Business

Japan's retailers hope to boost sales by capitalizing on Cool Biz

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

With temperatures soaring higher than average this year, retailers are hoping to boost sales of apparel by capitalizing on the government’s annual Cool Biz campaign, which started Tuesday.

To reduce energy costs, the Cool Biz campaign calls for workplaces to set their air conditioners to 28 degrees, and urges office workers to ditch the usual ties, jackets and office wear in favor of casual clothes more suitable for Japan’s hot summers.

For the month of April, Tokyo’s daily highs exceeded 25 degrees on nine occasions, an all-time record. This prompted department store operator Takashimaya Co. to start its own Cool Biz summer clothes campaign on April 11, one week earlier than usual.

“We’ve also set up a Cool Biz campaign for businesswomen, which is a first for us,” said Megumi Ashizuka, a PR spokesperson for the Takashimaya store in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.

The Takashimaya group is aiming to beat last year’s Cool Biz sales by 3 percent, she added.

Notable office attire that Takashimaya is promoting includes suits that use newly developed materials with jackets that weigh 240 grams, and leather shoes that are hand-washable.

The government launched the Cool Biz campaign in 2005, with bureaucrats wearing casual clothes, including polo and even aloha shirts, instead of the usual suit-and-tie combination.

Now in its 14th year, Cool Biz has become the norm in the apparel industry, and even those who were initially against the campaign have come to accept it as an annual event.

In 2010, Japan’s tie industry formally requested the government to end the Cool Biz campaign. But as the Cool Biz has taken root among consumers, it is now marketing new summer products, such as knit ties that are made out of breathable materials specifically designed for the hot summer season, said Tadao Wada, chairperson of the Necktie Cooperated Association of Tokyo, a group of Tokyo-based tie manufacturers and wholesalers.

In recent years, the market has matured and “people understand that it is acceptable to wear neckties in certain instances” despite the Cool Biz campaign, he said.

The situation, however, doesn’t look smooth for the tie industry just yet.

Sales have been on the decline, with the estimated number of ties manufactured in or imported into the country falling by almost half over the past 10 years from 40.9 million in 2006 to 22.1 million in 2015.

Wada admitted that a number of factors, such as the declining population and stagnant economy, have contributed to the fall in sales. But he still believes the Cool Biz campaign was the initial trigger.

The government campaign runs from May to September but may continue until October depending on whether the hot weather persists.

The Meteorological Agency has predicted Japan will see higher than average temperatures from May to July.

Along with the Cool Biz campaign, the Environment Ministry has launched the “Cool Share” campaign, which urges people to stay together in air-conditioned areas, such as cafes or community centers, rather than in individual rooms.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5