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Japan Looks to Move Into US Market Ahead of TPP

Japan’s time, it seems, is now—Chinese demand remains high, fabric innovations are steadily forthcoming, and thanks to the in-work Trans-Pacific Partnership, the country has its sights set on the American market.

The Japan Pavilion was bustling on day one of Intertextile Shanghai, with buyers flocking to see the country’s latest couture fabric and the kawaii, or “cute” looks out for Spring Summer 2017.

From romantic to indulgent, trends emerging from Japan are all about self-evolution and revival.

One major story, Romantic, nods to the feminine, and as Japan Fashion Week coordinator Yuko Watanabe, puts it, there’s a duality of girlish and grown up at play.

Lace and sheer fabrics keep things soft but chic, with even linen turning more translucent. Colors are light and cool, but “very adult, chic pastels,” Watanabe said. Prints will be blurred and less defined.

Indulgent Holiday is the season’s more dynamic, more vibrant trend, with richer blues and greens coloring the story.

“We always believe that the China market is important because of the demand. China used to be the world’s factory but now it’s the biggest market,” Watanabe said. “Chinese people have enriched their sensibility and they are looking for more high-end fabrics, so Japanese fabrics are in high demand.”

Nishimura Lace International, a Japan Pavilion exhibitor, already had a good feeling about how its fabrics would be received at this year’s fair, and it didn’t take long for buyers to start inquiring about the latest offerings.

Pleated lace has been particularly popular, and Nishimura is making its version with cotton, a rare blend that makes the offer “inimitable,” according to company president Masaki Nishimura. Washi paper lace, which gives the lace a more delicate, natural look is hot for spring, and a finishing technique that makes for a coated lace look has been popular with luxe brand Chloe.

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At Hayashiyo Co. Ltd., linen has been completely turned on its head with the kind of craftsmanship hard to come by in modern markets. Director Yoshio Hayashi and his small family staff based in the linen producing Shija prefecture of Japan—are creating linen prints from vintage kimono fabrics. And beyond the covetable, archive-inspired prints, the company has perfected its manufacturing process, making a highly soft hand linen. One hit for this season? A 300-count fine ramie dyed an on-trend indigo.

Organic is the focus of the season at Yagi & Co., and the company is making its organic fabrics in a high count 60-80 denier, compared to a market norm that’s closer to 20-30 denier.

“Just like the Japanese market, demand is getting higher for organic,” company chief Masaru Utsunomiya said.

Triacetate has long been Japan’s staple, but Kumazawa Shoji Co. gives the so called half-synthetic fiber new looks and textures, and brands like Balenciaga, Gucci and Prada have already taken notice.

Neo-linen is the company’s new SS ’17 offering. It’s made from triacetate but looks and feels like high-end linen without the wrinkles—and it’s possible to pleat it.

Sojitz Fashion Co. simplifies sourcing for buyers, creating trends and keeping more than 1,000 items in running stock. That on-hand stock means Sojitz can get goods out faster than factories, key for meeting the ever-increasing demand for fast fashion.

In explaining the benefits of being at Intertextile Shanghai, section manager Itsuko Kimura said, “We want to meet the China customers. There are new brands coming out every day and this is good recognition for us.”

Now that the TPP has been signed, it may remain to be seen just what the agreement will mean for Japanese-U.S. trade, but Japan’s next target market will be the U.S.

“We don’t know yet how Japanese fabrics will be demanded,” Watanabe explained, but, “We want to develop markets in the States.”

Waiting for TPP to be ratified amidst an American election is somewhat worrisome for Japan, but as Watanabe said, “We just hope the relationship will be stable after the new president will be elected.”