Clothiers alter job-hunt look via Super Cool Biz

by Mai Iida

Kyodo

The government-led Super Cool Biz campaign to relax the office dress code to save electricity is prodding companies to seek new opportunities — and even bringing changes to a job-hunting scene that normally features stuffy dark suits.

Business suit retailer Haruyama Trading Co. may be one of the most aggressive companies to ride the wave. It promotes ditching suits in favor of casual office wear, even though they are its mainstay merchandise. It began inviting students to wear “comfortable casual office attire” to its recruitment events.

At one seminar in June, about one-third of the students did not wear the so-called recruit suits, dark-colored business suits for job-hunting university students. One woman wore a flowered dress with a jacket and a man wore khaki cargo pants and a casual white shirt.

“After the March 11 disaster, things have changed. Individuals need to do what they can,” a Haruyama official said at the meeting, noting that lighter and more casual clothes would make it easier to limit the use of air conditioners amid an anticipated power shortage this summer.

“At first, I felt strange,” said Miku Hirayama, a 21-year-old university student in Tokyo who attended the seminar, recalling how she felt when she learned about the company’s relaxed dress code for the event.

“But I think making office dress more casual is good because it’s hard to get to know someone in a suit until you talk to them,” she said. “But if you wear clothes of your choice, that exhibits some of your personality and it’s easier for people to get to know you.”

The massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. It also made it difficult to restart reactors at other power plants after their regular checkups due to heightened concerns over nuclear safety.

As a result, the nation now faces electricity shortages this summer, prompting the government to kick off Super Cool Biz on June 1.

The campaign is a stepped-up version of the annual summer dress-down initiative first proposed in 2005 to fight global warming.

In the latest campaign, employees at the Environment Ministry can wear polo shirts, jeans, plain T-shirts and Hawaiian shirts. The idea is that they can stay relatively cool in the office with the temperature set at 28 degrees to save electricity.

Haruyama, the fourth-largest suburban men’s suits chain operator in Japan, plans to keep the relaxed dress code for its recruiting events even after the summer, said Kenichiro Yokoyama, general manager of the company.

“We think this is a business opportunity,” he said. He argued that Super Cool Biz creates new demand for polo shirts and short-sleeved shirts specifically designed for business, while the conventional suit market, although more profitable, has been shrinking anyway.

Expecting the trend of more casual attire to continue down the road, the Okayama Prefecture-based firm also found that meeting casually dressed job-hunters made it easier to grasp their personalities, he said.

At Haruyama outlets, sales of short-sleeved shirts nearly tripled in June from a year earlier.

Its competitors are also trying to benefit from the new office fashion trend.

Aoki Inc. said it expects sales of Super Cool Biz-related items to increase 25 percent to ¥10 billion this fiscal year, while Aoyama Trading Co. eyes a 10 percent rise in such sales to ¥20 billion.

Sales of items to help endure the summer heat are also picking up at department stores.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. said sales of polo shirts at its Mitsukoshi flagship store in Tokyo’s Nihombashi district rose 20 percent in the first half of June, and sales of “suteteko” lightweight long drawers and Japanese-style folding fans doubled.

Fast Retailing Co., operator of casual clothing chain Uniqlo, is pitching what it calls “functional” inner clothes that wicks away sweat, along with polo shirts that function as a deodorant, as its key items this summer.

“I feel a lot cooler this year when commuting,” said Kazumi Hatakeyama, a 40-year-old salesman in Tokyo who recently began leaving his jacket at home and wearing short-sleeved shirts to work after his company relaxed its dress code in May.

“But when I meet clients or a superior, I feel like I have to wear a tie. So if people in their 50s and 60s take the lead in wearing casual clothes, I think the trend will spread more quickly in society,” he said.

Taketo Yamate, a retail analyst at Credit Suisse Securities (Japan) Ltd., said the campaign is likely to have a positive impact on the economy as it can stimulate consumption of related items, but such a boost may not be that great as the demand for suits and leather shoes — items more expensive than casual clothes — may recede.

“It offers an opportunity to stimulate consumption, but whether such a trend penetrates into the society and actually helps loosen people’s purse strings would all depend on the condition of their pockets,” he said.

He added, however, that this year’s summer bonuses are likely to be good as they reflect the economic improvement before the March disaster.

The prospective bonuses may encourage men to buy some new clothes, he said.