TOKYO — The Japan Creation textile fair this month featured hand-spun silk and polyester recycling systems, showcasing the country's ability to preserve ancient techniques while pioneering new fabric technology.
Although some exhibitors cited a tough business climate, particularly in their mainstay domestic market, recent figures from the Ministry of Finance indicate growing demand for Japanese textiles abroad, especially in China and other Asian countries. Exports of Japanese yarn and fabrics in October rose 7 percent to 69 billion yen, or $614.6 million at current exchange. Between April and September, the first half of Japan's current fiscal year, exports of those items grew 3.9 percent to 418.4 billion yen, or $3.74 billion.
The show, which ended its three-day run Dec. 7, typically draws about 40,000 visitors from across Asia. However, attendance fell 13 percent to 38,411 compared with last year, according to Japan Fashion Week, which organizes the show. The decline was blamed on Japanese fashion companies' increasing tendency to delegate their sourcing activities to third-party agents. The event also provides little assistance to non-Japanese speakers, reflecting the show's overwhelmingly domestic thrust.
Exhibitors displayed an array of textiles for the fall and winter season, from lightweight, breathable denim to a fabric made from a blend of Japanese paper and herbs. Japanese silk makers were a significant presence and offered an extensive selection of products, including silk in jewel tones like emerald and sapphire, intricate florals and even woven miniature replicas of Mt. Fuji.
"Nowadays there is a real emphasis on 'Made in Japan.' People buy the cheap stuff in China," said Eita Saito, chief director of silk manufacturer Saiei Orimono Co., a supplier to labels such as Burberry and Givenchy.
This season, his company is offering a woven silk coated in a simulated gold finish and a chambray silk that alters the color of its sheen as it moves.
"Very shiny silks are really popular now," Saito added.
Show-Ichi Tsubota, president of Tsuboyoshi Orimono Co., stressed real silk's staying power in a crowded arena of synthetics and imitations.
"The Japanese have the culture of the kimono and they know what real silk means," he said, showing a coated version designed to simulate python skin.But Japan's expertise in synthetics was also a dominant presence. Masuda Co. developed a new polyurethane-coated nylon for outerwear that provides sheen and durability. Sakei Ovex Co. showed polyester and cotton blends that were capable of being used to create a featherweight tunic dress or a cropped trenchcoat.
Mitsubishi Rayon Textile Co. is pushing triacetate blends that are wrinkle-free, easy to care for and soft to the touch. The company's client roster includes fashion houses such as Prada, Marni and Stella McCartney.
"They are lightweight materials with the feel of spanned silk," said Ichiro Kogo, director of Mitsubishi's textile sales department.
The company is also producing a polyester yarn that can be easily mistaken for real silk.
Reflecting the ecological trend in fashion, Osaka-based Teijin Fibers is expanding its system of polyester recycling. The company started its "Ecocircle" project in 2002 for sports and work uniforms, but wants to broaden its reach to everyday apparel. Teijin's stand showed how recycled polyester can be transformed into items as varied as a velvet-like jacket and a crisp pouf skirt.
"We intend to expand our technology to various areas, not only sports and uniform wear but also fashionable wear," said Kohei Azuma, of Teijin's fashion textiles sales department.
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