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RED, BLOND AND 'CREAMY NUTS'

Japan train stations no longer a sea of black hair

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Although not as flashy as the red and golden heads of the Japanese squad in the World Cup, ordinary citizens are sporting brighter hair colors these days, boosting domestic sales of hair dyes.

Riding the wave, dye manufacturers seek to cultivate the relatively untapped market of Japanese men and of billions of potential customers throughout Asia.

“About four out of five women who visit our salon have their hair dyed,” said Shusaku Hoshii, who runs Tokyo-area hair salons. “Ten years ago, we had only two out of 10 at most.”

Hoshii, who is also chairman of the Japan Hair Color Association, a group of some 1,200 hair salons, said the recent popularity of hair-dying has brought brisk business to member salons.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, domestic shipments of hair dye doubled in 10 years, amounting to 111 billion yen by 2001.

As more people dye their hair, manufacturers are facing increasingly picky consumers who demand a more nuanced color variety to fit their individual tastes.

“We have more consumers calling us to say they did not get the hue they expected,” said Yoshitsugu Kaketa, vice president and manager of the consumer products division of Nihon L’Oreal K.K., the Japanese unit of the France-based major cosmetics manufacture L’Oreal. “I think the trend shows heightened interests in subtle color differences.”

Responding to such demands, the firm released L’Oreal Paris Feria 3D Color series in fall 2000, which boasts a varied lineup of 14 colors. Targeting women in their late 20s and 30s, the product has been recording solid sales, Kaketa said.

“Hair-dying used to be driven by negative motivations like hiding gray hair,” he said. “But today, people have come to view hair coloring as a form of self-expression.”

In what is claimed as an industry first, the company will market a dye under the Feria 3D Color series and market it only during the summer. The rollout of Creamy Nuts comes later this month, under a marketing campaign touting the delicate purple, or mauve, tint as a “Cool ice color!”

The popularity of hair-dyeing has made a growing number of bosses grudgingly accept the trend embraced by their younger employees, further accelerating the practice.

For example, Japan Airlines Co. relaxed in April its rigid black-hair-only policy for flight attendants, allowing them to dye their hair, albeit slightly — the color can be no lighter than a level six in JHCA’s color scale of five to 15. Five represents untouched typical Japanese hair while 15 is an electric blond.

“While it is still desirable that people having direct contact with clients do not have dyed hair, we decided to go along with the current social trend after studying the situations at other businesses,” said Hirohide Ishikawa, a spokesman of the nation’s largest airline.

Some dye makers are meanwhile exploiting the male black-hair market, with products designed for customers who find hair-coloring cumbersome.

Hoyu Co., a Nagoya-based company holding a roughly 40 percent share of the consumer hair-color market, released Men’s Bigen One Push in February.

The product, which targets middle-aged and older male consumers, is touted as trouble-free. Users do not have to mix tubed formulas before coloring their hair.

“Men are not used to spending time on their hair,” company spokesman Rikio Mizuki said. “But there is potential interest in men dying their hair, so we have to offer products that are easy to use.”

Hoyu saw its hair-dye sales more than double in 10 years, amounting to 38.3 billion yen in business 2001. But it foresees the female hair-dye market reaching a limit. Polls suggest 70 percent to 80 percent of the female population will color their hair.

“We are now trying to develop the men’s market, which still has room to expand,” Mizuki said.

The black-hair market is not limited to Japan. Domestic competitors are devising marketing and product development strategies with an eye on the rest of Asia.

Shiseido Beauty Co., whose main customers are professional users at beauty salons, is among them.

“I wouldn’t say that the one who rules Japan rules Asia,” general manager Yoshiaki Nishikawa said. “But given Japan’s status as the region’s fashion trendsetter, how you perform in the Japanese market will definitely influence your share in the overall Asian market.”