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TOKYO — More than a year after a devastating earthquake and tsunami caused a slew of fashion events in Japan to be canceled or drastically scaled back, trade show organizers here are reporting that buyer and exhibitor numbers are back to pre-quake levels, and in some cases even on the rise.
The difficulties that followed the tragedy also seem to have injected some fresh motivation and creativity into Japan’s fashion show scene, as organizers continue to add new periphery events and begin to look overseas.
RoomsLink, a fair that runs concurrently with Japan Fashion Week, held its most recent installment in March. About 3,000 buyers turned out to see styles on display from 115 brands. About one-third of the exhibiting brands were from outside Japan, with a particularly strong showing from Asian companies. International buyers, however, numbered just 50 to 60, according to RoomsLink organizer and executive director Tomonori Matsui.
“For American and European companies, Asia isn’t an area where they go to buy [fashion],” Matsui said. “It’s where they go to sell.”
Buyers from across Asia, on the other hand, are increasing. Matsui said between RoomsLink and sister show Rooms, about 40 percent of the buyers at the last editions of the fairs were from Asian countries outside Japan, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Rooms, which includes not only fashion brands but also cosmetics, interior design and accessories, was last held in February. A total of 320 brands participated, with half of these coming from countries other than Japan. Visitors numbered 13,500.
Matsui said for the next RoomsLink, due to take place in October, he aims to get about 150 brands to participate, and he would like half or more of those to be from outside Japan. In a further attempt to continue the internationalization of the fair, editions are also planned for Seoul in October and Taipei, Taiwan, in November.
“Seoul is a place that is good at export, but not good at fashion and branding because it’s [supported] by the government,” Matsui said. “Now there are a lot of good, young designers, but they have no place to do business, so I want to create that for them.”
Matsui also had high praise for Taipei’s fashion scene.
“In Taipei, the boutiques are more fashionable and the people on the street are more fashionable than in Japan,” he said. “They already have fashion, so I want to bring style there by including fashion, art and interior [brands].”
Matsui said while he envisions RoomsLink in Seoul becoming a biannual event, the Taipei edition may end up being held just once a year. He hopes each event will attract up to about 100 participating brands.
The next Tokyo installation of RoomsLink will again be accompanied by the Shibuya Fashion Festival, a weeklong event during which 250 stores in Shibuya and Harajuku offer promotions, gifts and discounts to customers. On the last day, a Friday, the shops stay open until 11 p.m., and many feature live music performances and other special events. While Matsui acknowledges that format of the festival is similar to that of Fashion’s Night Out, he says the aim is very different.
“Fashion’s Night Out is basically promotion for international brands,” he said. “[Shibuya Fashion Festival] is about Japanese fashion, so most of the participating stores should be Japanese brands. And all of the stores are in the fashion areas of Shibuya and Harajuku.”
Organizers of the fashion, art and lifestyle fair Plug In also recognize the importance of holding their event in an area with a lively fashion scene. While Plug In was originally held in the Ebisu area near Shibuya, the last three editions have been in the business district of Shimbashi. But from October, the show will be moving to the new Hikarie building, a shopping and entertainment complex attached to Shibuya Station. The site will also serve as the main venue for the upcoming season of Japan Fashion Week.
“It’s a venue that is very easily accessible by train,” said Plug In organizer Shoko Kaneda. “And since [the fair] started in the Shibuya area, we are happy that it’s now returning there.”
Plug In hosted 92 companies and 2,068 visitors in its April installment, a slight improvement on the previous edition. Kaneda said for October, organizers expect to see similar numbers.
JFW International Fashion Fair also saw an increase in visitors in its most recent event in January, although there was a slight drop in participating retailers. Over three days, visitors numbered 25,752, and there were 692 exhibiting companies, of which 102 were from overseas. Miyuki Tsuruta said for July, she and fellow organizers are expecting between 26,000 and 28,000 visitors.