British Fashion and Lifestyle Brands are Finding Success in Japan
DIT Japan once again organised a successful fashion trade mission in November 2016.
Twenty eight companies attended the mission and the showcase was held in the Ambassador’s residence at the British Embassy Tokyo.
Green Thomas – Quality Knitwear from Scotland
Emma Green and Alan Thomas Dibble are the design duo behind Glasgow based knitwear brand Green Thomas.
Attending the showcase for the first time, the brand is proud to design and manufacture their products in Scotland, and is committed to working close to home with local suppliers and makers.
The 100% merino lambswool products include traditional yet modern scarves, hats, and gloves.
Founded in 2015, Green Thomas does not currently export wholesale overseas, but that is the goal for their second and third year of trading.
It might seem strange in principle, but Japan is an ideal market for Scottish knitwear brands.
“Japan does understand the quality and the provenance, especially with knitwear made in Scotland, and so we imagined a good fit for our brand in the Japanese market,” says Director Alan Dibble. “In addition, our competitor brands and brands we are aligned with aspirationally tend to sell well in Japan.”
“Japan is a great introduction to the rest of the Asian markets,” adds Dibble.
Alan Dibble had high praises for the organisation and delivery of the mission, including the briefing and DIT and UKFT support.
Scottish companies are doing well around the world, supported by DIT and SDI.
Lulu Guinness – Quirky Accessories for the Modern Woman
Established in 1989, the quintessential British fashion and lifestyle brand boasts a playful and quirky lineup, which includes everything from handbags, clutches and purses to umbrellas, key rings, stationery and USB sticks.
International Business Development Manager Helena Pielak attended the showcase to meet with prospective buyers and stockists.
Lulu Guinness has stores in London – in Covent Garden and the City – and in the last 18 months has opened up stores across Asia, including in Taiwan, China (Shanghai and Beijing) and Thailand.
The brand, which has had a presence in the market for 15 years, has already seen success in Japan in the form of a long partnership around licensed products. Future plans involve re-launching the bags and import products in the market.
“We expect our products to do well in Japan,” says Pielak. “Our price points are good, the quality is very good, the make is excellent, and it’s a very fun and accessible brand.”
Alexander White – Women’s Luxury Footwear
Creative Director Alexander White started his brand in 2014 after a fortuitous encounter with Sandra Choi of Jimmy Choo Ltd.
While working at British footwear and accessories retailer Kurt Geiger, White identified a niche in the women’s luxury footwear market where a gap had opened up between the high street and designer brands.
“After the recession all of the luxury shoe brands elevated their prices to make the products more aspirational and exclusive, resulting in that gap,” explains White.
The product manufacturing and material sourcing is done in Italy, to the same standard as Jimmy Choo shoes but on a more affordable price point.
The brand is performing very well globally and is currently stocked in Lane Crawford stores in Hong Kong and Barney’s across the United States.
White has received orders from Japan, as well as a lot of interest in his collections, but participated for the first time in the DIT mission in order to gain a better understanding of the culture, buyer behaviour, and insight into the market.
He recommends any businesspeople aspiring to sell in Japan to visit in person so they can observe consumer trends and see what’s popular. “Being here really does help,” says White, “because it’s so different to what you actually think and to how you imagined it to be.”
Babette Wasserman – Men’s Accessories from Notting Hill
Babette Wasserman specialises in creating men’s accessories such as men’s bracelets, key rings, lapel pins, tie bars, and cufflinks, which make thoughtful and unique gifts.
She is no stranger to big names, as her designs can be found in 30 countries around the world in some of the most luxurious department stores and boutiques across the globe, including Le Bon Marche, Lane Crawford, Bloomingdales, Isetan and Barneys, and adorning the wrists of some of the most high profile men in the world, including David Beckham, Antonio Banderas and Paul Weller.
Wasserman set up her company 19 years ago and is based in Notting Hill, London.
While this is the first time that Wasserman has attended a DIT and UKFT trade mission and showcase in Japan the brand has been selling in Japan for about 10 years.
She received her first Japanese orders through buyers she met at international trade and trunk shows.
“I’m here to expand my brand’s reach in the market,” says Wasserman. “I’d like to meet with new buyers and new contacts, and it is also an excellent opportunity to see the stores I already sell to in person.”
“The Japanese market loves British products! There are so many British products in the stores here, it’s quite amazing!” exclaims Wasserman.
“There’s a particular kind of British style that’s quite unique, quality of manufacturing, attention to detail, slightly quirky British humour that comes into our design makes us stand out from other products and nations, and it seems to be always extremely well received in Japan. It seems that the Japanese buyers I’ve had contact with over the years have really appreciated my product and my designs, and love the attention to detail I give to every product that might otherwise be lost on a European buyer, for example.”
Wasserman has also been inspired by Japanese culture as seen in her Origami collection, which featured origami-style dinosaurs.
The well-catalogued love of British products in Japan is encouragement for any UK company to explore the opportunities for doing business in Japan.
Okun – Brightening up Swimwear with African Prints
London-based men’s designer swimwear brand Okun showcased vibrant and contemporary designs inspired by African prints and colours.
Winner of the UK Fashion & Textile Rise Award in 2014, the brand participated in the DIT Japan fashion and lifestyle showcase for the first time in 2016.
Bola Marquis, Founder and Creative Director, says that the brand has seen strong interest from Japanese buyers at other showcases around the globe, and this inspired him to attend the DIT and UKFT fashion mission in Japan.
Having started out as a beachwear brand, the creative minds behind the company are looking to grow and become a holiday and travel brand.
Okun has been focused on selling internationally since the beginning, with 80% of the products being destined for export and 20% being UK sales.
“Japanese buyers’ response to the product and prints has been great,” says Marquis. “There is a small but strong niche and empathy in Japan with African prints, as traditional Nigerian indigo dyeing is reminiscent of a technique used in Japan, creating a connection across the fabrics.”
“Japanese consumers are usually more fashion forward and are attracted to bright prints and the funky, jazziness of the brand,” comments Marquis. “They treat it with fun.”
Marquis commended the trade fair as a good way to explore new markets with appropriate support to meet curated players in the industry.
The brand is currently stocked at United Arrows in Japan during the summer season.
New & Lingwood – Timeless Classics with a Modern Twist
Carolyn Springett, CEO of 150-year-old brand New & Lingwood, attended the mission to Japan.
The company was the original Eton College uniform supplier, and still provides school uniforms to Eton schoolboys today.
New & Lingwood supplies all the socks, caps and colours exclusively for the college, and this informs the rest of the brand catalogue and that is why the designs feature colour, pattern and texture so exclusively throughout the collections.
Fifty percent of materials are sourced in England, the collections are designed in London and then manufactured either in England or in Europe.
Although New & Lingwood dress the quintessential English gentleman from top to toe, the dressing gowns are one of the most popular items produced by the brand.
Designed in London, the woven silk fabric is made in Suffolk and the gowns themselves are made in a small atelier in Nottingham. Each gown has a maximum run of 12 pieces, making them exclusive and highly sought after items. The garments are made from 100% silk, feature rich patterns, and are lined with velvet or quilted collars.
The brand often creates bespoke orders as well.
When quizzed on the sort of person who wears New & Lingwood, and particularly the gowns, Springett says, “It takes somebody who has the unshakeable confidence of the quintessential English gentleman, someone who understands quality, has an English sense of humour and likes a touch of surprise, someone who is very comfortable with himself and is comfortable to be wearing something which speaks to his personality and gives him character.”
“I’m confident that the style of New & Lingwood is absolutely right for Japan and right for the Japanese consumer,” says Springett.
There is already an awareness of the brand among Japanese buyers, and Springett’s focus now is to find the best way to get into the market.
Article and photo by Vanessa Holden, November 2016.