Jeans on the cheap
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.
DQ emphasizes the quality of its merchandise, at least when compared to the jeans of other retailers who’ve joined the “three-digit price war.” At a press conference on the 14th, the company said it used “superior material” and “processing” that was nevertheless less expensive than the work other companies pay for in China. Most likely, DQ was referring to Uniqlo, which famously has all its clothing made in China, but the company didn’t say in which country their brand was manufactured. Seiyu’s jeans are made in Bangladesh, where the average apparel worker makes the equivalent of ¥5,000 yen a month.
DQ also said that the “function” of their cheap jeans were also superior, though they didn’t specify. Stretchability? Durability? Ability to make your butt look better? In any case, media reports about other cheapo jeans have said that color fastness tends to be a problem and sizes are limited. If you’re bigger or smaller than average, you might have to go for Levis anyway; and according to the latest figures they need all the help they can get. The cheap jeans war has put a sizable dent in Levis’ business. Third quarter sales for this year in Japan are down almost 20 percent from last year. In addition, Bobson, a Japanese jeans brand, is closing a factory in Okayama and the chain store Jeans Mate is reportedly falling deeper into a well of red ink.
For the record, here’s the list of retailers that offer cheap jeans. Don Quijote says that all its outlets will have the Jonetsu Kagaku jeans in stock by the end of November: