What it takes to become big in Japan

By December 2, 2019Property News

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What it takes to become big in Japan

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The Tokyo showroom of H3O and its founders Jason Coates (L) and Hirohito Suzuki. — WWW.H3OTOKYO.COM

The Tokyo showroom of H3O and its founders Jason Coates (L) and Hirohito Suzuki.

The Flower Mountain set-up at the pop-up trade show, Parallel Culture Tokyo, at The Curve in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, which showcased homegrown Japanese brands Name., Vital Material, and Flower Mountain. The three brands will soon be distributed in the Philippines.

JAPAN is a place of many contradictions. It is simultaneously old and young; frighteningly modern and comfortingly aware and compassionate of its past. Its people hold on to who they are, and yet openly takes influences from the West. Several fashion designers call it home, and the easiest names to recall from that region are Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake. When it comes to large-scale production meanwhile, Muji and Uniqlo are successful global exports. The Japanese seem to have it all in their own set of islands, and the thought of making it there makes penetrating the Japanese market a worthy, but also daunting prospect. BusinessWorld talked to two stakeholders in the competitive Japanese fashion market to help Filipino designers understand what makes Japanese customers tick, and the steps they’ll have to take in order to make it in Japan.
Earlier this month, the Phx Fashion Conference was held with the cooperation of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) through its agency The Philippine Training Trade Center (PTTC) and Fashion Design Council of the Philippines. The conference, held at the PTTC, lasted from Nov. 11 to 14. On the third day, BusinessWorld had the opportunity to talk to Jason Coates, an award-winning Australian fashion director, editor and art director who has been in the fashion and publishing industry for over 20 years, based in Tokyo, Singapore and Dubai. He has styled for Elle, GQ, Oyster, Harper’s Bazaar as well as for international celebrities. Along with his partner, Hirohito Suzuki, a marketing and business administration expert specializing in the marketing of overseas luxury products to the Japanese market, the two have put up H3O.
H3O is a company with multibrand showrooms in both Paris and Tokyo, showcasing new brands that they expect will become a hit in their respective markets. Aside from offering those products as for retail, they also provide assistance for public relations, communications, and brand consultancy. The brands they handle include Hong Kong brand Chance, the swimwear and underwear arms of luxury brands Dsquared² and Moschino, and Brazilian brand Melissa.
“They’re looking for a consistent product, a product that is consistently well-made,” said Mr. Coates about Japanese fashion buyers and end-line consumers. “It’s consistently delivered on time. It’s consistently priced. It has a consistent look and branding. They don’t want something that is one way one season, then the next season it’s completely different.” He gives an example of designers coming up with something new one season, then completely revamping it from season to season. “They don’t want that. They want consistency, and something that they can depend on.”
At the same time, they pursue novelty. “Newness. Japan always wants newness. They always want to be the first, they always want to discover something new, something fresh. It’s that newness.” That could be an advantage for Filipino designers, but Mr. Coates says that the Japanese could be very loyal to their chosen brands, and that fashion buyers work with precise efficiency, keeping meticulous spreadsheets on what sells and what does not. The secret to untangling the contradiction between loyalty and novelty here may be introducing something new, creating enough enthusiasm for that — and then sticking to it. “They want it; they want it again,” Mr. Coates said. He then introduced us to a new word, “teiban,” which a Japanese dictionary defines as “standard, routine, regular, basic, staple.”
“It’s that reoccuring style, that piece that is your very own,” he said. “If it fits well, each season, you’ll buy another one.
“There’s that consistency that big brands really understand,” he said, using Prada as an example. “I think small brands really need to understand it too.”
Also this month, BusinessWorld attended Parallel Culture Tokyo, a one-day shopping affair by The Japan Fashion Week Organization (JFWO) at BGC’s The Curve. The event was meant to introduce three new brands about to penetrate Manila, namely Name., Vital Material, and Flower Mountain.
Name. is a bit avant-garde, featuring deconstructed clothing and prints of old advertisements. Vital Material, meanwhile, is a luxury body and home fragrance brand, present in about 40 markets from Asia to Europe. Flower Mountain is a sneaker brand that combines lightness and art with the hardcore science and sport of mountain climbing. JFWO Director Kaoru Imajo, when asked to describe how the brands reflect the buying culture of Japan, said, “Japanese culture is really mixed. What is good about it is how each store… edits it.”
According to him, the Japanese also have an affection for brands that manufacture locally. “Ninety percent of Japanese brands manufacture their clothes in Japan,” he pointed out. By that he meant that the Japanese like brands that are based somewhere, and source their products from that specific place as well (no outsourcing).
BusinessWorld asked Mr. Imajo as well about strategies for Filipino designer labels to enter Japan. “It’s the same thing in all over the world. They (Japanese consumers) buy what’s really luxurious, or T-shirts. Price-wise, you have to think about which way you want to go: luxury or streetstyle.”
It was in that moment that the points of both Mr. Coates and Mr. Imajo reached a convergence. Days before BusinessWorld talked to Mr. Imajo, Mr. Coates said the same thing — which must make it true. “Pricing is really important,” said Mr. Coates. “The pricing will help position your brand.”
His insistence of pricing goes as well with the message of consistency. He cited as an example, a hypothetical designer who might start raking in the cash, the recognition: in short, success. “You start getting a big head. You start thinking that it’s all because of you, and how great you are.” The designer then makes decisions like raising prices and changing looks, alienating a loyal consumer base who have started building brand loyalty. “The whole floor falls out, because you don’t have those foundations anymore.”
Mr. Imajo meanwhile, shared the same sentiments about consistency: “If you go to this [designer], you will know what they make. The buyers have to select what their loyal customers are looking for, each season.”
Going back to Mr. Coates, he says, “It’s really, really important that you make sure that these foundations are very, very strong,” he said about pricing and consistency. “That would be my best advice for anyone, no matter where they come from.”
“These are the things they screw up the most.”
Mr. Coates went over a few cultural points, such as Japanese people not liking prints on the crotch area, or preferring smaller prints to large ones, or preferring a certain lightness. “We can talk for hours about how certain patterns work, or what certain colors look better,” he said. “There are all sorts of things, but that’s kind of next step. It’s so important that you get that kind of consistency, that understanding of where you want to be placed in the market.
A consumer might think that designers revolve around desire: and to a certain point, that’s true. Fashion, after all, is a reflection of our desires, and how we want to be seen, as opposed to who we really are. In the whirl of fantasy in fabric, we forget the details that make these dreams real: a designer’s ability to constantly deliver (consistency), and the consumer’s ability to buy (being in a certain pricing bracket). Said Mr. Coates,
“It sounds boring, but ultimately, it is a business.” — Joseph L. Garcia