Hats, scarves and coats: finding a market in Japan

Feb 15

Overseas brands continue to find a ready market in Japan even with a weak Yen, both through distribution deals and direct subsidiaries. The latest include Épice, Bark, Helen Kaminski, Orla Kiely and Pandora.

More overseas fashion brands are finding a ready market in Japan, and recently there has been a notable increase in interest in apparel accessories like hats and scarves.

Parisian stole brand Épice set up shop in Japan late last year. It opened a store in Aoyama mid December through its own subsidiary Épice Japan. Épice was established in 1999 by two Danish designers, and combines Scandinavian design concepts with inspiration from India in colours and patterns. It now sells to over 600 department stores and select shops around the world. Prices in Japan range from ¥15,000 to ¥40,000. The Aoyama store is just the third direct store worldwide after two stores opened in Paris, emphasising the importance of the Japanese market to the brand.

Also in outerwear, Italian jacket and coat brand Bark has signed a distribution deal with Sanki Shoji. Bark is famous for its knitwear duffle coats. Sanki will start distribution from this Autumn, opening department store concessions and direct stores in upscale SCs. Bark was created in 2011 by Italian manufacturer Ozone, after which its men‘s knitwear duffle became an immediate hit and was quickly picked up by select shops like United Arrows and Beams.

Although menswear sells well in Japan, Bark now wants to promote its women‘s collection and Sanki will aim to do this through directly operated stores, as well as negotiate with department stores for larger concessions and prominent corners in women‘s fashion floors. Japan currently accounts for around ¥800 million of the brand‘s ¥3 billion turnover, but Sanki hopes to double this within two years. Prices in Japan are around ¥60,000-110,000.

In hats, Yagi Tsusho signed a distribution deal with Australian hat brand Helen Kaminski in August last year although it already operates a shop in Roppongi Hills. A second stand alone store is expected in Tokyo this Autumn. Helen Kaminski is known for its handcrafted hats made from raffia but also now sells accessories, including handbags and some apparel. Started in 1993, the company was bought by US hat business Bollman in 2007. The agreement with Yagi Tsusho is a joint venture, 51% owned by Yagi, selling both the main women‘s line and the men‘s Kaminski XY label. Helen Kaminski had been selling to Japan for 18 years through distributors like Moonbat and Yagi Tsusho‘s own subsidiary, Interbridge, and Japan is its top export market. It now wants to expand through retail stores as well as wholesale in order to strengthen branding in Japan.

Another brand that started life in hats, but is now a diversified brand selling everything from apparel to home wares, is Orla Kiely. It has become famous for its series of innovative print designs, the kind of unique fun design that goes down well in Japan. The London-based designer has just signed a new Japanese distribution deal with home goods distributor Fujii. It used to sell through Itochu Shoji for some of its product, but this agreement ended in 2012.

Fujii is one of the distributors in household goods benefiting from the growth in home fashion (see Focus Page 13). It is keen to market Orla Kiely‘s range of home textiles and accessories but will also distribute apparel and bags too. It plans mixed merchandise stores selling home and fashion within premium SCs.

Last but not least, Pandora, the highly successful Danish fashion jewellery retailer, has begun a joint venture business with Bluebell Japan, 60% owned by Pandora and 40% by Bluebell. Pandora originally entered the market in 2010 through a franchise deal with traditional jewellery retailer, Verite. There are currently 10 department store concessions in Japan, but with a more effective local partner and its own investment, Pandora should now be able to quickly roll out more concessions as well as stand alone stores in the right locations.

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