By  on May 24, 2007

TOKYO — The Japanese Denim market is heating up after a slow 2006, and fabric manufacturers are looking to keep the momentum going by focusing on innovation.

The rising popularity of skinny and slim jeans helped Japan's denim production to rebound starting late last summer. The turnaround has become more evident in 2007. However, denim executives here realize the skinny jeans boom will not last forever and that it will be up to the them to bring new varieties of denim to capitalize on growth.

According to a local textile industry association in Hiroshima prefecture, where denim mills are heavily concentrated, denim production declined 5.4 percent in 2006 from the previous year to 46.89 million square meters or 56.1 million square yards. This represented a drop of as much as 14.7 percent from 2004. The area, an association official claimed, accounts for about half of national output.

The turnaround started ramping up in the first three months of this year, as February output rose 2 percent to 4 million square meters from 3.9 million square meters reported in January. March output ballooned 12.8 percent from February to reach 4.6 million square meters, or 5.4 million square yards, according to the association.

Two other denim production centers are located in the neighboring Okayama prefecture. A local textile industry association in the Mihara area said production of cotton yarn-dyed fabrics, of which denim makes up an estimated 70 to 80 percent, is "on a rise this year" after it stayed almost unchanged in 2006 from the previous year at 19 million square meters, or 22.7 million square yards.

While some 80 million pairs of jeans are produced in Japan annually, the Japanese denim industry depends heavily on the export market as it ships a large portion of its production to the U.S., Europe and Asia.

According to the Japan Textile Exporters Association, cotton denim exports in the first three months of this year soared 36 percent to 15.1 million square meters, or 18.1 million square yards. The value of the exports rose 38 percent to $55.8 million compared with year-ago levels.

This is in contrast to a sluggish 2006, when annual exports fell 3.3 percent from 2005 to 56.5 million square meters, or 67.6 million square yards, valued at $209.1 million, a decline 7.1 percent. The two biggest export markets are China and Hong Kong, followed by the U.S., Vietnam, Italy and South Korea.

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