Hiroshi Onishi

As the Japanese population ages and declines and the economy weakens, Hiroshi Onishi, former chief executive officer and president of Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., believes that innovation is needed to change society and create a new environment for growing Japanese businesses, while also motivating younger generations.

Department store spending in Japan has stalled over the years. “The overall market size has remained almost unchanged at $1.3 trillion to $1.5 trillion for some time. Consumption is important for each economy; of course, we need to have a solution to this,” said Onishi.

One reason for this apparent slowdown is the diversification of consumers’ lifestyles, which has meant that the traditional consumer classification system that department stores once relied on has become obsolete, according to Onishi. “It is not so easy to understand the consumer’s needs. Retail stores, they are floored, within the conventional framework of clothing, eating and living. But this approach can no longer meet customers’ expectations.

“Customers are always experiencing something new, including new beauty trends, new approaches to health and a supreme force of feeling. It is likely to say customers want to experience rather than buy products,” said Onishi.

The ex-ceo lamented the fact that Japan has not been able to produce internationally successful fashion designers since Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, and set out what he believes needs to be changed in the Japanese fashion industry to remedy this.

Deepening cooperation between designers and production centers to create new products and brands was key to his message, as was investing money in developing new technologies to improve the fashion industry.

Although Japan produces many high-quality textiles, which fashion houses across Europe source for their goods, the country can’t seem to create its own domestic luxury brands, according to Onishi. He went on to say that European luxury brands have a long heritage, and it is impossible for new Japanese brands to compete with that history. However, Onishi also noted that the country had the potential to create its own heritage brands, if different parts of the industry collaborated with one another other.

“Japan is also known for having companies that have survived for three or four hundred years. We must have the know-how to produce fashion and survive for long years, even in the global area. For that purpose, we need to cooperate on production, digital market influencers and media,” said Onishi.

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