Archive for the ‘Style/fashion’ Category

Kanebo recall illustrates built-in resilience of cosmetics industry

Monday, July 8th, 2013

White is might: The Sex and the City cast plug their second movie in Tokyo, 2010

White is might: The Sex and the City cast plug their second movie in Tokyo, 2010

Last week, cosmetics giant Kanebo, along with two subsidiaries, announced it was recalling 54 skincare products that are believed to cause unsightly blotches. The merchandise under scrutiny contains an active whitening ingredient called Rhododenol that the company first started marketing in 2008, and it estimates that some 250,000 women in Japan alone use it on a regular basis. Since 2008, 4.36 million units have been shipped and probably about 450,000 may still be in use, including in foreign countries like Thailand and Taiwan. The Philippines, in fact, reacted to the recall by banning all Kanebo products that contained Rhododenol.

On the surface, the size of the problem sounds formidable, since Kanebo will lose some ¥5 billion on account of the recall. Asahi Shimbun reports that the company has not released sales figures for the disputed line of products, but it is believed Kanebo’s annual revenues for skin whitening agents is around ¥190 billion. Consequently, the company is not losing that much, and if one wanted to make a gambling analogy, it obviously pays to market substances that aren’t guaranteed in the long run since so much money can be made in the short run. It all depends on what people want and how badly they want it.

Women’s cosmetics, and whitening products in particular, are no-lose propositions in Japan. The main market right now is middle aged consumers, who, according to a recent article in Aera, buy almost any anti-aging product that goes on the market. This practice is now called keshohin kurujingu, or “makeup cruising.” The article profiles several women, housewives and working women, all in their 40s and 50s, who spend an average of ¥50,000 a month on cosmetics.

Continue reading about the strength of the cosmetics industry →

Annals of cheap: Don Don Down on Wednesday

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

We all know Japanese people prefer new stuff — new homes, new rice, new prime ministers every 12 months — which may explain why the used clothing business isn’t as big here as it is in other countries. According to the Asahi Shimbun, 50 percent of discarded used clothing in America is recycled, either commercially or as contributions, and the portion in South Korea is 80 percent. In Japan, it’s only 20 percent, meaning that the rest is simply trashed. But that may change with the advent of a new model for used clothing stores.

Don Don's website

Don Don’s website

Don Don Up Co. Ltd., headquarted in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, opened its first used clothing store, called Don Don Down on Wednesday, in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, eight years ago. The company now commands a chain of 60 outlets nationwide, with more to come. Don Don, an onomatopoeic word expressing a process of steady progression, came up with an ingenious pricing system that not only saves the company overhead and personnel costs, but draws customers on a weekly basis by turning shopping into a “game,” as its promotional literature puts it.

All the merchandise is affixed with price tags, but the tags don’t display yen amounts. Instead they have pictures of fruits and vegetables, 10 in all. The pictures represent prices, which range from a high of ¥5,250 (i.e., ¥5,000 for the item plus 5 percent consumption tax) to a low of ¥105. These prices are listed on charts alongside their corresponding symbols and posted throughout the store. The price tag on a particular item never changes as long as it remains in the store.

The charts are changed weekly. For instance, this week, perhaps, all the strawberry items cost ¥5,250, but next week, all the remaining strawberry items will be priced at ¥4,200. Each week, the line of a particular fruit or vegetable goes down one pricing rank until it reaches ¥105. The following week all the items previously priced at ¥105 are removed from stock and exported to Southeast Asia in bulk, which means no item stays in the store for more than ten weeks. The weekly price changes take effect on Wednesdays, thus explaining the name of the store. Not surprisingly, that’s the day they do their biggest business.

This system adds a touch of drama to the shopping experience. If a customer likes a particular item she can buy it right away or take a chance and wait til the following week when it’s cheaper, but then she risks the possibility that someone else will buy it. The president of the company told Asahi, “I want our customers to enjoy shopping as if playing a game. I wanted to change the image of the used clothing store, which tends to be dark.”

At first, the scheme was to try to replace the inventory as often as possible to keep people coming, but that meant changing price tags on a continuing basis to weed out unpopular items. It wasn’t until management hit on the fixed price tag system that they figured a way to not only streamline operations but make the process interesting for consumers.

As for procuring merchandise, Don Don’s method is similar to Book Off’s, Japan’s pioneer in used merchandise, which boasts 900 outlets. It bases the price it pays for a book on its condition and then places a seal on each volume that indicates how long is has been in the store. Every book that remains on the shelf for three months automatically gets reduced to ¥105.

When those don’t sell, they’re pulped. With the exception of some brand items, Don Don buys clothing from anyone by the kilogram: ¥500 for “very popular” items, ¥50 for “popular” items, and ¥10 for “useful” items. And they pay 50 percent more on Mondays and Thursdays. More significantly, they refuse very little that is wearable, since they can always sell it, again by the kilogram, to wholesalers in Southeast Asia. Just like produce.

Tattoos are forever, which is why they cost so much to remove

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

On second thought…

The weekly magazine Aera recently discussed tattoos, which became a contentious issue in Osaka after Mayor Toru Hashimoto not only prohibited city employees from gettting them but suggested that any who already had tattoos resign. Hashimoto believes that Osaka citizens are offended by tattoos, which tend to be associated with gangsters and other lowlifes. Many young people get tattoos for reasons having to do with fashion, but the majority of citizens don’t make such a distinction. Public baths and onsen (hot springs) tend to prohibit patrons with tattoos, even if it’s just a tiny reproduction of a butterfly.

The mayor’s pronouncement met with complaints from some corners, which grumbled about personal freedom and human rights, but the Aera article implies that it had the desired effect. One young man in his late 20s told the magazine that after high school he became a construction worker and got a fairly large tattoo on his back because all his construction worker friends had tattoos. But now he wants to take a test to become a civil servant and wonders if having a tattoo will be a liability, and is therefore seriously thinking of having it removed. When told that no one can notice the tattoo when he has his shirt on, the young man says that he figures if he does get a public job he will have to undergo a physical examination, and so the doctor will see the tattoo and may report it to his supervisor.

In the context of the article, this isn’t presented as paranoia but more like common sense. In any case, tattoos are painfully permanent, and having them removed involves a hefty investment and even more pain. Aera says that you can assume that whatever your tattoo cost to apply, it will cost 10 times as much to erase. The magazine reports that the number of people in Osaka who are having tattoos removed has increased noticeably since Hashimoto made his stand. But it’s not just in Osaka. One Tokyo cosmetic surgery service, Isea Clinic, says that since the beginning of the year the number of inquiries it receives about tattoo removal has gone from about 100 a month to 125. Most are from the people who have tattoos themselves, but quite a few are from people whose children have tattoos. The reason isn’t just employment. Some parents think their children have less of a chance of finding a marriage partner if they have a tattoo.

There are three removal methods: laser, surgery and skin grafting. The laser method is the cheapest, at about ¥10,000 per square centimeter of skin. However, depending on the tattoo, it is likely that a shadow of the original pattern will be left behind, so others will know that the individual used to have a tattoo. Surgery, which means basically gouging out the skin and then sewing up the wound, costs about ¥30,000 per sq. cm. The tattoo is gone completely, but a scar remains. A skin graft, which involves cutting a chunk of flesh from another part of the body and using it to cover the tattoo, runs anywhere from ¥700,000 to ¥1,000,000. As the Isea doctor says, it’s too easy to get a tattoo, which is why so many people regret it in the morning, so to speak. In the end they want it removed regardless of the cost. “They always tell me it’s OK to leave a scar,” he says. The price you pay is more than just money.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Noblestone

The Mujirushi house: Fans finally get total immersion

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

The model "wood house" near Kita Matsudo station. Sorry, they wouldn't let us take pictures of the interior.

The model "wood house" near Kita Matsudo station. Sorry, they wouldn't let us take pictures of the interior.

Mujirushi is the Elvis of that marketing sub-genre known as the private brand. Launched in 1980 by Seiji Tsutsumi, the chairman of the Saison retail group, as an inexpensive line of merchandise for his Seiyu chain of supermarkets, the “non-brand” (which is what mujirushi means) soon garnered a following thanks to its iconoclastic simplicity courtesy of Ikko Tanaka, who designed the line for Tsutsumi.

In 1983, Saison opened the first Mujirushi Ryohin store in Aoyama, Tokyo. By that point, the line had outgrown its original set of cheap food and household products to include apparel, stationery, accessories, even furnishings. Of course, the idea of having “no label” implied that the usual advertising and marketing costs attached to “brands” did not apply, but while the items weren’t as expensive as many brand products they weren’t cheap either, and the irony implicit in the Aoyama store’s subsequent success was that “no brand” could itself be a big brand. By the ’90s, when Mujirushi Ryohin Keikaku split from Seiyu it represented a distinct lifestyle to many people.

Mujirushi peaked in 1998 when it reported ¥13.3 billion in profits. But the company got cocky and opened stores faster than it could develop new products. It lost the simplicity of its original design model and by 2001 profits had dropped to ¥5.6 billion. That year, it had to destroy ¥12 billion in unsellable merchandise, mostly clothing. Already, other companies had appropriated the no-brand concept, like the drug and sundry retailer Matsumoto Kiyoshi, the apparel maker Uniqlo, the household goods store Nitori,and the myriad ¥100 shops that were features of every new mini-mall. But Mujirushi cleaned itself up and returned to its roots, and now it’s bigger than ever.

Continue reading about the Mujirushi house →

Jeans on the cheap

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

If you need jeans at 4 in the morning you know where to go

If you need jeans at 4 in the morning you know where to go

As apparel goes, jeans fill a unique niche. Originally marketed strictly as work clothing whose main sales point was durability, ever since the ’60s denim trousers have become ubiquitous, first as the uniform of the counter-culture, then as a template onto which various high-rent designers projected their hip cachet, and finally as pretty much the world’s de facto leisure wear. Levis, the original jean manufacturer, can charge anything it wants and in such a way became the standard for pricing. Anything more expensive than a pair of basic 501s was considered ostentatious; anything cheaper was, well, cheap.

Last March, discount clothier Uniqlo broke the thousand-yen barrier at its even cheaper retail subsidiary g.u. (or jiyu, which means “freedom”) by putting on sale jeans that cost ¥990. Since then, other cheapo retailers have followed suit and last week the discount chain Don Quijote announced that it would be selling its own “private brand” (PB) of jeans called Jonetsu Kagaku (passionate price) for only ¥690 per pair.

Continue reading about cheap jeans →

Motherhouse: beyond Fair Trade

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

The new Iriya store

The new Iriya store

There isn’t much that individual consumers can do to right the economic balance between the developed world and the developing world. Promoting sustainability in poorer regions basically amounts to paying local producers higher prices for products they export than what they are getting, something that multinational companies, which usually do the exporting, are not prone to doing. Given the gulf of distribution that separates the average housewife in Chiba and the average tea plantation worker in Sri Lanka, there’s very little the former can do to directly help the latter.

Except buy Fair Trade-labeled products. Various world organizations certify producers who guarantee, among other things, that their employees earn a decent working wage and give them some say in the operations of the farm or factory. Thus, when that housewife buys some black tea at her local Ito Yokado with a Fair Trade label on it, she can feel assured that more of her money is going to the people who produced it rather than a host of middlemen-multinationals.

Continue reading about Fair Trade and Motherhouse →

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