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New fashion show seen as sign of fresh confidence in Japanese market

Fashion World Tokyo is taking on the International Fashion Fair in a bid for supremacy in the Japanese clothing market. Despite its relatively small start, its timing and import-friendly approach has been welcomed by many exhibitors.

Photo: Bags more choice: expo expansion offers greater buying opportunities.
Bags more choice: expo expansion offers greater buying opportunities.

It has been taken as a sign of optimism that a major new fashion trade show has been launched in Japan. Fashion World Tokyo (FWT), a three-day event held at Tokyo Big Sight, was organised by Reed Exhibitions, a leading international trade show company, and brought together a number of smaller expos – notably those focusing on bags, shoes and accessories. This created what is, effectively, a major challenger to the Senken Shimbun-organised International Fashion Fair (IFF), currently the leading fashion trade show in Japan.

According to Reed, the FWT will focus more on promoting business-to-business networking opportunities and less on media awareness. A number of participants have already indicated that they see the scheduling of the show (April and October) as more in line with the needs of the fashion industry than the IFF (January and July), while others have emphasised its importer-friendly nature. In fact, of the 260 exhibitors at the inaugural FWT, 50 were overseas companies.

Although some participants expressed disappointment at the size of the debut event, the organisers claim the October event will be at least 50% bigger. Even if the show's first iteration may not have been quite as extensive as many may have hoped, Reed undoubtedly has the ambition and experience to ensure the event will grow, especially if the fashion industry sees it as fulfilling a useful role. This is, obviously, the most important question and, based on this first showing, it certainly seems to have found a niche.

Photo: Tokuyama: “clear success”.
Tokuyama: "clear success".
Photo: Mahtani: “digital lifeline”.
Mahtani: "digital lifeline".

Akira Kono is the International Sales and Marketing Director of Reed Exhibitions in Japan. He sees the launch of the new show as a natural development and one stemming directly from Reed's existing activities in the sector.

Explaining the event's evolution, he said: "We have been doing shoe, bag and accessory expos for three years. These were doubling in size every year and we had received a number of enquiries from the industry asking why we weren't doing more. So, that's why we decided to launched a clothing show. We've combined our existing events and will be staging it twice a year from now on."

Acknowledging the need to differentiate the new show from the JFW-IFF, Kono was keen to emphasise the new event's b2b credentials, as well as the organiser's commitment to maintaining a year-round dialogue with buyers.

He said: "We try and visit all the buyers. This year we went to 7,000 shops around Japan, asking them all to attend and that's how we managed to attract quite so many buyers. Our main focus is getting exhibitors and buyers to do business, so we ask all our visitors to try and complete deals during the show. We ask them to have table and chair ready at their booth and we ask buyers to place orders there. We also try to create environment that is conducive for doing business. Sometimes a fashion show is just a show, a place where you parade your clothes and that's it. We didn't want that."

Overall, the show space was clearly deemed to be well-designed, with a large, attractive lounge area. The booths themselves were more open-plan, with less barriers obstructing the views of attendees. Kanako Oshima, representing Arkness, a Japanese multi-brand bag company, said the booths were more like real shops, making it easier to communicate.

Reed also attempted to establish a dedicated luxury brand zone, billed as "The European Street". On this first showing, though, most of its occupants were mid-level brands, rather than truly high-end, although the majority were still overseas companies.

Akemi Tsuchiya, a Senior Executive with for the Eishin Trading Co Ltd, a Japanese importer, was promoting the Italian jeans brand Care Label in the luxury brand zone. With the male-oriented jeans retailing at between US$300-$400, Tsuchiya said the weakened yen had made the items seem unduly expensive. Despite this, she reported a lot of interest in the product and said her company would return to the event in October, when the organisers have promised a particular focus on the male fashion sector.

Explaining why Eishin had opted to exhibit at the new show, she said: "We started working with this brand a year ago. We now need to find more customers, rather than just get orders. That's why we decided to come here.

"The timing of the IFF wasn't great for us. Their schedule is not ideal as, at that time, we have to collect orders and schedule our orders. Now we have finished that process, we can start looking at the next season."

Tsuchiya's sentiments were pretty much echoed by Manoj Mahtani, the Founder of Asia Industries Co Ltd, a small Tokyo-based fashion label specialising in importing hand-made garments from India.

He said: "We used to participate in the IFF, but we didn't attend for six or seven years. We did exhibit there a year and a half ago, but we really didn't get the response we were hoping for. The July IFF is supposed to highlight Spring/Summer ranges, but it is too early for buyers to consider next year's collections.

"As a result, every year there are fewer and fewer buyers. Similarly, if you do Fall or Winter in July, then it's too late because of production requirements. There is clearly a problem with the timing as it stands. The market is changing and the buyers are definitely looking for something new, so I think this new show will probably do well."

The desire to try something new was clearly strong among many exhibitors. Universal Trading – originally a Japanese manufacturer of camping stoves, but now an importer of a number of outdoor products - chose the new event for its fashion show debut and was particularly keen to promote its range of footwear and non-slip shoe grips.

As well as finding new customers, many attendees had come to the FWT in search of new business partners. For some, such as Yoshinori Tokuyama, a Director of Ad-Dex, a shoe manufacturer and importer, this had proved a clear success.

He said: "Everybody's been attending the IFF for a long time, so everybody knows everybody else. The exhibitors are always the same and the customers are also the same. Frequently, there is no reason for them to go to the IFF because they're already in touch with one another. This is new though. We came across a sportswear company we had never encountered before. Now we are making sample for them and doing business with them."

Amid something of an air of restlessness and a clear hunger for new business, there was also some cautious optimism apparent at the new show. This was reflected in a number of areas, including more colourful and exuberant footwear items, as well as brighter, pop design elements being included in a number of clothes ranges.

Among the other beacons of hope cited by several of the smaller companies was the rise of e-commerce. With many of the less-sizeable fashion businesses forced into mergers and acquisitions – a consequence of the need to cut costs – online sales are now seen as providing a lifeline for the rump of the sector. One business keen to embrace those digital possibilities was Asia Industries.

Mahtani said: "We find a substantial number of buyers who just trade via the internet, without the need for any retail premises. As manufacturers, we are very keen to see this sector expand. It offers a lifeline to us when many conventional shops are struggling with high rents and with the problems of recruiting and retaining staff."

Photo: Brighter footfall prospects promised for Autumn event.
Brighter footfall prospects promised for Autumn event.

Fashion World Tokyo took place from 2-4 April at Tokyo's Big Sight. The event attracted 12,579 delegates.

Marius Gombrich, Special Correspondent, Tokyo

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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