Japan costumes bring out Aussie ‘wild side’

by Daniella Doughan

JIJI

Onesies, “kigurumi,” animal suits — whatever you call them — there’s no doubt these cute creature costumes are making their way into the hearts and wardrobes of young Aussies.

In the past year, Google trends show an increase in the number of Australians searching for “animal onesies,” or kigurumi. A sharp rise in October this year, as well as in October last year, suggests that Halloween offers people more reason to look for these costumes.

Suppliers in Australia have all reported growing numbers of sales and thriving business conditions even with the Australian summer approaching.

Zukuzoo is an Australian company that sells adults and kids animal onesies online. Director Geoffrey Zabell was living in Hokkaido when he saw a boy wearing an animal onesie, something that sparked his inspiration to start selling them in Australia.

“He (the boy) was rolling around, and we were quite envious of him in his suit. We were looking for adult ones and we found them, but they didn’t fit us properly.”

Zabell then found some manufacturers and got in contact with them and went from there, he says. “Once we found them, the reactions of friends and colleagues and other people who didn’t know us were contagious.”

He says that in Japanese, “zuku” means to “gain strength, transform, show life,” something that happened when he tried his onesie on for the first time.

“The first thing we noticed is that everyone has this potential ‘wild side’ — you don’t really want to care what anyone else thinks, and these are an absolute testimonial of that idea or philosophy.”

In terms of getting this Japan-inspired idea off the ground in Australia, the most popular and most efficient way of selling is online.

Kigu.me has an almost identical story to Zukuzoo. Founder Daniel Labib was in Hokkaido during a ski season, a stint that is almost a rite of passage for many young Australian snow lovers. After seeing kigurumi in a store in Japan in 2008, he bought “four of each,” brought them home, and upon seeing the reactions of friends, decided to start selling them here. According to Labib, kigu.me is the largest onesie supplier in Australia — not something to be scoffed at during a time of heightened popularity and intense competition.

The explosion in demand for onesies is evident in kigu.me’s sales. “From month to month, we’re having growth. We haven’t been able to keep up with demand. For example, just for this Halloween period, we sold 415 two weeks ago. We sold 409 last week.”

However, Labib is aware that the cult status of onesies at the moment will eventually pass. “I guess it does have a fad status at the moment. . . . We do understand that it will probably peak and then plateau. As long as we can cater to that costume market, I think the market will always exist.”

It appears that fans are not going anywhere soon, and with Christmas coming up, the festive season calls for parties, gifts and fun — good news for onesie fans.

Claire Delohery, 26, bought her monkey onesie at a music festival in New South Wales. “I wear it around the house, to Christmas and Halloween parties, and on long car trips because it’s so comfortable. I want to collect them; I want an elephant and kangaroo next.”

Laurence Bye and Patrick Westhoff, both 25, are Sydneysiders who bought their animal onesies from Tokyu Hands on a trip to Japan in 2010.

“We just explored the shop and thought they looked really cool and would be really fun for parties and general wear,” says Bye.

“We were before trend, we’ve had ours now for over two years actually,” he says. Both boys cite the comfort and practicality as key benefits of these suits and do not rule out buying more in the future.

Katrien Jacobs is an associate professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong. She says Australia is not alone in being influenced by Japanese pop culture.

“I think it really is happening in many Western cultures. . . . The Japanese pop culture and also the related subcultures have been coming in and have been really welcomed by youth.”

“So they are replacing other types of imported pop culture — it used to be more dominated by American pop culture,” she says, and “many people are now saying that American pop culture is being replaced by Japanese pop culture to some extent.”

Animalonesies.com.au is another website selling these costumes to Australians. Its founder, Mike, first decided to import 300 by sea freight and saw what happened.

“I knew kigurumi had become big in the U.K. and U.S., with kigu parties hitting London in particular. . . . Australia sometimes feels like it’s a couple of years behind the U.S. and U.K., and when I started to notice more people coming back from Japan with kigurumi, I realized it was hitting Australia.”

However, like Daniel Labib, Mike is very conscious of the fact that kigurumi will not always be in vogue. “I fully realize this is a trend product — I don’t expect to sell it forever. My expectation is the market will drop through the summer months, hit full peak next winter, then have a tail of the late adopters for another year or so.”

Whether onesies are a fad in Australia and how long they last will ultimately become apparent, but for the time being, it seems as though, as fans hope, that they are here to stay.