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Japan’s UK love affair continues

Despite global economic turmoil, sales of UK fashion have held firm in Japan, giving brands all the more reason to enter a market that isn’t as tough to crack as they might think.    

Working in the British Embassy in Tokyo promoting the British fashion industry is my dream job. I love the UK, I love fashion and I enjoy helping UK companies succeed – I get huge satisfaction when UK businesses break into the Japanese market.

In my 11 years working with fashion companies here, I feel the interest in British brands has grown. Japanese consumers appreciate the unique history and background of British brands – Union Jack images adorn clothing and UK-themed accessories can increasingly be seen on most busy shopping streets in Japan. Despite other major European countries decreasing their clothing export sales to Japan last year, the UK maintained the same levels of export value, which is amazing if we take into account the weakening of sterling against the yen.

My team and I recently welcomed 17 UK companies to Japan as a part of this year’s UK fashion trade mission. The participants ranged from menswear and womenswear businesses, to jewellery, bags and footwear. The trade mission has a long track record of success – and in some form or other it has been coming to Japan for more than 20 years. Hosting the mission is a real collaborative effort, working with our UK Trade & Investment colleagues in London.

Trading hub: Japanese buyers meet UK brands at the trade mission

Trading hub: Japanese buyers meet UK brands at the trade mission

The most enjoyable part of the mission for me was a showcase for UK companies to more than 300 Japanese contacts – all representing high-quality buyers, distributors and decision makers in the Japanese fashion industry. Well-known quality stores in Japan such as United Arrows and Beams, department stores such as Isetan and Takashimaya attended, along with key trading houses and international fashion media, such as Vogue. Most importantly, many of the UK companies were able to identify new partners, agents or new stockists at the event. 

Here to help

The mission is just one of the many ways we help UK companies enter the Japanese market. We also undertake bespoke chargeable services for UK companies throughout the year to help them enter or expand into Japan. We can research opportunities for UK products, identify potential buyers and distributors, or simply provide a high-profile platform to launch UK products into the Japanese market.  

UK companies often have the impression that Japan is a difficult market to understand and a complicated one to enter. I see my job as helping to dispel some of these misconceptions. It’s true that Japanese people are justly famous for being quality-conscious consumers who will not buy products that aren’t in perfect condition. But this has advantages too. There’s a story about a UK leather accessories manufacturer that  made a purse, but the number of stitches for each purse was different so its Japan agent returned all the products – a big surprise for the UK manufacturer, who had no problem selling the same purses in the UK. But the key issue is that this Japanese experience – perplexing as it may have seemed at the time – helped the company raise its own quality standards. As a result its sales in Japan grew significantly and it ensured the company was resilient and well placed to then tackle other Asian markets.

Japan represents a huge opportunity for UK fashion companies. Consumers respect and purchase on the back of the British brand. Like other countries, good research is the key to understanding the market and to achieving long-term success. It’s very important to visit Japan and demonstrate to partners and buyers that you are committed to their market. Working in Japan can certainly challenge your expectations but, once you get it right – and commit to the market – Japan can be a stable and lucrative long-term market for you and your business. And my team and I are here to help you on that journey. 

  • For more information on the opportunities for your business in the Japanese market, contact Kae Miyazawa of UK Trade & Investment Japan at the British Embassy in Tokyo by emailing kae.miyazawa@fco.gov.uk

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