Talking Shop

By on March 6, 2008

The business of little people’s fashion in Japan is huge.

With the declining Japanese birth rate, you might think that anybody in the kid’s fashion business should be seriously considering a new career. On the contrary—fashion for small people is booming, and the variety of styles and brands can overwhelm.

When I became a mom 13 years ago, to be honest, Japanese children’s fashion left much to be desired. Designs were usually stodgy, with a one-style-suits-all approach from preschool through to teen sizes. Not anymore.

Like most of their friends at their Japanese schools, my three kids each have their own favorite styles. My newly teenage son, having graduated from sporty brands like Nike and Puma, now favors oversized amekaji (American casual) styles that he hunts down at favorite boutiques. Miss Ten likes the “cool and cute” Osaka-based Inner Press, whose jeans fit her slim frame like a glove, even though the nearest shop is over an hour away in Ginza. As for Miss Seven, she is into KLC, a colorful brand with cartoon-like designs.

While there are fewer kids overall, parents are spending more on the kids they do have. In fact, it is sometimes said that Japanese kids today have “six wallets” to dig into when they want something—Mom’s, Dad’s and four grandparents’. Parents today want their kids to look hip, stylish and yes, kawaii (cute).

Believe it or not, the kid’s fashion boom owes a lot to a guy who used to make kimonos. When Yuzo Narumiya’s kimono wholesaling business was in a slump, he decided to try a whole new market—kid’s clothes. People laughed at him when he launched his first range in the early 1990s, but now it is Narumiya who is laughing all the way to the bank, as his company leads the pack in the kiddy fashion market. Narumiya International’s powerhouse brands include the pretty in pink Mezzo Piano, the French influenced Pom Ponette and the resort-style Daisy Lovers. Boys aren’t forgotten either with the Blue Cross brand. It doesn’t seem to matter that Narumiya items start at ¥7,000 for a T-shirt, and that a whole outfit can set you back ¥30,000 or more.

Other companies were quick to jump on the bandwagon, revamping or launching their own kiddy clothing lines. A walk through a typical Japanese mall or department store today will reveal a galaxy of styles, from frilly Shirley Temple, to funky Earth Magic to “I wouldn’t let my 17-year-old wear it, let alone my seven-year-old” Banana Chips. In recent years, a new crop of Osaka-based companies have appeared, touting a more casual Kansai kiddies style to challenge the stylish Tokyo tots.

Being the parent of three dedicated followers of fashion does not come cheap, but I can’t seem to stop myself buying what they beg for. They look so darn, well, kawaii! As for me, where do I get my own clothes? You guessed it, Uniqlo.

Narumiya International: (Japanese). For shopping, Venus Fort’s Dear Kids Park has many popular brands including those mentioned here. (LGK)

Japan’s outlet malls offer familiar brands and unbeatable bargains.

The Gotemba Premium Outlet mall is arguably one of the most scenic shopping arenas in the world. Nestled in the hillsides near Hakone, the cherry blossoms in the spring and the golden foliage in the fall can make you momentarily forget that the purpose here is actually to buy things. There is even a Ferris Wheel that offers a panoramic view of the nearby lakes and Mount Fuji hovers as a big backdrop to everything. But Gotemba Premium is also Japan’s largest outlet mall, and my first time there was on a December weekday during a clearance sale. The selection and prices made a shopper even out of my husband. He walked out happily with new work clothes at Brooks Brothers and a windbreaker from Helly Hansen. I got two sweaters at Ralph Lauren and for the kids, we bought a full season of winter clothes. Heck, we even stocked up on birthday presents at Lego.

But the next time I went, it was still on a weekday but not sale season. Selection was sparse and prices unimpressive. The third time I went was on a Sunday afternoon. The average wait for parking was over two hours. That weekend we had to go without any Armani, Wedgewood, Escada, Versace. LL Bean, Laura Ashley, Skechers, Banana Republic, Petit Bateau, Pleats Please, Cynthia Rowley, Tommy Hilfiger and Benetton for kids. If you are a veteran of American outlet malls, be warned that there simply is not the same quantity of merchandise as in Woodbury, Jersey Garden or a Premium Outlet in the U.S. Still, being the largest purveyor of imported brands, Gotemba Premium Outlet can provide retail therapy for the homesick shopper.


Info Box:
1312 Fukasawa, Gotemba, Shizuoka. (0550) 81-3122.

On weekends, there are buses from Tokyo Sta. and Shinjuku Sta. directly to the mall. During clearances, buses run daily. There are also free shuttles from Gotemba Sta. to the mall. JR Bus: (03) 3844-1950. (Japanese)

Other Outlet Malls:
Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza: Adjacent to the Karuizawa Prince Hotel, its station front location can’t be beat. Shop selection is good but the mall is really spread out and moving your car around maybe required. Karuizawa Sta. on the Nagano Shinkansen Line. (0267) 42-5211.

Rism: Located in Fujimino, Saitama, this was Japan’s first outlet mall, but now only has 40 shops. Free babysitting is available on the weekends when parents can drop the little ones off at Kids Planet, a daycare during the week. 4-min walk from Fujimino Sta. on the Tobu Tojo Line. (049) 269-3939.

Yokohama Bayside Marina: A Disney-like replica of an American seaside town, the shoe selection, from Puma and Reebok to Birkenstock, is awesome. There is a kid’s outlet section, with mostly Japanese brands. 5-min walk from Torihama Sta. on the Keikyu Honsen Line. (045) 775-4446. (CHA)





About Carol Hui Akiyama