At a boutique in the trendy Harajuku district of Tokyo, a young woman picked out a black pleated miniskirt and went into a fitting room to try it on. Soon after, a saleswoman brought her a pair of long white boots.
“The trend for this fall and winter is miniskirts, and long boots go well with them because they accentuate people’s figures,” said Mariko Tamura of World Co., the nation’s leading apparel company.
World sells its OZOC brand through the boutique. The brand is aimed at women in their 20s.
“We recommend the boots when someone shows interest in our miniskirts,” Tamura said.
Tamura is in charge of OZOC shoes and accessories.
Until recently, people only bought their shoes at shoe shops or in the shoe sections of department stores. But in the last few years, clothing boutiques have surfaced as a promising sales arena for shoes.
More and more apparel companies — established makers and newcomers alike — have started selling clothes made under their own brand names. These companies believe shoes, bags, jewelry and other accessories complete their brand image and make their shops look good.
L.P.D. Co., the shoe company that supplies the white boots to the OZOC boutique, was among the first to capitalize on this trend in the apparel market.
“We have had a clear stance of making shoes for the apparel industry,” L.P.D. President Ryuichiro Okubo said.
The company, established in 1996, is staffed with 12 shoe experts. It does business with 42 apparel brands, which account for two-thirds of its clients.
L.P.D. helps apparel makers and other clients design shoes for their brands before manufacturing them at its partner factories in 14 foreign countries, including in China, Taiwan and Italy.
It also conducts market research and offers advice on inventory management.
“The collaboration between apparel- and shoemakers is growing, but the strength of L.P.D. lies in its totality,” F-Works President Tsuneo Kashiwa said. F-Works publishes a specialty magazine about footwear and bags.
Kashiwa said very few companies can handle both design and production management at high levels.
At the L.P.D. office in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, one room is dedicated to a collection of more than 1,000 shoe samples, which are updated three times a year. Okubo calls it “the source of shoe ideas.”
The collection is used to perfect designs and find the best materials for clients.
L.P.D. helped decide the details of those long white boots at the OZOC boutique. The lambskin boots, with metallic-colored removable ribbons around the ankle and turn-back cuffs of the same color, were designed to match OZOC’s trend-setting image.
Born into a shoe wholesaler family, Okubo, 49, worked as a salesman for an apparel company before running a small shoe wholesaler that also handled design. This kind of wholesale business began to boom in the early 1980s.
By the time he closed the company and started L.P.D. in 1996, Okubo was well aware of a drastic structural reform under way in the Japanese apparel market.
In the early 1990s, major clothing makers started taking on retailing activities and established various private labels to better cater to customers.
OZOC of World, established in 1993, was one of the first brands in Japan to succeed by adopting the new approach.
Okubo realized apparel-makers were expanding their floor space to sell their own brands. This increased the presence of shoes and other accessories and apparel companies began actively outsourcing production of accessories, which were not their specialty.
According to the Japan Apparel Industry Council, the average floor space of a clothing boutique has grown from between 100 sq. meters and 150 sq. meters in 1998 to between 350 sq. meters and 600 sq. meters today.
“In the past (when there was less space), you could fill your shop with dresses alone, and accessories were only for display,” Susumu Ichikawa of the Japan Apparel Industry Council said. “But now (with the larger floor space), accessories are also an important part. We have to think about sales of the total package.”
Okubo said shoes and accessories could potentially account for 30 percent of total sales in the 10 trillion yen apparel industry. Shoes could account for 40 percent of that segment due to their high unit price, he said.
Although there is no data available on how much of the apparel industry’s retail sales comes from accessories, the sales record of OZOC backs up Okubo’s assertion.
According to World’s Tamura, 25 percent of brand sales comes from nonclothing lines, of which shoes account for 40 percent.
Kashiwa of F-Works said shoe and apparel companies could gain from the collaboration.
“The shoe industry is aging and tends to stick to the old ways, so it would be more fun working for the apparel world,” he said. “On the other hand, shoes and other accessories enable apparel companies to present total fashion styles. This can help the apparel industry, which is also beset by the recession, to increase customers.”
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