few years he got the call to get to Los Angeles and started Yonex USA.
So did you have a similar experience? How did you think about your role in the family business?
I worked at ad agency Wieden & Kennedy in Japan, which had me working with companies in the sporting goods, auto and tech spaces, and I also worked at an auto parts company in China. I got a lot of exposure to how these marketing-driven companies operated, and it made me understand that Yonex is a great brand with great products, and I think we can work to get the marketing and design to compete on a global level.
I don’t have the expertise in all these areas, but I do have an understanding of how to bring a little bit of vision to guide the company. You see your family working so hard, and then you can’t help but want to help out a little bit. My sister joined the company a few years ago, too.
The 75th Anniversary Line is especially cool—I’ve been hearing from people all over the tennis world how much they like it. How did you think about bringing it together?
The pieces were already there—they just needed a little encouragement. There was an appetite to do something for the anniversary, but it wasn’t clear exactly what that should be. We decided to dig into the influence that the brand has had throughout its tenure, and to think about how to best tell a story through product. It’s our most influential medium—the product itself.
We looked back at old catalogs and found some of the looks that were iconic to Yonex. We interviewed a lot of the old cats in the company and asked them what they thought, and I heard so many good stories.
It’s always interesting to talk to people who know their history—did you learn anything new from them?
One of my favorite stories was about this best-selling shirt and how they wanted to keep improving on it, so one year they made it with a lighter fabric. It turned out to be see-through.
In looking through all these old catalogs, what kinds of things leapt out at you to celebrate the 75th Anniversary?
The first thing that struck me was the colors blue and green—they stand in for the blue skies and the green fields. That comes from an old manifesto that was written decades ago, and it talks about the philosophy of Yonex:
The Yonex logo is blue and green.
So the concept is also blue and green.
It’s the refreshing breeze. Blue sky.
And big, green fields.
A stage for sports suited for beautiful, clean sweat.
We hope for as many people as possible to enjoy sports, even if just a little bit, relaxed and joyfully.
The Yonex logo is blue and green. Blue is the sky and green is the earth.
We may have different nationalities, different languages, and different faces, but we share the same spirit of sports.
The concept of blue and green is based on Yonex’s wish to connect with as many countries and as many people as possible through sports.
We send this concept of blue and green to people around the world who love sports.
Blue and green—the fresh, exhilarating feeling, the joyfulness, and the healthiness of clean, beautiful sweat.
And the heart of Yonex.
When I read that, it really struck me that we’re not trying to be gritty, we simply love that we can go out there and enjoy sport, enjoy competition and feel good. In looking at the product set we wanted to make for the collection, we obviously wanted to emphasize these blues and greens because they’re iconic, but we made the choice to have the white offsetting those colors to make it look classic and help those colors standout.
I’d use the word crisp—it’s clearly a nod to the past but it looks very modern.
Of course it has materials appropriate for the modern world—performance materials, recycled materials—our R&D team did an amazing job. It was also a big motive for me to get everyone in the company to feel connected to the brand and I knew that had to come through the products and the messaging around them.
All the materials I created for this collection were heavily focused on re-introducing our iconic looks, to make a statement and get people to notice what we stand for, and to tie that to the future—not only to get people to understand what we stand for now but that they need to pay attention down the line.
The messaging around the 75th anniversary is Today is No Ordinary Day, it focuses on the fact that each day is a day to seize for your own. We’re looking back to the philosophy that our founder operated by and applying it to our business and the way our athletes connect to our brand.
How does this line get you looking toward the future?
It’s a personal endeavor, but I want to find a way to make each of our users, employees and athletes proud to be using Yonex. I think that comes from knowing who we are, having values and having pride in providing those values. Pride comes from something deeper—beyond the output. It’s the process, the philosophy about how you create and how you operate—it all goes into the product and it gives users a way to be proud when they’re engaging with the products we make.
Above: Casey Yoneyama of Yonex. (Tennis Warehouse)