The past couple months have been marked by subdued sales figures for most of Japan’s fashion industry, but there has always been a sense that things will snap back to normal in time. That is not to ignore the loss of a significant number of small brands and boutiques, particularly at the street level, that form an important part of the fashion ecosystem and don’t have the financial backing upscale brands enjoy.
Cune, which closed its Shimokitazawa flagship at the end of January, definitely falls into that category. Even though anyone in fashion is used to seeing great talent and compelling boutiques come and go, seeing over a decade of fashion history snuffed out in a tweet is a bitter pill to swallow. Cune will go on to focus its efforts on the more profitable Harajuku location. A pragmatic move, but a cultural loss to eclectic Shimokitazawa.
On the other hand, the news that World Inc. — the company behind a number of high-street and department-level brands, such as womenswear staples Untitled and Indivi, as well as many men’s go-to tailor, Takeo Kikuchi — is snipping seven brands, and a whopping 450 shops from its retail portfolio is going to be tangible change for many.
This is an escalation of the announcement made after the first state of emergency in 2020, where it looked like five brands and 358 retail locations were being eyed for closure, but the ongoing situation has exacerbated the severity and speed of the restructuring required. Out of the 450 shops, 104 will be facing swift closure, with the remainder following suit over the next year by March 2022. Names like Smart Pink, Pink Adobe, Jet and SunaUna may not have a huge amount of brand recognition, but they will leave a big gap in malls, department stores and shopping streets nationwide — you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
This is hardly the death knell for a company with a portfolio as strong as World, nor a cause to be particularly pessimistic about potential losses to come. After all, World also chose this moment to relaunch its license for British brand Laura Ashley into the Japanese market on Jan. 30, and managed to get people lined up for the Tobu Ikebukuro branch opening. Its lifestyle-meets-fashion expansion will span seven locations nationwide by the end of March.
Inclusivity in fashion may not be particularly politicized in Japan the same way it is in parts of the Western world, but it is nonetheless a timely cause. To generalize: Thus far, the body positivity movement has mostly centered on the celebration of larger bodies in the West, but in Japan, the current conversation in both media and retail centers around advancing representation of slighter and shorter bodies.
The face of this movement is Tanaka Akiko, who goes by the moniker Akiico, a beauty influencer who has gathered a huge following styling her 145-centimeter height with the latest fashion. Although she’s 41 years old, her audience leans young as well, showing that even though subcultural fashion has embraced shorter models, the mainstream lacks representation.
Now Tanaka has teamed up for a capsule collection (on sale now) with womenswear label Cohina, which exclusively creates for those under 155 centimeters in height. Apart from the obvious issue of garment length, in fashion terms it is the positioning of the waist that makes the need for a brand like Cohina necessary. You can’t just tailor a coat so that it is not dragging on the ground if the belted waist sits by the knees. The collection is also designed to accommodate various waist sizes, and while there are still some neglected body shapes, any step that makes more people participate in fashion ought to be celebrated.
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