I'm sure you're all sick and tired of me saying it, but it's surreal to think that my friends and I started this brand in my apartment in the suburb of Malvern, in Melbourne Victoria and we have seen thing we've created grow across Australia, hit the peak of the Futsal Thai League in Thailand and in 2021, looking for our big official launch of AKU Japan on the 3rd of March.
In the midst of a global pandemic, it takes an extraordinary team, months of planning over video calls, emails, whatsapp and facebook chats to be able to make this happen and our AKU team in Australia has extended with a small AKU team based in Aichi, Toyota Japan. With all the hard work almost complete, I get to sit back and catch up with my good friends and our inaugral Japan team members Felipe and Hiroshi to check in on their plans for Japan. - RUZ, AKU Founder
R: Felipe, we first met as team mates when you joined Brunswick Futsal Club a few years ago but i'm sure you've had an extensive playing history across both Japan and Australia before then?
F: It's crazy to think I have had the opportunity to play with/against some of the best futsal players in the world. I played for Nagoya Oceans Satellite Team back when I was 16 and was lucky to share the court with Rafael Henmi, Matias Ernan, Shinoda and many other players who went on to play for the Japanese National Team. In Australia, I played for a few Series Futsal teams in Victoria, and for St. Albans Strikers in the F-League. Great memories from those days!
R: And Hiroshi, I saw a photo of you with Alex Santos, and I remember growing up watching him play in the World Cup for Japan on top of some other amazing things you've been doing amazing things with St D'Or Academy. Can you give us a little introduction to St D'Or and what you do there?
H: Grass roots football was a big part of my childhood and teenage years, there was where I made friends and integrated with the local community. St D'Or is about that too. It's about creating an inclusive community (I wanted to create an opportunity for Brazilians to connect with the locals, to make friends with locals) and today the academy has players from 6 different nationalities and around 90 participants from different age groups. We are also about seeking opportunities for our talented athletes to become professional players, to give hope to their dreams.
R: After months of hard work, you both now have a pretty good understanding of AKU, but what were your first impressions of AKU when we first made the St D'Or kits in Japan?
R: What do you think AKU can bring to Japanese teams and athletes that currently isn't out there in the market today?
F: We think the ''Australian'' touch to the design of templates, casualwear and especially the custom designs is a game changer. It really gives teams and individuals the opportunity to express their identity, to be daring and different. To be "Never Ordinary"
R: As soon as we launch, the hard work really begins, so what's the plan for AKU Japan in the first 6 to 12 months for you guys?
H: For the first 6 - 12 months we will be focusing on getting the AKU's name known amongst the sporting communities in Japan. Not only Futsal and Football, but we believe the Handball, Basketball and Volleyball communities in Japan will welcome what we have to bring to the game.
R: Yep, Handball and Dodgeball has been massive for us here in Australia. They're a big part of the AKU-mmunity which is one of the reasons for our success in Australia, how important is it to you that we continue this community in Japan?
F: Very important. Team sport is about camaraderie, building friendships and special moments whilst being healthy and active. We want to encourage people to get together, to have fun and to build communities.
R: We've been really lucky to have former Japanese international and Nagoya legend Rafael Sakai be heavily involved as a part of the AKU Japan team. I kind of have to pinch myself to make sure it's real. How has it been having him help with our growth?
F: I have known Sakai since my years playing for Nagoya and always knew he was an amazing person with a big heart. To have Sakai as part of the team is incredible and we believe it gives AKU JAPAN instant credibility and a huge jump forward just by being associated with a genuine and kind hearted person.
R: On top of Sakai, it's been crazy to have one of the stars of the J-League, Leandro Pereira sign up to be an AKU athlete. We also have a Japan International futsal player soon to be announced. Why do you think the brand has been received so well by the professional athletes in Japan?
H: It's unbelievable! We have received some great feedback about our off court range and template design from not only Leandro, but many other players we have approached. We believe that the uniqueness of our designs and quality of products have been well received by them.
R: Finally, whats the goal for AKU in Japan over the next few years?
F: To help teams, individuals and academies find and build their identities. We want to empower people to be daring and NEVER ORDINARY! We want to be a brand name talked about amongst all the sporting communities in Japan.