It was the year that rocked luxury brand names as Versace made the unbelievable announcement that Versace SpA stores would close nationwide and more affordable brands such as H&M, Zara, Forever21 and Uniqlo began appear in areas once reserved for swanky brand-name fashion. While the world sinking deeper into recession, “fast fashion” retailers proved that there was still a way to make a quick buck. Last month Zara opened their 50th store in Japan (a bigger space in Shibuya) and H&M opened a new branch in Shinjuku. Forever 21, which doesn’t yet have the brand cachet of H&M or Zara, threw down the gauntlet in April with its Japan debut in Harajuku and, the last time I checked, it was still full of bargain hunters.
In 2009, cash-strapped consumers also benefited from how-low-can-you-go price wars. Uniqlo’s cheaper spinoff store g.u. started selling jeans for ¥990 earlier in the year, which was followed by Don Quijote’s Jonetsu Kagaku (passionate price) of ¥690 per pair. However, when you consider the wages of the workers making them at factories in Cambodia and China, you might question the true cost of such cheap clothing.
On a more environment-friendly note, some young Japanese girls embraced the recessionista trend of recyling old clothes into a new look. Used clothing outlet Don Don Down opened two new stores last month, proving that at least some Japanese are willing to wear outfits that are a little rough around the edges. Many of those scouring the nation’s flea markets were fashioning old clothes into new outfits, a process dubbed remaku (remake) and those not handy with a sewing machine could buy the eco-friendly recycled look from stores in trendy areas like Shimokitazawa or Koenji.
As long as the recession continues, the lower priced end of fast fashion is bound to continue reaping a profit (and we’re bound to see more creative and crafty ways to remix and recycle the resulting mountain of thrown-away threads). Despite the trend toward fast fashion U.S. luxury casual brand Abercrombie & Fitch felt optimistic enough to try to break into the Japanese market by opening a new store in Ginza last week. The success or failure of this significantly more expensive store will prove a useful barometer for other luxury brands hoping to expand their markets in these lean times.
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