Tokyo Fashion Week begins its six-day run Monday and designers and brands are hoping to do brisk business despite the volatility of the international macroeconomic landscape, particularly in China.
There are signs that Japan’s economy, which saw a recent uptick in activity because of stimulus measures, is starting to lose momentum. Second-quarter gross domestic product contracted by 0.3 percent, according to the most recent estimate from Japan’s Cabinet Office. The economy grew 1.1 percent in the first quarter and 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. Private consumption in the second quarter edged down 0.7 percent.
Japanese consumers, who last year digested a sales-tax hike from 5 to 8 percent, are remaining cautious in their spending, but still seem willing to splash out on special items. Meanwhile, tourists are continuing to pour into the country and have become an increasingly important revenue-generator for retailers. The number of foreign visitors to Japan jumped 63.8 percent in August year-over-year after growing 51 percent in July, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
“We have such big sales from inbound money, but at the same time our Japanese customers [have] increased compared to last year,” noted Miyako Sekimoto, fashion director for Matsuya’s Ginza store.
Sekimoto said Japanese brands such as Taro Horiuchi, Akane Utsunomiya and Mint Designs are doing particularly well and posting sales increases month after month. She said Japanese-designed and manufactured clothing is appealing to both Japanese and foreign customers.
“[Shoppers] ask at the shop if this is made in Japan or not,” Sekimoto said.
Yasutoshi Ezumi and Yoshio Kubo, two designers showing their spring collections this week, said business has been going well for them and they saw solid orders through their showroom presentations in New York and Paris.
Last month Ezumi held a showroom presentation in Tokyo in a bid to win over buyers earlier in the season. He also teamed with an agent in New York to cater to international buyers. Those strategies seem to have paid off. He said he plans to add 10 more sales points worldwide this season on top of his existing 45. Ezumi said he might need to reevaluate whether it is worth the expense and resources to participate in Japan Fashion Week, given that it comes so late in terms of the international fashion calendar — March and October.
“The world market is going faster and faster nowadays. Buyers [are using their] budgets at an earlier time,” he said.
Nobuhiro Sekine, director of L.A. Comfy, a casual brand that is sold in boutiques around Japan, said orders are steady at the moment.
“Consumers don’t want to spend too much, so they want things they can wear for a long time, or things with a unique or interesting design. These kinds of things they will buy, even if they are expensive,” he said during the Fashion World Tokyo trade show earlier this month.
Hideki Sakai, sales director of apparel company White Joola, noted an increasing polarization of the Japanese fashion market.
“I think there are two extremes right now. On the one hand, there are lots of international fast-fashion brands in Japan, and they are doing very well because people aren’t spending as much. But on the other hand, people are also looking for things that are high-quality but more expensive,” Sakai said, adding that some of the best-selling items are those that piece together different fabrics for a unique look, and those that are made with “functional” fabrics that are easy to wash or absorb sweat, for example.
Tomonori Nori, sales director of Day and Day, which specializes in knitwear and jersey, said orders are up about 15 to 20 percent this season but his company is also under pressure to reduce prices to stay competitive in the current environment.
“Unlike last year, when stripes and other patterns were very popular, this year we are selling a lot of basic things in solid colors, often with some kind of texture,” he said. “Customers’ desire to buy is low. I think they are using their money in other areas, such as travel or events. The number of young people who go out shopping on weekends has drastically decreased.”