Black vs. White: Abercrombie & Fitch vs. UNIQLO Ginza

Walking down that strip in Ginza now perhaps better knowns as "fast fashion lane" is a bit of a retail trip.

One cannot but look at the Gucci boutique in Matsuzakaya and be reminded of the recent announcement by the brand to vacate the space because the neighborhood is "too dominated by fast fashion" and wonder what has become of Ginza - once the most posh piece of retail real estate on the planet.

Some say Ginza has such mind-boggling capacity as a retail center because it is home to some of the world's most up-market boutiques as well as small independent shops. But that particular strip in Ginza seems to be claimed by fast fashion now. Matsuzakaya's new tenant, after Gucci, is supposed to be Forever 21.

But no matter what people say, only shops that can generate enough revenue can stay in the high-rent area that is Ginza and at the moment, they are H&M, ZARA, UNIQLO and Abercrombie & Fitch, who have opened their doors for the first time in Asia on 15 December.

I was not game enough to queue on opening day, but managed to get in on a Monday afternoon of the following week. Despite it being close to 16:00 on a Monday, the queue was still long. Interestingly enough, the faces in the queue looked Japanese, but the language being spoken was Chinese. The store is indeed the flasgship store of Asia.

A recent Senken column quoted a Chinese shopper saying, "Everything is authentic in Japan and cheaper than in China." And the columnist talked about how it seems to be the in thing to do for wealthy Chinese to shop in Tokyo. Ironic since many luxury brands have diverted their marketing funds and resources to mainland China, often re-allocating them from Japan. Maybe they should bring that money back so that they can cater to these wealthy Chinese?

Visiting Abercrombie & Fitch was a unique retail experience in Japan because of the fragrance that fills not just the store but the street. They say Japanese are very sensitive to smell and prefer subtle applications of it than to have it sprayed all over. If anyone has ever gotten stuck on a crowded Tokyo subway jammed up next to someone who smelled like he poured a whole bottle of Brute over his head before he got on the train, you don't need to wonder why.

But true to its retail formula, Abercrobie & Fitch has trigger happy sprayers (or whatever their official titles are) walking around as well as a van that drove around the streets spraying.

And true to its retail formula, the store is black based with dimmed lights (the brightest places are the lit up murals which look more fabulous in the reflections than when one looks directly at them) and blaring music. The models are friendly and helpful.

Many ciritics in the industry say Abercrombie & Fitch are five years too late in coming. It is hard to deny that, but what good is "shoulda, woulda coulda" when managing retail? They are here now and they have to compete now.

What I found a bit of a challenge as a retailer is their pricing. The women's jeans featured on the main fixtures all carried price tags exceeding 20,000 yen. A "kawaii" Napoleon jacket (in cotton) was 36,000 yen. The signature vintage look long sleeve T's were 8,900 and up. The bulky, on trend, low gauge knits had pretty Liberty print lining but it made one wonder if that was enough to justify their prices, especially with the dry handle. Menswear seemed to be priced a touch lower with key jeans being around 18,900 yen and mostly under 20,000 yen. But the rugged leather jackets at 89,000 yen made me realize that one cannot come to an Abercrombie & Fitch boutique in a fast fashion mind set. Instantly, I was thinking: Beautiful People sells biker jackets at 69,000 yen - which would I buy?

After going through the store from the 11th floor down, one realizes there are only two floors where they take your money - 7th and 3rd. And the queue on the 3rd floor had wound itself down the stair case to the 2nd floor. Unfortunately for me, that was a major deterrent to actually buy something. If I want something, I just want to pay for it and leave, not wait another half hour in the queue.

Feeling a bit disappointed with myself for not shopping, I _had_ to walk into UNIQLO. The new +J range was not yet in (they were launched on 23 December), but I had to take a look.

UNIQLO is all white, brightly lit, and what only hit me after I entered the store was that it is full of signage: price tags, special offers, product information - UNIQLO is the ultimate "Japanese" cluttered retail space that hits you with "logic" vs. Abercrombie & Fitch, that hit your senses of sight, sound, touch, and smell.

When foreigners think of Japanese aesthetics, it is the minimalist Zen thing that comes to the fore for them. But when it comes to retail, Japanese love what they are accustomed to - clutter. Just like all the advertisements they are hit with on the trains and buses, Japanese love clutter and color in retail. Just compare the home pages of Yahoo.com and Yahoo.co.jp and it is obvious - the reason why Yahoo.co.jp is the most popular portal site is not because it is run by Softbank, but it is the familar clutter and visual "noise" that make Japanese visitors stay on the site.

Looking at the massive wall of the jeans bar in Abercrombie & Fitch reminded me of the first time I went into a Gap Japan store with its massive wall covered with piles and piles of chinos. "Why are they showing me so much of one product?" I wondered, and though it was none of my business, I said to myself, "Is this effiecient use of so much space?"

UNIQLO covers its walls with piles and piles of the same product cateogry, too, but the difference there is that they tell you why they do it: Buy two or more and get a discount on the second one. This changes everything.

Though the +J wool military style jacket I had my eye on was marked down and my size was available, I did not shop at UNIQLO either. I had too much food for thought to enjoy after visiting the Black store (Abercrombie & Fitch) and then the white one (UNIQLO).

Abercrombie & Fitch, according to the press, will not mark anything down for the foreseeable future. How they will fare when the rest of Giza goes on New Year's mark downs will be interesting to see.


Connectivity and the WorkPlace

It has been some time since I last worked in an office with zero Internet connectivity.

We just moved into a new office which is literally just a box with nice white walls and some spare desk parts with no phone line, no fax, or furniture, let alone any form of LAN.

Some of my colleagues have their own e-Mobile or Softbank data cards and are happily tapping away, while I read my emails on my mobile phone. Just because the "land line" is not yet available, it does not mean that we are not connected.

HTC has recently launched the first ever Android enabled mobile phone in Japan. It sits along side the limited edition white Blackberry bold and other business phones classified as "FOMA professional series phones" which are full browser business phones - some with a full key board and others with a qwerty keyboard. A whole host of Android enabled phones are scheduled to hit the market in spring summer 2010, so gadgets and trends magazine Nikkei Trendy suggested to readers that they wait till all the other players have come out to play before opening one's wallet.

I also just read in Nikkei Trendy that there is a phone whose LCD screen can be separated from the keyboard as a touch phone on its own. This and quite a number of other mobile phones also work as a connectivity tool for laptops in public WAN areas like Starbucks or McDonald's. So much seems to be changing in mobile devices these days in the ever high-specs loving Japanese market.

My team and I are sharing each other's calendars on Google calendar, we share sensitive documents on Google documents, and when we are all working remotely, we have Skype team chats or teleconferences.

When we discussed purchasing of applications and software today, Lotus Notes or Outlook were not the topic - rather, we had to decide if we wanted to buy a mail server or use hosted webmail services. Another factor that determined what server we invested in was based on whether the senior management team were to go on iPhones or use business phones (that does not have any imode connectvity - a major set back in features in Japan today).

Though Pitney Bowes claims that the use of email has only increased the amount of paper used in the average office, surprisingly, only the financial controller demanded that we get a printer a.s.a.p. Everyone else looked at her like: you mean you actually print stuff?

But even she was telling us how she will be utilizing online banking as opposed to spending time at the local bank branch.

By the end of tomorrow, we are hoping to be fully equipped with desks and chairs and have some LAN access. I hope that does not mean that people start emailing and chatting with each other online rather than to get up and talk to someone face to face.


Why Japanese Professionals Don't Network: Lifetime Employment

"Why can't we get more Japanese professionals to join our group on LinkedIn?"
"Why don't I meet more Japanese people like you at networking events?"
"Why don't Japanese people network more professionally? I mean, where can I meet them? Do you know any good networking events?"

These are some of the questions I have been asked again and again and again in the last month or so since I started being more active on professional networking sites like LinkedIn and Plaxo.
Fair enough, the few Japanese professionals I am connected to on these sites seldom have more than 20 or 30 connections if that. I have at least 10 Japanese connections who are connected to less than 10 people. With such few connections, you wonder why they bother to spend time on these sites in the first place.

I actually asked one such person, a MD of his brand's Oceania operations, currently residing in Sydney and he said,
"I joined based on a recommendation from a colleague in Europe. But I don't really understand how this works or why I should be here."

There are more than 17 million members of Mixi, Japan's equivalent to MySpace and FaceBook, who are predominantly Japanese, so they _do_ network socially, but professionally, they don't seem to get the concept. My personal view, therefore, on why Japanese don't network professionally is because of lifetime employment.

"Networking" in the world of lifetime employment meant that instead of going out for the after hours beer with the colleagues in your group or section tonight, you invited someone from finance or another group. Because you were transferred every 3 years or so, you never knew who could be your next boss or colleague, and it is always good to have good relations with other sections anyway, so you "networked" with other departments and sections. I personally remember whilst at Olympus (I worked there for 6+ years in domestic sales), the group leader of Tokyo Camera Sales Group 3 joined us from Tokyo Camera Sales Group 1 for drinks quite often. And over sake and beer one evening, he said,
"Do you want to come join my group next half?"
And I said,
"Oh, yes! Why not?"
because it is the right thing to say over sake. We say "out of line behavior over sake is forgiven" but it is always nice to keep the guy who is footing the bill happy when you are drinking.
But a couple of months later, I was actually transferred to Tokyo Camera Sales Group 3!
The day I moved my desk 10 m to my new post, the boss hosted a welcoming party for me and said,
"See, I promised you I would take you!"
So it seems he was actually sober and serious when we made that "agreement."

Sometimes, when people actually _want_ such transfers, they actively seek out their "sponsors"and go out with them for drinks. That is the extent of popular "networking" in a lifetime employment environment.

Plus, one must remember that mingling with competitors at conventions and exhibitions is seen as an act of treachery. Actually going out to a networking function to actively seek opportunities to meet competitors and people outside of your company is generally frowned upon.

I remember once working on SONY's 30th anniversary corporate history book translation (about 10 or 15 years ago) where an episode was introduced about the different cultural perceptions within the business as SONY is an international company. One was about the US and how a senior manager in the US operation had jumped ship to competition, then "had the audacity" to come over to the SONY booth at a tradeshow, all smiles. The Japanese were shocked that this "traitor" could come smiling over to them and expected to be on friendly terms.

The clan mentality runs deep in Japanese. Either you are on the inside of their circle of trust or you are on the outside. We talk differently about people on the inside from those on the outside and it is only proper to make clear distinctions in the language used. That is how our language is structured.

Once initiated into a clan - be it family, school, company, or interest group - you identify with the group and are a part of the group all the time. And all the networking happens within. You do not go outside of your group to network.

But of course, the economic climate has changed and lifetime employment is fast becoming an unattainable and unsustainable institution. But professionals in their 40s and up are still jealously guarding their rights to lifetime employment, which is creating a huge gap between those in their 30s and younger who have missed this boat.

So, in Japan, you will find that the higher ranking professionals are not really networking in the circles that their western counterparts go to. The most senior ones go to Keidanren and other such organizations. But outside of cliquey tight circles, you will not find many Japanese middle and senior managers at networking functions or worse yet, a networking group for them. Those who attend - like me - are usually associated with foreign companies or are labelled mavericks in their companies.

This will probably have to change a bit, but it will take time.


First the McDonald's Burgers, Now Jeans - Never Ending(?) Price Reductions

It has now become a staple to be able to buy something at McDonald's in Japan for 100 yen - be it a burger or an ice cream, small shake, small drink, hot apple pie or whatever the latest promotion. And as an economist, I remember how an attempt was once made to use the price of the McDonald's hamburger as a global measurement criteria for the relative value of things. Then "Makudo" as they are called here, went on this donward spiral of price reductions that just made their burgers cost less than a bag of chips in a convenient store.

Now, it seems to be happening with jeans here.
Fast Retailing launched g.u. jeans at 990 yen to cannibalize UNIQLO's 2,990 yen jeans.
Honey's responded with their 990yen jeans and Aeon joined in with 880 yen jeans. Seiyu, of course, had to have an 850 yen jean, and Don Quijote reportely sold all 30,000 pairs of their 690 yen jeans since its launch on the 14th in 5 days.

The domestic jeans market is said to be around 80 million units per annum, and 70% to 80% of that is imported. However, in the medium to upper market segment, Japanese denim still plays a significant role. Even UNIQLO retails their Made in Japan jeans at 7,900 yen-more than double their entry price range.

Denim is in fact, one of the few fabrics that Japan continues to export and enjoys an edge over other production centres for its quality. Last year, exports of Japanese denim averaged 4.5 million sqm per month, but thanks to the global recession and competition from other countries, that is now said to be down to around 3 million sqm.

Kurabo closed its Okayama plant in June and has migrated production to China. Nisshinbo has commenced technology transfer for their dyeing techniques to Indonesia. Such strategic directions taken by Japan's No.2 and No.3 denim producers show a stark contrast to No.1 Kaihara, who continues to enhance efforts in Japan. And Kaihara seems to be walking a lonely road. Levi's Japan has also announced that they will move everything offshore except for some key products that can only be made in Japan.

Will Kaihara's efforts pay off or are they missing the boat?

As a retailer, one has to wonder who in the world buys all those low priced jeans - basic jeans! And why?
Does buying cheaper jeans free up some cash for the same consumer to buy a T shirt or another garment that he/she had not intended to buy, making the promotion worthwhile? Or do the consumers just come in for the jeans and not buy anything else?
When the latter happens, where does that leave the retailer?

Even before the crisis, the government's household spending survey indicated that household spending on clothing and shoes came down to 12,339 yen in 2008 from 15,891 yen in 2000.
This does not give one much confidence that lower priced staples like the 5,000yen suit is going to boost overall spending by encouraging consumers to buy more items.

And are 680 yen jeans something that consumers _really_ want?

No doubt someone will soon come out with a "one coin" jean or a 500 yen jean. But to what end?

A Senken columnist commented that visiting these retailers selling items at "incredibly low prices" meant that one is shown a very loud and busy retail scene, but there was none of the flair and fantasy that shopping for fashion should be offering.

It is not hard to imagine. What is there to be excited about purchasing such garments with no soul? I would much rather spend 1,000 yen on a good book or a decent cup of coffee!
And yes, I am still on the waiting list of the SAMURAI SP003JP Yamato jeans at 29,800 yen a pair. SAMURAI Jeans grew the cotton themselves here in Japan and the new Yamato is a tight fitting, straight leg jean with a new hip stitch - one of a pair of seagulls - a child and a parent; symbolizing the brand's wishes for a better future for our children. I am happy to buy into that story despite my 200+ pair collection of jeans (mostly basic jeans). But a 680 yen pair of jeans? What would I do with that?


Buying Product or Buying into Their Confidence? +J and UNIQLO

Last Thursday, taking advantage of a small window of spare time, I did some retail - walked Ginza and spent a bit of time in H&M, Zara, and UNIQLO.
Of course I walked past the other boutiques while there and noted the 13-storey Abercrombie & Fitch building, quietly preparing for its opening and Lanvin readying to open as well.
But passersby with shopping bags were either carrying H&M or UNIQLO bags for the most part on that particular day.

In terms of visual merchandising, UNIQLO was by far the most colorful and was obviously enjoying the most robust trade.
H&M and Zara looked very monochrome - lots of black & white, grays, and graphic prints in black & white on the ground floors near the entrance.
UNIQLO on the other hand is full of color.
+J was tucked away at the very back of the store in both the men's store and the women's store.

I'm always impressed with their straight forward POS signage - you walk in and you immediately know what they are pushing. The time limited discounted price tags are a very powerful call for action that creates a sense of urgency.
It is tacky, less elegant, and so very in your face, but while H&M managed to get their RRP listed on their ads in glossies like VOGUE, blowing people away with their straight forwardness about being affordable, when it comes to pushing the hero product of the week on the shop floor, UNIQLO seems to have the upper hand.

Discussions among shoppers overheard during my short stay in the store made it obvious that they were visiting H&M and Zara, too.
"The quality of this (jacket) is much better than the floppy one you tried on in H&M" said one man to a woman who looked like his wife. Maybe he is from the trade, but the observation was noted.

"Oh, they are selling their cashmere again," said one older woman to her friend, "I bought some nice colors last year and it is so inexpensive, you can wear cashmere everyday! Can I see what colors they have this year?"

The announcement over the PA system was referring to the "now familiar UNIQLO cashmere line" as well as how another batch of heat tech products just arriving on the higher floor.

After reading headline after headline of how UNIQLO and Fast Retailing are outdoing the rest, I admit to being a bit sick and tired of it, but after visiting the store and seeing the energy among the shoppers and the staff, I can see how such energy creates a positive spiral and brings in more shoppers who get excited.

And the location being Ginza, there was an interesting mix of customers, too - very elegant, stylish types to more modest, simple, dressed in basics head to toe types. But they shared one thing in common - they were checking out the merchandise with an obvious intension to actually shop and spend money.

At the end of the day, when enough people do that, the hype has substance and enough energy to create the next hero product campaign, it seems.

In a way it was most refreshing to see a store pushing hero product so boldly.
So many other shops have so much of everything, wanting to be everything to everyone, that you end up feeling like they all look the same and nothing jumps out.
Walking in and seeing without doubt that UNIQLO wants you to buy their cashmere sweaters was a sign of their confidence and in these times of uncertainty, that confidence almost makes you want to buy their product to get a piece of that confidence more than anything else.


Cosmetics for Men, Porn for Women - Herbivorous Men and Carnivorous Women Update

The "soshoku-kei danshi" (herbivore men) and "nikushoku-kei joshi" (carnivore women) has become a staple in modern day Japan.

And thus, perhaps it is no surprise that men are becoming more avid consumers of cosmetics while women are showing some serious appetite for pornographic content in cyber space.

Ever since I saw the Men's Beauty Book as an independent booklet inside the November 2008 issue of Men's Non-no (image left), it has really hit home for me that men's cosmetics have gone main stream here.

I wrote on the 24 February 2009 entry of the CarpediemJapan Word on the Street Blog about this, too, but seeing first the Shanghai Daily article in September, and then this week's Indepent article really drove this point home again.

Just to quicly summarize some of the definite facts:
- men are twice as more likely than women to make purchases after receiving samples
- Shiseido Men continues to enjoy 5% month on month growth since its launch in 2004
- Sales of men's skin care cosmetics increased 16.9% from 2007, to Y17.6 billion (€130 million) in 2008
- more than 59% of Japanese men now use facial wash, up from 48.8% in 2005. For university students, the 2009 figure soared to over 85%
- Last year alone, 3,600 new personal care products for men were launched globally, according to market research house Mintel Beauty Innovation

So, finally, the human male is becoming more like other creatures in nature that need to be beautiful to attract eligible females, it seems.
And the cosmetics industry can now aggressively market to the other half of the world's population, at least in this part of the world, anyway.

And to me, another indicator that women are becoming stronger still is that the number of women joining membership based pornographic content sites is on the rise in Japan, according to some insiders of the industry.

Bloomberg ran an interesting article on the estimated 100 billion yen market where some sites enjoy as many as 1,000 new members a day paying 10,000 yen to join. And then Biglobe ran a follow up article highlighting some speculation that one of the key drivers of membership and traffic to mobile porn sites is the rising number of female subscribers.

"If a man wants porn, he can go to a theater or rent a DVD and not worry much about it, whereas women find it too embarrassing to be seen doing those things. But on the mobile, she can have more privacy and therefore, it is easier for women to access such content through mobile phones."

Department store sales of fashion items in Japan just recorded its 26th consecutive month of decline in September. Maybe some women as spending less money on fashion and pooling that not to save for even harsher times than today, but into porn on mobile phones?

This feels like yet another gender barrier being broken by aggressive and confident female consumers.

Several years ago, I went to an Economist conference in Hong Kong and had the good fortune of sitting in between the Regional Marketing Director for DeBeers and the CEO of LVMH Asia. Even then, I learned some very interesting facts about how Asian women consumers were more confident and more aggressive than perhaps their western counterparts when it came to shopping for themselves.

"We ran a campaign to urge successful women to buy diamonds for themselves globally. The campaign was most successful in Asia. It seems western women still want men to buy diamonds for them. But Asian women are happy to buy diamonds for themselves," I was told. I am sure the campaign had a slogan like: Women of the world, raise your right hand (and wear a diamond on that hand). And I guess a lot of Asian women did.

"We have this limited number of Swarovsky crystals covered champagne bottles that are very expensive - and they sell like hot cakes! Women buy them for hen's night parties and other special girls' night out events. And Asia is outselling the rest of the world!"
Sparkling wine that sparkles on the outside as well - hmm... why not?

But now one is challenged to think: what markets/products/services that have traditionally been male or female targeted are left?


TV shops x Department Stores

Today's Senken ran a story on the collaboration between department stores and TV shopping channels.

Jupiter Shop Channel is opening a store inside Hankyu Department Store Yurakucho Hankyu in Tokyo and QVC Japan is opening one in Odakyu Department Store Shinjuku . Both launched on 14 October for a limited time only.

The Yurakucho Hankyu store features Osaka bag brand, ThinkBee on the ground floor and will be open through to the 27th. On 21 October (today), Jupiter Shop Channel will feature the autumn/winter merchandise by ThinkBee on their TV broadcast as well.

The 3-way collaboration (shop channel, department store, and brand) has resulted also in limited merchandise available only at the store and during this limited period.

The store is equipped with a TV monitor playing the spot feature on an endless loop as well.

On the 4th floor of Shinjuku Odakyu features Celebista, QVC's original brand that offers merchandise developed in collaboration with celebrities based on their unique sense of style and lifestyle needs including pregnancy and being a mother.

The 25 sqm store is stocked with dresses, coats, and jackets hitting affordable price points.

This kind of collaboration between TV shop channels and department stores was attempted for the first time in November 2008 when Daimaru and Shop Channel collaborated on bag brand Accessoires Des Mademoiselles Limited (ADMJ).

The manager at Hankyu Department Store is quoted (but unnamed) as saying that this type of collaboration has become more accessible thanks to the credibility of TV shopping improving in the eyes of consumers.

The TV shopping channels are hoping to further enhance their brands' image by being in department stores, while department stores will only go out on a limb if the brands already have positive brand recognition among consumers. This could create some challenges for future collaborations, though they will certainly be on the rise, says Senken.

Furthermore, expanding into brick and mortar retail for nonstore retail brands pose visual merchandising and packaging challenges as well.

Yet this is another form of conversion of distribution channels that retailers and consumers alike will no doubt be watching closely.

Will TV shopping become so credible to the point where traditional retail brands would offer their products more readily as well?

When I closed a deal 15 years ago to sell Olympus cameras to pachinko parlours for them to be available as prizes, my seniors were very worried about the brand image being compromised. After the third order of 2,000+ units came through by the beginning of week 3, I was no longer labelled a rogue or a maverick that tarnished the brand image, but was suddenly a hero among the ranks for creating a completely new channel. Large volume orders do that for sales people.

Will that magic work for fashion brands through TV shopping? Would it work for TV shopping brands in department stores? With 19 consecutive months of sales decline (26months of consecutive decline in fashion items), can department stores ever again deliver that kind of magic for any product category other than food?


TV x Internet: Double and Triple Screen Users

Radio hasn't killed the newspaper.
TV hasn't killed the radio.
The Internet has not killed the TV.
Rather, the Net generation is growing up as consumers of information through multiple screens and all forms of media.

At the CEATEC conference in Tokyo, Masahiro Inoue, President of Yahoo Japan, spoke and said that the future is in developing services that can be delivered through a range of channels as Internet connectivity is realized through not just PCs, but the mobile phone, TV, car navigation systems, and game consols as well.

He shared research results that almost 70% of all generations simultaneously access the Internet (either via PC or mobile phone) while watching TV.
For tween women, that figure is close to 90%.

Many say that if they see something of interest on TV, they will connect to the Internet to learn more about the product or company and often make purchases afterwards online.

He also said that the number of Internet users and their page views have pretty much hit their peak with no significant growth anticipated. However, the amount of time spent online continues to rise, and said, "By utilizing the strength of the terminals, through double screen and triple screen connectivity, consumers may even be connected for 24 hours a day."

I can relate to this.
I, too, have purchased goods advertised on TV through their mobile commerce site rather than to sit and be put on hold on their toll free number or take note of it, look it up later and make a decision.
Nowadays it is not unusual for me to be reading my emails on my mobile phone while creating a presentation online with my PC and doing most of the required research online as well.
So using double screens through two terminals is a definite daily routine.

Yahoo launching a TV service and NTT docomo (a mobile phone service provider) purchasing TV shopping company Oak Lawn Marketing are all signs that traditional boundaries are rapidly disappearing. Content must now transcend media - and terminals are multi-functional.

At the ITU Telecom 2009 conference in Geneva, NTT docomo's CEO participated in a panel discussion and shared that BeeTV, a subscription based service (monthly subscription is 300 yen or US$3.00) has secured over 700,000 subscribers in the five months since its launch. BeeTV has a range of oringinal video content developed to be viewed on mobile phones that are of 5 to 10 minutes in length. Subscribers can view as many of the clips as they like for their monthly subscription.

In the presentation, he said that mobile phones are (1) carried with the user almost 24 hours a day; (2) enables individual recognition to determine the user; and (3) offers pinpoint information on the geographical location of the user, making it a unique device that is in optimal position to be the gateway for a range of personalized services and information in addition to telephony and emailing.

In Japan, already it is not impossible for one to leave home with nothing but the mobile phone and not be inconvenienced. The phone gets you on the train, it is a transaction device to make purchases (including lunch), it offers entertainment and you can read the latest news on it, it tells the time (in more than one country) and your calendar, address book, and to do list as well as notes are all on it. You can take photos with it and upload images and entries to your blog. You can create and update Tweets.

As a fashion person, I worry for the future of the It Bag.
As a sales and marketing professional, I find the possibilities infinitely exciting.


The Tokyo Girls Collection and a Big Time Racketeer

According to the 22 October issue of the Shukan Shincho (weekly Shincho), out in stores now, Fashion Walker, organizer of the fashion phenomenon Tokyo Girls Collection, is in dispute with a big time racketeer who has been arrested 8 times.

Takenouchi, the racketeer, is said to have commented,
"I didn't think this company was this dumb. I have an arrest record and more than once, too. You'd think they would have done something quickly."

He visited the head office of Fashion Walker without an appointment on 22 April, and is said to have demanded that the company recognize his standing as a shareholder. He had with him a document certifying the transfer of shares to him from an existing shareholder.

According to Corporate Law or Kaishaho, if the company does not take action to deny recognition of the shareholder, then it is automatically recognized that this new shareholder is entitled as he declares.

Sokaiya racketeers like Takenouchi are called "sokaiya" because they attend general shareholders meetings (kabunushi sokai) and challenge the management in a deadlock debate over issues, holding up the meetings. Their racket is to get the companies to buy back their shares from them.

Takenouchi is quoted in the article as saying that he initially wanted 6 million yen per share or a total of 600 million yen (approx. $6 million), but now, he will accept 5.25 million yen per share.

Fashion Walker and Takenouchi are in dispute as the company is challenging the original transfer of shares to Takenouchi and is arguing that the delay in taking action was caused by their needing time to confirm the legitimacy of the transfer.

The latest Tokyo Girls Collection, held in Yoyogi on 5 September, attracted more than 23,000 attendants.

What sets TGC apart from other fashion shows is that it is a real clothes fashion event. Whatever the audience (consumers) see on the runway can be purchased then and there from the mobile commerce site. It is _the_ real clothes, fast fashion event of Japan.

The 9th TGC this past September was a major turning point for the event in that such market leading select shops BEAMS, United Arrows and BAYCREW'S group company JOINT WORKS joined regulars CECILE McBEE, FREE's MART and UNIQLO.

Fashion Walker looked to have everything going for them, and that nothing would stop them from an IPO - but the down side of extensive media coverage attracted a very unwelcome guest, it seems.


Manga and Beauty/Fashion Marketing: "Love Make" and "Real Clothes"

It was very "refreshing" to be asked the significance of manga in Japan recently. So I decided to think a bit more about this genre.

I grew up with it as a child, and while I was recruited into the translation team to create an English version of the Economic White Paper in the late 80s, I knew that more people would buy the manga version than the English version we were so intensely working on. Yes, the Japanese government actually issued a manga version of its Economic White Paper.

Manga in Japan became "mainstream" or legit thanks to great artists like Osamu Tezuka and international hits like his "Atom Boy." I used to think as a student that while we are taught about literary greats like Ryunosuke Akutagawa or Soseki Natsume, Yukio Mishima, and the only Japnese writer to win the Nobel Prize, Yasunari Kawabata, as the writers that shaped modern Japanese literature, in future, we would have Osamu Tezuka and manga meisters in our textbooks, too.

In November 2008, I was surprised to see a new form of marketing occur with manga. Dr. Ci: Labo, a cosmetics brand, teamed up with Shueisha's "Chorus" manga monthly magazine read by working women and young home makers to create a manga series that takes place in the offices of Dr. Ci: Labo. Through the struggle of the newly appointed PR assistant, readers learn about their products and development processes as well as how PR works (in part) for this cosmetics company.

The series ran for 6 months (6 episodes) and has since been made into a book that can be purchased. (Great way to recover some marketing investment dollars - imagine selling your marketing collateral in this way!)

Dr. Ci: Labo created a special campaign site for the manga series as well, and on the site, the actual products that are introduced in the story are featured with a web site only short comic strip posted to explain their benefits.

I have yet to see any other businesses jump on this bandwagon, but Dr. Ci: Labo has certainly taken the application of manga one step further than just using manga characters instead of real models and celebrities.

Another interesting topic, which came to my attention in a timely manner, is the launch of the TV Drama Series "Real Clothes, " which is based on Satoru Makimura's manga of the same title.

Kansai Television's official web site for the drama series is a great platform for those who paid top dollar or whatever was required to do product placement. "This Week's Fashion Check" page shows which item worm by the lead characters is of which brand. Louis Vuitton, Lanvin, JAYRO, DEARER & Gabrielle seem to dominate for now.

We have yet to see any promotions for these brands linked to the drama, but since the original manga series started in 2007, and is still ongoing, there defenitely is a longer life span to being involved for sponsors than a full feature film like "The Devil Wears Prada."

In the past, Hermes has published a manga book on its history with Moto Hagio as its author (they wanted someone who was good at drawing horses), and manga charisma-come-opera singer Riyoko Ikeda had a seried titled "Mijyo Monogatari" (The Tale of an Attractive Woman) that educated readers about haute couture and luxury brands as well as diet and taking better care of oneself. (Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton were featured) But manga seems to remain a very experimental marketing medium.

It is a very unique format to Japan and something that has a long history and a strong following. I am sure there will be other, more creative applications to come.


Poupee Girl - Fashion SNS Site

I've gotten quite a number of positive responses from people both in and outside of Japan by sharing the Japan Times article on Poupee Girl.

Let's look at what makes them so different:
- it is a SNS site for members to talk about and showcase fashion (no family photos of pets and kids!)
- 500,000 registered users (since 2007)
- 98% of them women
- 80% of them in their teens or 20s
- 35% of them living outside Japan (U.S., central America, and China)
- 5,000 virtual items to be purchased with "ribbons" by members for their avatars
- virtual boutiques by Louis Vuitton and Coach; campaings by Kose; supported by Sanei International
- 15 million+ photos of real fashion merchandise uploaded by its members that can be searched by brand (from what I last read, that is a 5 million images increase in one year!)

An article by Nikkei MJ in April 2008 said that some users access the site more than 200 times a day.

They are also collaborating with Twitter and FaceBook, and are slated to launch a Nintendo DS hand-held game that enables users to play dress up.

I've actually talked about them a lot in my trend seminars and thus, I actively use the site. It can get quite addictive when you start having fans giving you really positive comments about the items you upload.

A quick look at the voting results give one a very good idea of what items are popular and which brands, too.

I think Sanei is really clever to use this platform to "test market" designs and items that can be made into real clothes for their retail business.


The Saturday Senken

Magazines and newspapers in Japan are suffering as advertising budgets continue to shrink.

In the past 12 months, quite a number of long-standing titles disappeared in the world of glossies and rumours were abound that the former Editor in Chief of Marie Claire Japan resigned because she was unable to hit the advertising budget after some estimates put a 40% cut in advertising dollars by luxury brands in Japan not due to the downturn of the economy, but because they were redistributing that money to mainland China.

So it came as no surprise for the Senken Shimbun to announce that they will stop issuing their Saturday edition in physical, paper format. Instead, they asked the subscribers register to receive the Saturday Senken as an email, and by the way, the monthly subscription price is the same. "We thank you in advance for your kind understanding" the letter from the management said.

But what is really cool is that one can now opt in to receive the following day's headlines via mobile email in the evening. They also send breaking news - like the announcement that Yohji Yamamoto is filing for protection from creditors with a 6.0 billion yen debt, or that Fast Retailing announced a new record profit for the quarter - as they are filing it.

They have managed to turn their very antiquated format into something that takes advantage of the Japanese way of using mobile/pc emails as well as paper. Their site still looks very static and is in need of work, but I love this email and mobile email service. It is nothing fancy, but who needs bells and whistles to receive the breaking news and the next day's headlines?

I really hope that leading trend sites that charge several hundred times the Senken for an annual subscription who send the translated version of the day's headlines at 15:00 take note of this and work harder!