Japan Today

Here
and
Now

kuchikomi

Domestic jeans makers panting for survival

23 Comments

Denim trousers were sold in Japan before WW2. But it was the rough-hewn Levi's look in Hollywood films exemplified by stars like James Dean that boosted their popularity from the 1950s. An extensive domestic industry sprang up in Okayama Prefecture, with brand names like Edwin, Big John and Bobson, to market casual denim apparel, tailored to the proportions and budgets of the locals.

The female market was supplied by the Betty Smith brand, which despite its WASPish name is as Japanese as "tako-yaki."

These so-called "Showa-kei" -- old established domestic manufacturers -- are reeling from the onslaught of ultra low-priced imports, Weekly Playboy (Oct 19) reports.

"Bobson and Big John jeans in particular aren't selling," sighs a sales clerk at a casual wear outlet chain. "Their main items are in the 4,000 to 5,000 yen range. Customers ignore them completely."

In September, Okayama City-based Bobson (founded in 1950) was acquired by a Tokyo-based investment company, Milestone Turnaround Management Co, Ltd for undisclosed terms.

Levi Strauss Japan has also been hard hit, reporting a 79% year-on decline in after-tax earnings in its December 2008 to May 2009 fiscal period.

According to Shinsaku Sugiyama, author of a recent book on the history of blue jeans in Japan, so-called "three-digit" casual items are responsible for the tight squeeze on Japan's mid-tier manufacturers.

First Retailing set the wheels in motion last March, when it launched sales of jeans for 990 yen a pair under its low-priced g.u. brand. Seven & I Holdings' "The Price" trousers lowered the bar by 10 yen two months later. And then in August and September, the Aeon and Daiei supermarket chains undercut these, with jeans selling for 880 yen a pair.

Within a week after its ultra-cheap items made their debut, Aeon had already sold some 200,000 pairs -- equivalent to 40% of its total sales for all of 2008.

How are merchandisers able offer such remarkably good value so cheaply, and still turn a profit?

"Due to the worldwide recession, manufacturers in China found themselves stuck with a huge glut of denim fabric," a garment industry executive tells Weekly Playboy. "By buying up the dead stock in bulk, the cost of materials could be significantly reduced. So these jeans can be said to be a product of the recession."

For the 100-plus companies in the Kojima district of Kurashiki City that support Japan's domestic jeans industry, the onslaught of ultra-low priced imports poses yet another blow. Many have reduced their work week to four days. Workers from China, some 800, have replaced the indigenous staff. From around a decade ago most of the companies had begun shifting the bulk of their production to China.

While further downsizing appears inevitable, companies in Kojima like Miyoshi Sengyo, a specialist in dyeing technology, may ride out the storm. But for most, the picture is anything but optimistic.

"Last year alone, owners of two companies fleeing from creditors hanged themselves," says Katsumi Miyoshi, president of the aforementioned. "If this situation keeps up, Kojima will sink for good."

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

23 Comments
Login to comment

Get sizes suitable for gaijins and you will be assured of some increase in your sales. Most of us have to import our denim.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

gaijin are what, 5% of the population? that's not accounting for the fact that a large majority are made up of laborers from asian countries (who are roughly the same size as japanese). nobody's gonna care about that small a segment of the market.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love the Japanese pants - I am too tiny for UK sizes, but too tall for the petite or childrens sizes that would fit my waist, so I am in heaven here.

The tops are a different matter though...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

5%? I think you're a little off.

I thought Japan was 99.9% Japanese. 0.05% Chinese a little bit of Korean/SE-Asian. A bit less South American. And even less European (Caucasian)

Eitherway, apart from the length, the jeans here fit pretty well, but I'm only a moderate 32" waist.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I dig the Bobson and Big John jeans!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love the Japanese pants - I am too tiny for UK sizes, but too tall for the petite or childrens sizes that would fit my waist, so I am in heaven here.The tops are a different matter though...

Lol you are a supermodel without airbrush

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Get sizes suitable for gaijins and you will be assured of some increase in your sales. Most of us have to import our denim.

this post is priceless. Most shops offer different sizes

0 ( +0 / -0 )

First Retailing set the wheels in motion last March, when it launched sales of jeans for 990 yen a pair under its low-priced g.u. brand. Seven & I Holdings’ “The Price” trousers lowered the bar by 10 yen two months later. And then in August and September, the Aeon and Daiei supermarket chains undercut these, with jeans selling for 880 yen a pair.

That's pretty cheap - but in this horrible recession, I'm going to keep waitng until jeans start appearing in the 100 yen shops. Then, and only then, I might replace my treasured, cool, 2000 yen UniQlo Jeans.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

At the end of the day, all you get is what you pay for. Enjoy going cheap.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Any low-tech textile made in Japan cannot compete with China.

In China, textile industry is extremely low cost, and low margin (less than 5%). Smart companies like Uniqlo are taking advantage of the supply glut.

Proud companies in Japan might as well get ready to close. There are no protectionist measures to help them.

Japan has to focus on high-tech textiles based on leading edge high-performance materials or nanotechnology.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Let me correct myself: there may be a special tariff or anti-dumping quota in effect, but that may only delay the inevitable. Inefficient or non-competitive industries need to move into some special niche markets and either focus on high-value added products or creative designs.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Japanese consumer is now ready to follow the European-American cheapo-slob trend in clothing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yeah, at some custom stores I see Japanese denim between 20,000 to 40,000 for one pair. Some of them look cool but I can't see myself paying those prices in this day age.

The size options are getting better. My problem is when they are designed for people without any curves. Sometimes they are a little snug in some places that are uncomfortable for men with nothing left for the imagination.

The things I do for the ladies!

The Japanese consumer is now ready to follow the European-American cheapo-slob trend in clothing.

Japanese consumers have been ready for at least ten years. They were already buying the stuff the retailers were just charging crazy prices for things they could have gotten cheaper someplace else. Now they are being more conscious buyers because there is no more Bubble. I knew people going to Goodwill in the US ship the close back and sell it for 4 times or 5 times the price.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Since the early 50s I have been using what was called GWG jeans & preferred ones called "Red Strap" as it was made for working-men & not so much for looks. Being a worker myself on m/cs to you name it I needed the extra leg space to squat down to do the job or you name it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Love USA. Most gaijin do not have a liking for ill fitting women's denim with crotches that make you wonder if the women here have a...'you know what'. Our bodies are very different. Most shops offer different sizes yeah!! but all the same length. Not every one is of a 5 feet 3 and below stature, hell there are Jap women taller than I am at 5'9, I often want to ask them where they shop. There are over 80 of us gaijins in my little neck of the city I live in....almost almost all of whom have difficulty with denim etc. We have to depend on our folks back in the States etc to send us jeans. While 80 foreigners is a small amount, I say better small profit than no profit. Can you imagine if at least one shop had our sizes??? And some of the prices are way too expensive....small profit better than none.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wish shops here offered petite sizes, but unfortunately Japanese women have long torsos as an average. As a petite woman, normal pants have waists too high for me and I don't like to look like Fred Astaire. Low-waist jeans sometimes to the trick, but then there's the waist/hip ratio. Japanese women have thin, square hips. I have a thin waist but round hips, and Japanese jeans are unflattering. Also being petite but as tall as an average Japanese, my legs are longer. I buy Uniqlo because they have low-waist jeans without being low-riders, and they offer different leg lengths fixed at the store itself without extra cost... Their midly stretch jeans are life savers to find a middle ground between my hip and waist, since it's a two sizes difference between the two her in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Typos @.@;

sometimes do the trick the two here in Japan.
0 ( +0 / -0 )

Boom-time for denim jeans happened in the mid-70's when Bobson, Big-John and Levi couldn't get enough denim material from the U.S. to meet demand. They resorted to China to supply them and unfortunately they didn't feel like denim, but more like courderoy material. I recently ambled through Harajuku couple of years ago and one of the boutiques displayed a pair of used American-made jeans for 1 million yen. I thought this was crazy during a recession. I thought, well maybe the recession in Japan must be over.It brought memories back to a similar time when used-jeans were being sold in shops in Roppongi for those same prices back in the 80's. I did wear some expensive golfing jeans I bought in the States not too long ago to play golf at a Japanese golf course and was very politely asked to change into traditional trousers before play. There is a proper time and place for denim-wear in Japan and not quite universally accepted yet or if ever.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I haven't bought jean for my child under 5000 Yen and for me 15,000 yen is the minimum I would pay for jeans. Cheap jeans fit and look bad. They stand out miles away.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Kojima will sink for good"- rubbish, thats the typical kind of defeatist attitude that the Japanese work mindset has led to. When things go bad, the Japanese start this "woe is me" whining. Get off your butt, stop relying on industries and companies (who hate you) to provide you with a living for life. Go do something else.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"You get what you pay for"? Really? IMO thats typical elitist BS talking. Understanding goods is how you find quality. Not by leaving a trail of spent monies behind you. Its that "quality equals price" mentality that buoys a lot of "name brands" that cost enormous sums while they simply farm work out to the Chinese anyway.

Understand what constitutes a quality product, and you will be far better suited to know for yourself what a good price is, and what price is simply paying for the makers kids orthodonture, and kids 4 dogs obedience school tuition.

You want to follow "timeless" advice? You can go with "you get what you pay for" But I find "a fool and his money are soon parted" to be so much more applicable. It would seem as much in Japan as Europe and the US...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Noted that foriegners expect the Japanese market to cater to them for sizing yet they constitute such a small percentage of the cash flow here so why would you really expect any thing to be marketed to foreigners at all? We just fall outside the demographics of their business on many items which is the same as Japanese people trying to buy clothes in other countries.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the best jeans for me - japanese brand " cecil mc bee", not expensive, but not totally cheap and have perfect shape

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites