Fashion companies began to leave Tokyo Thursday, moving westward to Osaka amid the threat of radioactive fallout, widening blackouts and diminishing food supplies.
Six days after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, damaging the Fukushima nuclear plant 124 miles northeast of the capital city, Chanel was handing out iodine tablets to workers and Hennes & Mauritz and PPR temporarily relocated offices. And some brands stopped giving updates on their operations in the country. Ordinarily accessible, Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., Burberry and Paul Smith, as well as several other firms, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Procter & Gamble Co. issued a statement saying all its employees were safe, but a spokeswoman declined to say whether they had been instructed to leave Tokyo.
Many firms in the capital have already given their employees the green light to work remotely, given rolling blackouts on the edges of the city and erratic train service. Japan’s Energy and Trade Ministry warned Thursday that there was a risk of a widespread blackout in the Tokyo area. That prompted many to leave work and stores to close their doors earlier than usual.
Although plenty of people decided to stay put and certain food items were reappearing in supermarkets, conditions still hadn’t returned to normal. The Japanese government has pleaded with Tokyo residents to not hoard food since it exacerbates a dire shortage in areas most affected by the earthquake and tsunami, which claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Despite the widening nuclear crisis, global stock markets regained much of their balance after three days of hefty declines. The Nikkei 225 dipped 1.4 percent in Tokyo, but the DAX gained 2.2 percent in Frankfurt and the FTSE 100 rose 1.8 percent in London. On Wall Street, the S&P Retail Index slipped 0.72 points to 494.11 as the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.4 percent, or 161.29 points, to 11,744.59.
Even as stocks stabilized and the fears for the global luxury market waned upon closer analysis, there were reminders that it will be some time before life gets back to anything approximating normal in Japan.
“Chanel decided to close stores and offices in the affected areas [which include Tokyo],” the brand said. “Staff either stay home and follow instructions to remain indoors or temporarily leave the area. For those who prefer to leave the affected regions, Chanel is providing financial and logistical assistance. For staff who prefer to stay, the company has distributed iodine tablets and continues to deliver them for family members.”
H&M shuttered all its stores in the Kanto region surrounding Tokyo and offered to help relocate all its 800 employees and their family members to the Kansai region surrounding Osaka. As of Thursday night, only about 60 people, including family members, had chosen to move, said a spokeswoman. Most opted to stay closer to their home base in Tokyo.
John Ermatinger, president of Gap Inc.’s Asia-Pacific business, was in the firm’s Tokyo office and “monitoring the situation closely,” according to a spokeswoman. Seventeen of Gap’s 130 stores in the country were closed Thursday due to damage, potential blackouts, unreliable public transportation or the decision of a shopping center to close its doors.
However, the company didn’t respond to requests for comment later in the day that a March 29 fashion show in Tokyo had been canceled.
A PPR spokeswoman said about 44 employees and their families were evacuated from the Sendai area at their option to a safe haven in Osaka, where the company arranged temporary headquarters. Employees were given the option to leave Tokyo. Most of the PPR-controlled stores and offices in Greater Tokyo/Kanto area were to remain closed until today. The company has 2,000 employees in Japan, working for brands from Puma to Stella McCartney.
Lisa Montague, chief executive officer of Loewe, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said four of the brand’s 40 stores in Japan were badly affected by the earthquakes. Fifteen doors have been closed until further notice.
“It was a natural disaster, an act of God, something completely out of our control, and we just have to deal with it, and find new solutions,” Montague said. “Our most immediate efforts are focused on ensuring that our staff is safe.”
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