Domestic retailers specializing in business attire could join personal seal manufacturers nationwide on the list of professions that are looking increasingly untenable in the wake of the pandemic.
With more and more people working remotely these days, there’s simply less of a need to dress up in formal business attire on a daily basis. Social media picked up on this trend way back in April, with numerous posts on Twitter questioning the need to wear a suit while working from home (especially when sitting at a kitchen table or, worse still, on the floor).
The country’s leading business wear retailers have been hit hard by the shift in working practices over the course of the year, with nationwide franchises such as Yofukuno Aoyama struggling to stay afloat.
Yofukuno Aoyama is reportedly expecting losses of more than ¥29 billion in the year to March 31, 2021, with the company deciding to close around 160 outlets by the end of next year — a reduction of roughly 20% of its stores nationwide — and refocusing efforts on its online audience.
Rival suit-maker Konaka has fared a little better, losing ¥12.9 billion in its fiscal year through to the end of September. From next year, senior management is looking to open boutique outlets in department stores in an effort to create a more luxurious image for the company’s business lineup.
Although fewer office staff are wearing suits on a daily basis these days, other business products are picking up some of the slack. This is particularly the case for business backpacks, which have been flying off the shelves at a jaw-dropping rate since April.
Indeed, backpacks are somewhat emblematic of the way Japan’s office workers have gained more freedom of movement under the pandemic, with many adopting a more flexible view of work in general. Wearing packs on their backs and masks on their faces, legions of businessmen are pounding the pavements and ducking into coffee shops or shared office spaces to do work when necessary.
Online magazine Itmedia has highlighted a popular model called Gadgetable that is produced by luggage company Ace.
“As more people left their offices to work at home or elsewhere, reliable backpacks became necessary to store and carry smartphones and laptops — two essential items for any businessperson,” Itmedia says.
Two models of Gadgetable backpacks are available — one focusing on durability, the other on water resistance — with sales for both variations increasing by 180% and 126% respectively against the same period last year.
Having been away from the office for so long, some employees are beginning to show signs of rebellion against returning to formal business attire.
“I like seeing other people in suits but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing short of self-inflicted torture,” writes Twitter user @dekirukotonara.
Others argue that, in many cases, suits aren’t really a practical option.
“Irrespective of COVID-19, some people must wear suits and go into the office, while others are even asked to wear suits while working remotely,” @monster_energym says. “Show some imagination, people! Just because you don’t have to wear a suit doesn’t mean everyone else is in the same boat.”
Indeed, formal business wear remains an important consideration in Japan for a number of reasons, most notably for new recruits and those actively seeking long-term employment in spring each year.
Dubbed “recruit suits” in Japan, these stock outfits once comprised a sizable market in pre-pandemic days. And even with remote work becoming more common these days, these somber outfits are still an important part of any job interview that might be organized.
Some social media users have shared posts describing hiring managers who have asked job applicants to stand up at the end of their interviews in order to check that they were wearing more formal business attire below the waist.
Recognizing an opportunity in the market, Yofukuno Aoyama has launched a suit rental system specifically targeting job-seekers. Costing ¥3,900 for a period of four nights and five days, Yofukuno Aoyama’s rental deal is certainly attractive enough. However, whether it’s sufficient to turn the ailing business around is another matter.
In an interview picked up by Asahi.com, menswear designer Yukinori Ishimaru says that working remotely isn’t the same as working in one’s pajamas.
“Dress comfortably when working at home, but it’s always good to have a light jacket you can throw on during an online meeting in order to look presentable,” Ishimaru says. “That said, there are obviously times when dressing in a good suit certainly doesn’t hurt.”
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