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In Japan, the Rise of 'Geek Brands'

There are more single or childless Japanese men in their 30s and 40s than ever before. The affluent and well paid among them have the time and money to indulge their most esoteric whims, whether in hobbies or consumer goods. A host of new brands and stores have emerged to serve them. One of the latest is H Tokyo, a tiny store devoted entirely to men’s handkerchiefs. JapanConsuming investigates.
H Tokyo store in Marunouchi | Source: H Tokyo
  • JapanConsuming

TOKYO, Japan — The new Kitte SC mall in Marunouchi, managed jointly by Japan Post, Mitsubishi Estate and JR East, has been designed as a showcase for the best of modern Japanese design. But it also represents the latest in upscale retail trends. One of the tenants is the first SC-located store for Old Fashioned, a handkerchief manufacturer based in Setagaya.

Called H Tokyo, the new store targets the demand for upscale, almost bespoke brands with a focus on a single product and craft, particularly from men in their 30s and 40s with the cash to pay for them. Brands like this, which offer a depth of expertise and specialisation, are being well rewarded whether in apparel, sports, interiors or gadgets, thanks to the rise in spending by men on themselves. There are other examples in Kitte, too, such as Urban Research’s Work Not Work.

H Tokyo itself is a tiny 45 square metres store in cool concretes and warm woods dedicated entirely to selling men’s handkerchiefs. It offers over 200 SKUs in high quality cotton, but claims to make only 30 units per style, with new patterns abusnd styles introduced every two weeks. Designs include collaborations with artists and illustrators, and emphasise originality and uniqueness. Prices range from ¥1,200 to an impressive ¥4,000.

Old Fashioned says that, in a market dominated by two major players selling a plethora of licensed brands, it is aiming to create a market for fashion and custom handkerchiefs. The store offers a monogramming service (in one of 10 selected fonts) for ¥315 as well as add embroidered motifs, and shows customers how its handkerchiefs are made. As in its Setagaya store, H Tokyo likes to showcase manufacturers with a similar upscale artisanal philosophy, and includes a selection of men’s boxer shorts from high end men’s brand, Tokyo Trunks, starting at a mere ¥3,150, as well as soaps and other grooming products. It also sells Next Gravity Revolution, a men’s footwear brand, with price points of around ¥70,000.

H Tokyo is a good example of the growing popularity of what can loosely be called Geek Brands. Characterised by an obsession with detail, craftsmanship, materials and presentation, they are the antitheses — and a reaction to — both mass market chains and mass market luxury, at least for men. This same demand can be seen in the strong sales of men’s lifestyle magazines such as Leon, Uomo and luxury titles like Oceans – up 30 percent in 2012 amid a contracting market according to trade reports — which offer deeply encyclopaedic reviews of gadgets, clothes, and accessories.

Men of this age can afford both the time to obsess over the details of a new product, and the money to pay for it, partly because many are either still single, or married but childless. Survey results from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research suggest close to 50 percent of men between the ages of 30-34 are single, 35 percent of 35-39 year olds and nearly 30 percent of 40-44 year olds.

The fact that they are also less inclined to devote themselves quite so slavishly to their companies as the previous generation, and are less worried about standing out by wearing something flashier than a polyester blue suit, is helping fuel demand. Indeed, peer pressure — in the  biggest cities at least — is today increasingly shifting from fitting in by dressing down to fitting in by standing out, with this generation outdoing each other to find the latest and greatest — and the more exacting, custom made and obsessive the better.

JapanConsuming is a leading provider of intelligence on Japanese retail and consumer markets. Their new 330 page report, Japan Apparel & Fashion Market 2013, is now available from their website.

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