When asked to imagine a typical image of white-collar workers in Japan, salarymen in suits may come to mind.
On the flip side, people in work wear tend to be associated with less flattering stereotypes of blue-collar jobs, dubbed the “3K” — which stands for kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty) and kiken (dangerous) in Japanese.
Work wear that looks exactly like a business suit, developed by a Tokyo-based plumbing firm, might be helping to improve the image of blue-collar workers. It has been proving popular recently among people in various industries, ranging from waste collection and building maintenance to agriculture.
The water-repellent, washable attire was originally produced as an in-house uniform for the Oasys Lifestyle group, based on an idea from a female employee in charge of human resources.
“After our engineers wore the work wear for a year, we received an increased number of young applicants as well as favorable comments from our clients and peer companies,” said the firm’s spokesman, Hayato Suhara. He said this prompted the firm to establish the apparel company Oasys Style Wear Inc. to produce and market the work wear.
Oasys Style Wear, which released the clothing in March at a price of roughly ¥30,000 for a jacket and pants, and women’s models last month, announced last week that more lightweight, quick-to-dry summer models will be added to its men’s work wear lineup in July.
According to the firm, online comments on the new wear were initially divided, with some saying it undermines the image of traditional work wear.
But Suhara said the firm hopes the new work wear will help mitigate the bad stereotypes of blue-collar jobs.
An online survey the firm conducted immediately before the release of the work wear showed that among 104 respondents who are in charge of personnel or general affairs at cleaning, facility management or construction firms, 67.3 percent said they felt these industries bear negative images.
The product caught attention among workers, Suhara said, adding that the firm received over 300 inquiries from companies in the first month after its release.
Companies including Yell Inc., a Tokyo-based garbage collector, and Mitsubishi Jisho Community Co., an apartment building maintenance company, have adopted the wear as uniforms, and several other companies, including those in the construction and housekeeping industries, are letting their employees wear the outfits on a trial basis, Suhara said.
Suhara said about 60 percent of its sales so far are through online purchases by individuals, and with the launch of the summer styles the company hopes to promote the wear also to office workers.
The company plans to sell the work wear overseas as well, since it has received inquiries from Asia and Europe.
Last month, the company reached out to Kiyoto Saito, a rice farmer of Kawanishi, Yamagata Prefecture, known as the “suit farmer” for his efforts to try to alter the negative image of agriculture through fashion.
“I thought the times are catching up with me when I saw the work wear,” said Saito, who told The Japan Times by phone that he has worn formal business attire for six years while working in his rice field. Mentioning that he had worn the work wear to his fields on the day of the telephone interview, Saito said, “I’ve been wearing some functional suits for work, but this work wear is more water-resistant. I don’t have to put on rainwear for light rain.”
“I think the company and I share a lot in our mission to recruit young people into aging and short-handed industries.”
With feedback from Saito, the firm plans to develop work wear specially designed for people involved in agriculture, including accessories like hats, boots and gloves.