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Beyond the Bale : December 2015
54 MARKET INTELLIGENCE Autumn is a strange time of year in Japan. Summer tends to linger on into November as the leaves on the ginkgo trees that line the long boulevards of Tokyo struggle to turn brown and fall. This has an odd effect on the fashion system in this orderly country where seasons are often governed by calendar rather than climate. Autumn is a strange time of year in Japan. Summer tends to linger on into November as the leaves on the ginkgo trees that line the long boulevards of Tokyo struggle to turn brown and fall. This has an odd effect on the fashion system in this orderly country where seasons are often governed by calendar rather than climate. “When will the women wear those long woollen coats?" was the often asked question at the Isetan department store as Wool Week Japan opened in the first week of November, as daytime temperatures averaged around 21oC in the midday sun. Heavy coats were not just confined to women's wear. The stylish Chesterfield coat was a central feature in men's wear at Isetan and every other respectable store, a look that sits well alongside both impeccably tailored formal suits and semi casual country wear. No one in the wool trade has anything but praise with a touch of awe for the way the Japanese apparel market responded to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). In a near perfect example of a consumer driven demand shift, the famously knowledgeable Japanese began to buy better and buy less. This bit of timely manna from heaven gave weavers of woollen and worsted fabrics in Italy and the UK, and to some extent China, some welcome respite as the rest of the world began to fall apart. In fact imports of woollen and worsted cloth into Japan increased by 20 per cent in the past four years and imports of tailored apparel, mainly from China, grew at a similarly encouraging rate (source: IWTO World Trade Patterns in Wool). This classic example of market polarisation didn't delight the trade in its entirety. Far from it. Large clothing conglomerates have been obliged to close hundreds of stores in the lower to middle segment of the market. Well-known names such as Onward, World and Renown are actively seeking to engage in the upper middle sector of the market, traditionally the fief of the 'select brands' such as Beams, Ships, Tomorrowland and United Arrows. Select brands are a curiously Japanese concept which offer consumers a selection of merchandise pitched at a clearly defined segment of the market. Well cut business suits in fine Merino, tweed jackets and trousers, all sit alongside Merino knitwear, shirts and accessories, as well as watches and jewellery, shoes and men's furnishings (US speak for socks and jocks). The presentation is as impeccable as only the Japanese know how to pull together. A look at www.beams. co.jp or www.united-arrows.jp is worth a few minutes of anyone's time, for it is in this area where the bulk market will seek to reposition itself in the next few years. Australia's wool industry has a long history with Japan – some years more happy than others. In 1936, Australia banned all wool exports to Japan in protest at Tokyo's imperial antics in Manchuria. Just before the war the entire Australian clip was reserved for UK manufacturing in anticipation of hostilities. Just twelve years after Japan's defeat in 1945, the Menzies Government was the first allied country having fought Japan in the Pacific War to seek a bilateral trade agreement with the former enemy. The Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement of 1957 was a clever move at a time when certain Australian visionaries saw their national interests in danger of being sidelined by European nations seeking greater unity on the other side of the world. Commenting on the Japan- Australia agreement in an ABC broadcast in 2007 to commemorate fifty years of trade in the region, John Howard noted: “The Menzies Government and particularly John McEwan the Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister was visionary enough in 1957 to realise that Australia and Japan, despite their military conflict just twelve years earlier, had an enormous future in this part of the world.” A lot has changed in nearly sixty years as much of the post war clothing manufacturing industry that was meticulously reconstructed in the 1950s and 60s has moved across the Yellow Sea to China. Despite the advent of offshore manufacturing and globalisation, Japan steadfastly remains the third most important per capita consumer of wool in the world and the reason why several mills in Italy and UK have remained in business throughout some very turbulent decades for the wool trade. In the fourth of a regular feature article written by AWI’s Global Strategic Advisor Peter Ackroyd, we provide an insight into the robust and enduring demand for wool in Japan. Mr Ackroyd is President of the International Wool Textile Organisation and Chief Operating Officer of the Campaign for Wool. JAPAN: WOOL SHINES IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN Peter Ackroyd, President of the IWTO and Chief Operating Officer of the Campaign for Wool.
In the Shops - March 2016