New garter-free stockings get a leg up on the market

by Mayumi Saito

Japanese women have long been attached to nylon pantyhose, wearing them even during the hot and humid summer months. Despite the fashion for bare legs and sandals, many working women continue to wear pantyhose to the office in the sweltering heat.

Recently, however, a great number of them have actually switched to hose.

Yes, stockings are back, but not the ones your mother used to wear. Leading the trend is an Italian import, called Stay Fit in Japan, that stretches thigh-high and is kept in place with silicone bands that stick to the skin — no need for garter belts. Since April, 300,000 of the Stay Fit stockings have been sold at 1,200 yen a pair. Sales are expected to increase even further as the mercury drops.

The hose were discovered in Italy in 1998 by Masayo Koeda, CEO of T.R.A.I.N. International, the PR company behind Stay Fit. As soon as she tried the non-slide stockings, she was hooked. “They struck me as a revolutionary item,” she said.

To appeal to Japanese consumers, Koeda and her team fine-tuned the product by adjusting the length of the lace bands and designing a “naked-toe” style (without reinforcement) for wearing with sandals.

Initial test sales in December were unsuccessful, but T.R.A.I.N. developed more stylish packaging and displayed the stockings in stores in a special rack, separated from regular pantyhose. In response to a request that came up in market research, they also launched an unprecedented system of single-leg spares. Thanks to the company’s marketing savvy, the stockings gained attention via TV, magazine and newspaper coverage.

The top seller at Sony Plaza in May, Stay Fit stockings are now sold at 360 shops and major department stores across the country, and are listed as one of the hit items this year.

“We started distributing them at Sony Plaza, which targets young, working women. But now our clientele includes people from 16 to 60 years old — everyone who wears nylons,” Koeda explains.

She points out that older women are more accustomed to stockings than they are to pantyhose, which were introduced into Japan 35 years ago.

Before Stay Fit, manufacturers had focused on improved function and lower prices rather than style when developing new nylons. Sexy, stylish hose had been too pricey for daily wear, according to Koeda.

“We have brought out a high-quality, feminine stocking with a low price,” she says, explaining that they set a price ceiling for their product from the start, despite the costly, handmade lace parts.

T.R.A.I.N. International is gearing up for the autumn-winter season, offering a range of colored, animal-print and fishnet Stay Fit tights with emollient aloe extracts for 1,400 yen (spares for 700 yen).

“Our introduction of Stay Fit has coincided with a global trend focusing more on leg wear,” Koeda says.

Likewise, industry journalist Naoko Takeda also predicts the return of “fancy stockings” this fall, such as colored, patterned and decorated hose. Fashion is going frivolous, she says, leaving behind the minimalism of the last few years.

With their sales hit hard by the popularity of Stay Fit, Wacoal has fought back with their ST stockings in two varieties, one held up with rubber elastics and the other with classic garter belts. This season they are selling winter-weight stockings in 18 colors for 800-1,200 yen.

Prompted by Stay Fit’s success, Kanto Nylon is also launching silicone stockings this fall. Although they have long promoted nylons with roll-resistant elastics, they are now importing silicone from Taiwan for their new Garter Stockings (800 yen).

“This is our first try,” says spokesman Hidetoshi Shimizu. “We’re eager to hear consumers’ response.”