Picture it: laser beams, pounding music and 24,000 girls screaming, “Kawaii!”—Japanese for “cute”—at practically everything that comes down a 150-foot-long runway. Welcome to the Tokyo Girls Collection, held at the Saitama Super Arena in the suburbs of Tokyo.
“This is the World Cup of real clothes,” boasts Fumitaro Ohama, chief executive officer and Webmaster of Xevel, the company that produces the event. “When watching the fashion show at the venue, girls are so excited and moved that some of them cry. There are still many girls who have not seen fashion events, and what we are doing is…creating chances for girls to enjoy fashion, as well as for Japanese fashion industries to show their designs.”
The biannual event started quietly in 2005 with a crowd of 1,500, but it since has seen astronomical growth. Xevel’s Web sites—Girlswalker.com, Fashionwalker.com and Stylewalker.com—have about seven million registered members and 1.5 million views a day, and companies such as Softbank, Yahoo Japan and Toyota are sponsoring events.
But the girls don’t just scream for seven hours. They shop, too. Participants register online in advance so that, during the show, their cell phones receive messages explaining each garment on the stage. With a simple click on the cell phone screen, visitors can purchase items online—often before they are sold at retail.
Only five minutes of glory is given to each brand onstage. Items, priced from about $90 to $300, also are displayed offstage, with information such as online codes and prices prominently displayed. “Everything is so exciting,” says Kanako Maruyama, 15, who lined up with Mai Takahashi, 16, to get into the giant event. “Fashion, live music performance, shopping, models….We were desperately waiting for TGC this whole summer. We want to see the latest fashions before they appear in stores.”
Ohama bills his events as an incubator for young brands—and an engine for sales, which can total in the millions. The brand Baby Beat, part of the listed company Look, made its debut at TGC and by the next day had sold more than three-quarters of its inventory of dresses and short pants.
Cecil Mcbee has put its merchandise on the catwalk at five TGC events. “We have already received inquires from our consumers. Reaction at our stores will be huge,” says Asuka Nakamichi, the brand’s spokeswoman.
But Ohama called TGC less of a retail channel than a potent publicity event. “Many people buy the merchandise on the spot, but I want girls to buy the clothes at each store in the end,” says Ohama. “This festival is a vehicle for the sponsors to show their merchandise to girls. It may take another 10 years to complete this business format.”
Meanwhile, Ohama is mulling future shows in Paris and Beijing. “Paris is a capital for high-luxury fashion, and Tokyo is the capital for real clothes,” says Ohama. “Someday, I want many people from overseas to see the Tokyo Girls Collection.”