We wanted to write a blog on the history of manufacturing and fashion in Japan, as some unique brands we carry such as Apotheke Fragrance, Buddy Optical, Buzz Rickson, Rototo and Sugar Cane are manufactured in Japan. Today, we view Japan as a highly industrialized country, replete with giant factories churning out goods of every kind. But it wasn't always this way. Go back to the era before the Second World War, and you find a very different country, one in which workers made the majority of textiles by hand.
The Origins Of Apparel Manufacturing
Before 1945, most clothing bought in Japan was in the traditional kimono style. The country was incredibly conservative, and the apparel a person wore reflected their status. After the fall of the Imperial regime, however, things changed quickly. Regular Japanese citizens began wearing imported American clothing, thanks to massive increases in wages fuelled by a booming industrial economy.
Before long, Japanese textile companies transformed how they produced garments. The industry moved from a nineteenth-century spinning and weaving model to a highly mechanized setup in which giant machines would do the lion's share of the preparation before hordes of workers finished items by hand.
In this context of increased wealth, mechanization, and liberation, the fashion industry blossomed. For the first time in modern Japanese history, the average person could wear whatever garments they liked.
Before long, Tokyo and Osaka had become fashion hubs, focusing on both womenswear and menswear. Nagoya - Japan's third city - became specialized at producing beautiful fabrics almost overnight and fostered related industries' development, like the textile equipment business. (Salinchi Toyota got his start in this sector before founding his namesake auto brand).
By the 1960s, the wearing of the traditional Japanese garb had all but disappeared outside of special occasions. In its place had come something very different indeed.
The Rise Of Japanese Fashion Houses
Before WWII, the political situation meant that budding Japanese fashion houses were unable to gain traction. But in the years following the war, things soon changed. All of a sudden, Japanese in their twenties and thirties began demanding more variety in their clothing, providing local entrepreneurs with an abundance of opportunities to capitalize.
Japan's most famous brand, Comme des Garcons, got its start in the 1970s, taking its name from the Francoise Hardy song Tous les garçons et les filles de mon âge." The brand focuses on the idea that each person has a "persona" - or how they like to present themselves to the world. While it initially began manufacturing in Japan, it now produces garments in France, Spain, and Turkey.
Issey Miyake also began his foray into fashion at around the same time following his graduation from Tama Art University. Before heading home, he went to Paris and New York to found Miyake Design Studio to focus on women's fashion. Throughout the company's history, he has focused on using novel ways to manufacture clothes, consistently being at the forefront of pleating methods.
The Street Fashion Revolution
From around the year 1990, fashion in Japan changed yet again. The focus was no longer on Japanese fashion houses that followed the Western model but something entirely new.
The street fashion revolution deliberately rebelled against the haute-couture of Paris and New York and instead embraced all things avant-garde. Popular sub-genres of the movement included lolita, characterized by skirts and dresses worn below the knee with petticoats underneath for volume, and gyaru, which focuses on synthetic accessories, like fake wigs and fake nails. Some Japanese youth embraced "peeps" - a kind of sporty-goth style sponsored by the magazine Peeps.
The result of these developments is a Japanese fashion scene that is now a mish-mash of a vast number of different styles. While there have been dozens of new entrants to the market, no single brand in the country has ever managed to appeal to all groups.
The Size Of The Japanese Fashion Industry
In 2016, Japan's apparel market hit a value of $84 billion (nine trillion yen). However, despite the presence of so many brands, foreign clothing still comprises a large chunk of the total domestic market. Today, Japanese fashion houses see the majority of their growth opportunities overseas. Western consumers still view the country's output as exotic and experimental purchases - something that they can use to liven up their wardrobes. Fashionistas are particularly interested in Ainu textiles, decorative Japanese stitching, and embroidery connected to local Buddhism.
Market demand is also shifting patterns of production away from those that dominated the postwar era towards more traditional methods. The ancient Japanese practice of Kasuri, for instance, is making a comeback.