TOKYO — Japanese denim makers continue to face tough market conditions at home and abroad, but they are hoping their high-quality cottons and indigo dyes will convince women to splurge on new jeans.
The country's denim mills, including Kaihara and Kurabo, are doing their best in challenging times to win over consumers, who are either cash-strapped or jaded with the brands and styles on offer. In 2006, the latest figures available, Japan's denim exports dropped 3.3 percent to 56.5 million square meter equivalents, according to the Ministry of Finance. The industry saw a peak in 2004, exporting 60.8 million SME.
Much of the Japanese denim industry is concentrated in the area around Hiroshima, a region that primarily serves the domestic market but has an international profile as well. Last year, denim exports from the area dropped slightly to about 628 million yen, or $5.4 million at average rates for the period, from 630 million yen, or $5.42 million, in 2006, according to a local trade organization.
"The premium zone, which is about 3 to 5 percent of the world market, has grown so much over the last three to five years," said Mamoru Kaihara, director of sales and marketing at Hiroshima-based mill Kaihara, which posts sales of about $180 million a year. "But over the last six months, due to things like the subprime crisis in the U.S., people don't want to spend so much money on jeans."
Keshi Kawano, president of Osaka-based Kurabo Denim Zhu Hai and manager of the textile sales department, voiced similar frustrations.
"Consumers [already] have many jeans stocked in their wardrobes. The factories are oversupplied," he said. "But it is good for us because we are developing new items and the customer wants something new."
It's hard enough to woo the consumer in a difficult macroeconomic climate, but it's even trickier when jeans makers aren't innovating enough on the style front, Kaihara said.
"Everybody looks the same, there's nothing particularly different," said Kawano, noting jeans makers have overexploited the skinny trend of recent years without coming up with a new design story to drive the market. The wide-leg styles gaining momentum elsewhere will be a challenge for Japanese customers, who tend to be shorter than Westerners, he said.Meanwhile, the battle for market share is intensifying and manufacturers are stepping up their game in the areas of high-tech innovations and better quality materials. Kurabo's latest innovations include a denim fabric featuring Dow Chemical's stretch fiber XLA. It is also pushing a "cube-spinning" technology that keeps the denim fabric exceptionally flat. Rival Kaihara is focusing on super pima cotton and new dye variations.
Kaihara is also playing a supporting role in Uniqlo's continuing success with affordable jeans. The retailer, which sells about 10 million pairs of jeans a year, buys most of its fabric from Japanese mills, including Kaihara, and manufactures its garments in China, according to a Uniqlo spokeswoman. That cost savings allows Uniqlo to charge as little as 2,990 yen, or about $28.75, to 4,990 yen, or $47.99, for a pair of jeans — a bargain compared with the niche premium brands of years past.
"The gap between the higher price to lower price is much wider than it was 10 or 20 years ago," Kaihara said.
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye