Effect Of Globalization On Japanese Fashion Cultural Studies Essay

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Globalization has had a significant effect on fashion choices and trend movements around the globe. This paper discusses the influence of globalization on fashion with the case of Japan, which began to rapidly shift its approach toward fashion in the early 1980s following a rapid economic expansion and resulting increase in personal income. Using a combination of secondary research and interviews collected from Japanese participants, the study discusses Japanese fashion and how it is influenced by, and influences, the rest of the world. The discussion focuses on the initial development of 'logomania' in the 1980s, in which Western high fashion was structured into a social framework divided by gender and class. The discussion then focuses on the development of a counterfeit market for high-fashion goods, in which the logo, rather than the good itself, was found to be important. The influence of fast fashion and the on-going development of street fashion, as opposing trends toward homogeneity and individuality, are then discussed as modern evidence of 'glocalization' or hybridity, representing a localized fashion response to global conditions.


Fashion can be defined as clothing and accessories that represent "a cyclical reflection of social, cultural, and environmental characteristics that are unique to a certain point of time in a particular geographical setting, in addition to playing a crucial role in complementing one's self-image (Azuma & Fernie, 2003, p. 415)." However, although fashion was once characterized as a local or regional phenomenon, it is now in many ways a global phenomenon. Changes in manufacturing, production, and supply chain management, combined with a growth in prestige of some fashion brands based on aristocratic or exclusive social positioning, has resulted in increasingly homogenized global fashion. This has not been unopposed, with hybridity processes creating local fashions in order to meet the needs of the given geographical setting and culture and the development of a rapidly growing counterfeit market for luxury brands producing counterflows in global fashion trends. This type of interaction between local and global fashion is part of a generalized process known as 'glocalization' (Chang, 2004).

Japan is one of the most visible and one of the most vibrant places of development 'glocalized' fashion under conditions of economic globalization. Prior to 1980, Japanese fashion was conservative and dominated by American quantity or value-driven trends. However, this would change rapidly in the 1980s. Beginning with a rapid upward shift in economic production efficiency and a resulting gain in personal income in the early 1980s, Japan has become increasingly accepting of Western (particularly European) fashion brands. The influence of fast fashion and other global movements has further increased the adoption of Western fashion styles and attitudes. However, this has not been a simple process of homogenization. Instead, hybridity has resulted in modifications of these styles as well as assignment of specific meaning to international designers, styles and fashions. At the most extreme, Japanese street fashion meshes global and local fashion trends and styles in an individualist manner, allowing Japanese youth to express creativity in an otherwise restrictive society.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this research is to describe in a historical and current context the effect of globalization on Japanese fashion from the 1980s to today. The objectives of the research include:

To locate fashion in a theory of globalization that accounts for interaction between local and global trends and conditions.

To determine the overall effects of globalization on fashion, including both positive and negative effects.

To apply this theory to the case of Japanese historical and current fashion from 1980 to today in order to show the evolving interaction between global and local trends and resulting the development of a series of unique fashion movements.

Research Approaches

There were two main approaches used in this research. The first approach was secondary research, in which existing sources of information on globalization and fashion, particularly globalization and fashion in Japan, were found and were analysed. The goal of this portion of the analysis was to provide a historical, political, and philosophical framework for understanding the influence of globalization on Japanese fashion. The majority of the research lies in this historical and contextual understanding of the topic. The second part of the research was a primary research project that used interviews from Japanese fashion consumers and Japanese fashion retailer UNIQLO to demonstrate the current and historical influence of globalization on fashion. This part of the research is meant to reflect the current state of Japanese fashion and how the preferences of individual consumers play into the process of globalization and hybridity that results in Japanese fashion. The UNIQLO brand, a Japanese fashion brand that has been taken internationally, is used as an example of the ways in which Japanese culture has influenced and been influenced by on-going and recent globalized fashion trends.

Literature Review

The literature review focuses on the existing knowledge about globalization, defining the concept and discussing its use in the literature regarding fashion's development in Japan. The literature review first discusses globalization in general, defining the concept and identifying its progress in Japan. It then discusses globalization and fashion, followed by a focus on fashion trends in Japan. The key point of this section is that globalization has not imposed Western fashions on an environment that previously had no fashion, but instead resulted in adoption of Western fashions and combination with existing and new Japanese fashions. This process of hybridity has resulted in a uniquely Japanese set of fashion trends and styles that meet the cultural, political, and economic conditions in which they are placed. However, this process of hybridity has increasingly happened in street fashion, rather than in high fashion or mainstream fashion, because of the homogenizing influence of globalization on fashion production and fast fashion.


Globalization in its most technical form refers to the lowering of economic and trade barriers between nations, which results in increasing international trade as well as reducing costs through allowing for resource use efficiency (Stiglitz, 2002). Under this model of globalization, the main focus is on economic gain, including the promise of poverty reduction or elimination and other significant social and economic gains (Stiglitz, 2002). Of course, this promise of economic improvement through globalization is not fully delivered on; many countries, particularly developing countries, have actually had losses in their positions through globalization, particularly forced economic globalization (Stiglitz, 2002). However, other countries have had significant gains. One of the countries that have demonstrated significant economic gains from globalization is Japan (Itoh, 2000). The Japanese economic ministers and others resisted globalization as an economic process due to the mentality of sakoku, which positioned Japan as an isolated and self-sufficient island nation (Itoh, 2000). By the early 1980s global production of goods such as automobiles had begun to position Japan as a significant and innovative industrial country (Itoh, 2000). The 1980s were a period of aggressive income growth in Japan as it led the development of modern manufacturing and supply chain practices around the globe (Itoh, 2000). This period resulted in a significant increase in global fashion consumption (Chang, 2004).

Along with the development of economic globalization is the development of cultural globalization, in which elements of cultures are brought together through a variety of mechanisms, including imports and increasing taste for imports, increasing availability of information, and increasing immigration (Appadurai, 2003). Under these conditions, the culture of a given place, as well as its economy, is globalized to a certain degree (Appadurai, 2003). However, it would be incorrect to think of this cultural globalization as promoting a uniform and homogeneous global culture; although there are elements of homogeneity promoted by the prevalence of imports and the development of global production management such as supply chain management, each of these elements is combined in a unique way with the existing culture in a process known as hybridity (Appadurai, 2003). In Japan, the process of globalization has been a process of gradual realignment from the American centred cultural hybridity model from the post-war period to the 1970s, through a period of adjustment in which European models of culture were valued, and toward an increasing focus on Asian cultures (Iwabuchi, 2002). The increasing focus on Asia acknowledges both the growing power of the region (particularly China and South Korea) as well as the increasing confidence of Japan itself on the world stage (Iwabuchi, 2002).

Globalization and Fashion

It is commonplace to think of fashion as a general phenomenon as something that has spread from the West to the East through the process of globalization. However, this view is both inconsistent with the facts and dependent on an orientalist viewpoint. One of the hallmarks of Orientalism, according to Said (1979), is thinking of the East as static, unchanging, and even stagnant. Thus, the clothing styles that are seen in the East, under an Orientalist viewpoint, would have been the clothing styles that were always there, or would have changed only very slowly and in response to outside influences (Said, 1979). However, research shows that this is not true - in fact, Japan, along with China and India, have historically undergone patterns of change in clothing styles that are consistent with the Western understanding of fashion (Belfanti, 2008). In particular, clothing styles changed rapidly at times of good economic development, and acted as a signal of consumption based status (Belfanti, 2008). As in the West, fashions in Japan, India and China frequently "challenged the traditional hierarchies of appearance, usually regulated by canons of a prescriptive nature (Belfanti, 2008, p. 419)," resulting in permanent changes in the traditional clothing styles as well as in non-traditional fashions. As Belfanti (2008) points out, fashion did not develop as fully in the East as it did in the West, but it did form a significant social change force as well as changing modes of consumption. Thus, the starting point for this analysis will be to assume that fashion existed previously in Japan, and that this fashion was challenged by fashion from the West, rather than presuming that fashion originated in the West entirely.

One of the recent responses of fashion to globalization has been the development of fast fashion. Fast fashion is seen as an evolutionary response to the demands of globalization and increasing neophilia and demand for refreshment of fashion responses (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). It has come into being over the past twenty years, as fashion has shifted from mass production of longer-wearing goods (such as Levis) to fashion seasons, which were driven by runway shows and refreshment of materials, designs, and other elements of fashion (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). However, an acceleration of marketing factors such as "low predictability, high impulse purchase, shorter life cycle, and high volatility of market demand (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010, p. 168)" has likewise speeded up the development of fashion cycles, with designers and fashion sources speeding up in order to compete on time to market (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). Rather than being based on attempting to predict future fashion trends, as fashion seasons (as exemplified by runway shows), fast fashion has a cycle of only a few weeks from production to distribution, allowing retailers to respond immediately to upcoming trends (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). From a supplier point of view, fast fashion is enabled by intensive supply chain management and strong buyer-supplier relationships, which enable the suppliers to immediately respond to changes (or to initiate them). From a consumer point of view, fast fashion fulfils the demand for constant refreshment of the wardrobe while at the same time meeting immediate demand for runway looks and other trends (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). Fas fashion does not have equal appeal for all consumers; younger consumers, who have a greater taste for newer and wider ranges of fashion, are willing to sacrifice the quality aspect of clothing in order to gain access to more items of fast fashion, while older consumers tend to value quality (and have larger clothing budgets), thus reducing much of its appeal (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). However, overall, fast fashion has been an enormous globalizing influence, especially through chains such as H&M, which have spread worldwide.

Globalized fashion has many advantages (even in non-fast fashion segments) over traditional fashion, including the cost and standardization advantages promoted by production at larger scales (Azuma & Fernie, 2003). However, this globalization of fashion also has certain negative effects that can be seen in terms of fashion's fulfilment of a social role of meeting a specific psychological and/or cultural need of a given place (Azuma & Fernie, 2003). Fashion can be understood at several levels, according to Azuma and Fernie (2003). It can be a pure aesthetic art form; a social or cultural code that communicates "social identity, social class, self-image, and climate (Azuma & Fernie, 2003, p. 415)"; and an expression of political, social, and technological conditions within a given culture. Under this definition, the role of the fashion designer is to interpret the conditions in the specific time and place, creating clothing that exemplifies the mood of a given location and group as well as its technical needs for clothing (Azuma & Fernie, 2003). According to Azuma and Fernie (2003), the demands of modern clothing production, including time to market and economies of scale, have resulted in a homogenization of design, which no longer allow designers to interpret this mood for a given place. Instead, a generalized interpretation is offered that reflects the decisions of other designers as much as it does the cultural, economic, or even climatic concerns of a given locale (Azuma & Fernie, 2003). This is one of the most far-reaching negative effects of fashion globalization.

Fashion in Japan

Globalization has had an accelerating influence on the street fashions of Japan, although it has also been resisted in uniquely Japanese ways. During the 1980s and 1990s, a trend for high fashion, particularly fashion exemplified by 'superlogos' like Louis Vuitton, became dominant. However, there has been resistance to this movement as well, which has reintegrated understanding of the Japanese cultural context into the development of fashion, helping to resist fast fashion and its homogenizing effects. One of the driving factors in Japanese fashion is a desire for individuality and uniqueness, which affects the choice of goods (Knight & Kim, 2007). There are three main elements to Japanese uniqueness seeking, including selection of unpopular and creative choices and avoidance of similarity to other goods (Knight & Kim, 2007). However, the rate at which consumers choose unique goods is negatively associated with perceived quality - that is, an increased perception of quality will reduce the demand for individuality.

Gender relations are also one of the significant factors in development of globalized fashion. A comparison of two gender-specific magazines, non-no and Men's non-no, shows that both magazines demonstrated the effects of fashion globalization (Darling-Wolf, 2006). However, at the same time, the magazines imposed specific gender expectation roles that expressed both globalized and localized expectations of gender relationships and norms (Darling-Wolf, 2006). This can also be expanded to class expectations, as beginning in the 1980s there were significant divisions of fashion based on class and the ability of individual consumers to take part in the European luxury superbrand trend (Chang, 2004).

A discussion of two street fashion trends, Japanese hip hop and lolita, contrasted with discussion of superlogo-driven high fashion trends, demonstrate the conflict between globalized trends and local fashions, the gender and class definitions of fashion and fashionable positions, the drive toward individuality, and in particular the importance of the Japanese teenager in setting and changing fashion in the Japanese market.

Logos and Superlogos

One effect of globalization on fashion is the explosion of counterfeit fashion goods (Chang, 2004). Chang characterizes this explosion as "fake globalization (Chang, 2004, p. 222)," or dark globalization, in which the legitimate flows of capital and culture across borders are shadowed by a flow of faked goods. In effect, the counterfeit fashion goods market represents a fetishization of the logo associated with the brand, rather than the quality or other elements of the good itself (Chang, 2004). This discussion provides insight into the development of Japanese adoption of Western fashion during the 1980s and 1990s.

Chang's discussion focused on the effect of 'superlogos', or high-fashion brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton, tracing the growth in fake products to the Japanese period of 'logomania' in the 1980s. During this period, explosive growth of the Japanese economy led to one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world (Chang, 2004). It also led to a shift in consumption patterns, with the previous consumption patterns set by American occupiers (an 'American' mode of consumption, focused on quantity of goods) shifting to a 'European', quality-based consumption model (Chang, 2004). During this period the brand logos integrated into clothing and other items became increasingly important, as they were indicative of consumption power (Chang, 2004). The growth of this superlogo trend was exemplified in classifications by gender and class. For example, the fashion elements and structures chosen by single female office workers (nicknamed 'Miss Hanakos,' after the fashion magazine Hanako) who expressed a particular aesthetic of aristocratic dress and choice of fashion and brands.

'Miss Hanakos' created their own consumer identities with their extraordinary ability to buy, and European superlogos such as LV, Chanel, Tiffany, Hermes became the symbols of their postmodern consumer identities (such as 'Miss Chanel' as a somewhat denigrated nickname for the office ladies who wear Chanel commodities from head to toe). (Chang, 2004, p. 226)

This fashion trend grew from several roots in addition to a rapid increase in personal income. The first mechanism was a nostalgic trend, stemming from the first developments of European fashion in Japan following the Meiji Restoration at the beginning of the 20th century, and the cultural exchange that occurred during this period (Chang, 2004). The second mechanism was recognition of the Louis Vuitton logo, in particular, as exemplifying the French-Japanese artistic style of the late 19th century, which Chang (2004) linked to a history of imperialism and the psychological effects from this historical condition. The third mechanism by which this became popular was the successful distancing of the reality of mass production of these superlogo goods from the image of Old World craftsmanship and artisanship, which allowed for the maintenance of an image of exclusivity even in cases where the goods were flooded into the market (Chang, 2004). The only way in which this image could be maintained was through strict control of the brand and its manufacturing; for example, through creation of 'limited edition' products, which encouraged the development of first a black market in the real products and then development of counterfeit products showing the same characteristics (Chang, 2004). However, this counterfeiting has moved beyond the simple mimicry that most traditional theories of fake products rest on; instead, the counterfeit of superlogo products mimics the logo, but often place this logo on new products (Chang, 2004). Chang (2004) terms this 'fake dissemination', after "deconstructionist Jacques Derrida and postcolonial critic Homi K. Bhabha's appropriations, which stresses the repetitiveness and proliferation of 'supplement' and 'difference' that have already existed within totality, and whose existence testifies to the impossibility of totality and unity (Chang, 2004, p. 231)." Thus, the growth of fake or counterfeit fashion products represents not just mimicry of Western fashion, but the growth of a unique counterflow of fashion that stems from, but is not beholden to, the phenomenon of superlogo mania (Chang, 2004). Of particular significance is the notion of complicity; although some counterfeit goods are sold as legitimate superlogo products, many if not most are sold with the tacit or explicit acknowledgement by both sellers and buyers that the goods are fake (Chang, 2004). This indicates that in many segments of fashion, the logo itself has become the signifier rather than the specific characteristics with which it is associated.

Street Fashion and Youth

Japanese street fashion, driven by consumer youth, is not determined by specific corporate norms, but is instead assembled by the individual from a selection of sources (Kawamura, 2006). However, while corporate models do not direct these trends, they do drive more mainstream fashion expressions and act as promoters of Japanese fashion hybridity (Kawamura, 2006). There are countless expressions of Japanese youth street fashion, and it is not possible to examine them all here. However,

Japanese hip-hop began as a musical and fashion trend in the 1980s (Condry, 2002). According to Condry (2002) Japanese hip hop fashion is superficially very similar to the American version where it has its roots. This similarity includes linked trends in clothing styles and designers (such as Nike) as well as similarity in graffiti styles and slang (Condry, 2002). However, Japanese hip hop is also the site of considerable hybridity, or the combination of globalized influences and Japanese cultural influences to create a unique, hybrid form of fashion and culture (Condry, 2002). For example, he notes that in a post-New Year celebration in one of Tokyo's largest all-night hip hop clubs, Kitchens, traditional New Year's greetings were exchanged between party-goers (Condry, 2002). The appeal of hip-hop style and culture for Japanese youth is characterized as a message that "youth need to speak out for themselves (Condry, 2002, p. 377)." That is, hip-hop style supports the search of Japanese youth for individuality in a highly constrained and collectivist culture (Condry, 2002).

Another expression of street culture is lolita culture, which is an extreme form of 'cute' fashion in which young women (and more rarely, young men) dress in highly ornate, Victorian-inspired dresses and outfits (Yano, 2009). Yano (2009, p. 681), describes a typical pair of lolita wearers: "shocking pink hair adorned with multiple pink barrettes, fuzzy pink kitten earmuffs, pink baby doll dresses, mismatched pink knee-high socks, and pink laced shoes. Around one woman's neck hangs that icon of cute: Sanrio Company's flagship character since 1974, Hello Kitty. Among the barrettes in the other woman's hair is, again, Kitty (Yano, 2009, p. 681)." This expression of fashion is not driven directly from influence from the outside; instead, it is informed by Victorian fashion influences (as evidenced by the initial contact during the Meiji period) as well as a trend toward kawaii (or aggressive cuteness) that is also demonstrated by women in professional clothing and positions (Yano, 2009). While Japanese hip-hop is a hybrid phenomenon that is superficially Western, the lolita street fashion is primarily Japanese. However, neither of these fashions has been adopted in mainstream Japanese culture.

Interviews and Media

The second part of this research consisted of conducting interviews with Japanese consumers about their experience of fashion and analysing trends as demonstrated by Japanese fashion retailer UNIQLO. This primary research approach was intended to support the formation of understanding of how globalization influences fashion in Japan today from the point of view of the media and the individual consumer. The three approaches chosen have included qualitative surveys with consumers and analysis of the UNIQLO clothing line, one of the most successful Japanese clothing brands.


The first source of primary information about Japanese fashion was quantitative surveys completed by three participants. A survey was used to ease involvement requirements for participants and to allow for a widespread set of participants. The participants are identified as follows (names have been changed):

Kenada, a (30-40 years old) employed man

Noriko, a (30-40 years old) unemployed woman

Jun, a male (25-30 years old) student

These three participants are asked questions about their own fashion styles and trends, and discussed how they viewed fashion, including Japanese and European fashions. The questions that the respondents answered are included in the Appendix. (This survey was translated to Japanese for ease of response, and responses were translated back into English.)

In terms of personal style, there were five questions. The older respondents (Kenada and Noriko) indicated that they followed fashion trends all the time, while the youngest respondent (Jun) indicated that he followed his own style. In describing their fashion styles, the respondents said:

I prefer a simple style with focus on one key garment. - Noriko

I am not committed to any particular style; I just don't like to stand out too much. - Kenada

These responses indicated a relatively simple style for both of the older respondents. Jun did not provide a brief description of his clothing style. Opinions regarding price varied from respondent to respondent, ranging from price not mattering at all to price being a primary concern when shopping. None of the respondents preferred Japanese brands, and one expressed a preference for Western fashion brands. The other two respondents indicated that whether a fashion brand was Japanese or Western did not matter.

The next set of questions focused on the perception of European or Western brands in the Japanese market. Favourite brands identified included Dolce and Gabbana (Noriko) and Paul Smith (Kenada). One question asked about the reaction to the rising number of foreign brands on the Japanese market. Respondents stated:

We want to avoid mass marketing because it is boring (they make the fashion market more varied). - Jun

People appreciate variety and lower prices. - Noriko

Respondents were asked how foreign brands were viewed in Japan. One respondent indicated that the foreign brand was considered "luxurious," while another respondent indicated that foreign brands were considered to be "beautiful, good design, functional." Overall, the respondents indicated that foreign brands were highly valued, but were not uniquely positioned because of their Western nature.

The next set of questions asked about the relationship between Japanese and Western brands in the Japanese market. One question asked whether foreign fashion brands were leading to the loss of the Japanese market's fashion identity. Noriko stated that No, [I don't believe that this is the case.] One example is UNIQLO, which is original and still successful. Jun said, No, it's more a reversed situation - Japanese people forced the Japanese market to change. A second question asked whether the respondent would like to see more foreign brands on the market. Two respondents simply said, "Yes". However, Kenada said, Yes, but I think achieving success on the Japanese market takes time, as the country is still very conservative.

When asked why there are not as many Japanese brands on the European market, respondents had two specific critiques of Japanese fashion. Noriko said, Because Japan tried to catch up with Europe and European fashion is well established in the world (especially France). Jun stated that be believed that this was due to bad design and lack of appropriate marketing. Of course, one example of a successful Japanese brand in the European market is UNIQLO, as noted below; Noriko, who noted it as an example of the Japanese fashion market, also notes this. Respondents were asked why UNIQLO was so successful. Respondent indicated that reasons for their success included Pricing and store design (Noriko) and collaborations with different talented artists and designers (Kenada). Finally, respondents were asked what the main differences between Japanese and European brands were. One respondent indicated that they believed that Japanese brands focus on functionality, while western brands focus on design more (Jun). However, another respondent was clear that the main difference between brands was simply Pricing (Kenada).

The responses generally supported the understanding of Japanese fashion as a unique integration and interplay of Japanese and European fashions and designers. There was generally a slight preference for European fashion lines expressed, based on the perception that European fashions are better made or better designed. However, at least one respondent clearly indicates that the main difference between European and Japanese fashion is the price, which indicates that there is convergence between the European and Japanese fashions. Most importantly, there is evidence of hybridity and modification of European designs based on the demands of Japanese fashion, in particular the development of European accommodations to the Japanese market. In some ways, however, the respondents seem to view the Japanese fashion designers as still based in the older, American quantity-based paradigm with lower quality and a focus on functional design instead of higher fashion design. This indicates that while Japanese fashion designers may have implemented fast fashion production techniques, there may not be the growth in high-fashion influence in the designs promoted.

One important factor in this case is the difference between older and younger respondents in terms of how closely they follow fashion. The two older respondents indicated that they followed fashion closely, while the younger respondent indicated that he dressed to suit his own style. This difference could be a representation of the moving away from the 'logomania' period in the 1990s and the growth of youth street fashion, which has allowed Japanese youth to combine and remix styles in order to express an individual style. The research did not explore this topic in detail, and respondents did not explain their style in detail enough to determine whether this was the case.

Overall, these responses showed the current state of Japanese fashion clearly is a response to globalization, but it is not a wholly integrative or mimicking response. This is encapsulated in several of the responses, including responses that indicate that European fashion has changed based on the demands of the Japanese market. It is also clear that the Japanese consumers in the study did not see themselves as part of an undifferentiated social group; instead, respondents had a number of different viewpoints on fashion and different views on European and Japanese fashion.

The findings of this survey are clearly limited, and they essentially represent a small-scale qualitative discussion of how Japanese consumers view fashion in terms of its globalized nature. Although they are indicative of views, they are not representative. In order to supplement these findings, an analysis of the UNIQLO clothing retailer is used to show how Japanese fashion reflects both Japanese and globalized sensibilities.


One of the most successful current Japanese clothing lines, both inside and outside Japan, is the mass-market retailer UNIQLO. The company has its roots in post-war Japan, with the 1949 opening of the Men's Shop Ogori Shoji in Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture (Fast Retailing, 2011). The UNIQLO brand was established in 1984 with the opening of a Hiroshima store, followed rapidly in 1985 with the opening of the firm's roadside store (Fast Retailing, 2011). In 1997, the firm was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and in 1998 the first downtown Tokyo store was opened in Harajuku (Fast Retailing, 2011). In 2000, the firm began its online operations (Fast Retailing, 2011). In 2002, the company began to pay further attention to the problem of fashion design, with the opening of its Design Studio (now called the R&D Centre) (Fast Retailing, 2011). This shows that the company has a higher focus on the development of fashion-based characteristics than might otherwise be expected for the typical Japanese firm as explained by the respondents to the survey.

UNIQLO is positioned as a casual fast fashion retailer, and operates as a fully vertically integrated fashion design, production, and retailing company (Fast Retailing, 2011). The company has ties throughout the East Asian region, with manufacturing and raw materials being sourced from China and other Vietnamese companies, with its specialist Takumi Team (which is in charge of textile and resource management, production, and other production and development activities) is based in the Japanese textile industry (Fast Retailing, 2011). The company operates using a fairly standard fast fashion approach, with a core set of products (especially focusing on fleece, polo shirts, and other products) that are commonly used as seasonal promotional items, combined with rapidly changing ranges of fashion clothing (Fast Retailing, 2011). The retailer's sales channels include online and in-store models. The chain has shifted from a small roadside store model in Japan (with stores of under 500 square meters) to a larger-store format (with most stores currently being opened at over 1,600 square meters) in order to expand display capabilities (Fast Retailing, 2011). These characteristics mean that the retailer is highly characteristic of the globalized fast fashion market in terms of its manufacturing, retailing and sales models (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). Since 2001, with the establishment of a store in London, the firm has been expanding internationally, and has so far opened 136 international stores (Fast Retailing, 2011). The majority of these international stores are in Asia, especially South Korea, Hong Kong, and China (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). However, the retailer opened a Paris flagship store in 2010 and is planning the opening of a New York flagship store in fall 2011 (Fast Retailing, 2011). The international market has proved to be highly profitable for UNIQLO.

UNIQLO Fashion

The split nature of UNIQLO fashion design can be seen by examining the company's site, which shows a mixture of quantity basics (as described by Chang (2004) as being indicative of the earlier, American quantity-driven model of Japanese fashion), popular culture-based items (including Western and Japanese popular culture), and high fashion items. These three perspectives demonstrate both the Western nature of the UNIQLO business model and its Japanese element. However, the offerings for the Japanese and Western companies are significantly different. Notably, the Japanese site uses primarily (although not all) Japanese models, in contrast to European companies that advertise in Japan, which frequently use Western models in order to promote their goods (Darling-Wolf, 2006). The Japanese site is the main site for examination of this research; although UNIQLO's expansion into Western markets is highly notable, it does not directly reflect on the conditions of fashion within Japan.

UNIQLO in Japan offers goods for all fashion demographics, including women, men, babies and children. This discussion focuses on the clothing offered for men and women, as children's and baby's fashion is more difficult to consider in terms of trends and fashions. (Simply, children don't buy their own clothes, which make children's fashion as more indicative of the tastes of their parents than of a true fashion movement).

The current ranges for women focus on a fashion design range, featuring products from designers such as Cacherel, and especially focusing on office casual work wear. Figure 1 showcases some of the designs from this range, as they indicate the overall functionality and fashion of the women's range. However, although these clothes appear to be indicative of standard Western fast fashion, there are some technical differences that clearly mark these clothes as Japanese. One such indication is the UV+ technical fabric used in design 1(c), which is unique to the UNIQLO line and which has its roots in the research and development department of UNIQLO; this technical fabric is used across the firm's ranges, including both casual and business clothing. Design 1(a) shows the company's integration of traditional and fashion-forward design sensibilities, with a traditional business jacket and shirt paired with a pair of cargo pants. Figures 1(b) and 1(c) demonstrate specific characteristics of hybridity between Western and Japanese fashion. Figure 1(b) shows a boat-neck baby doll dress with a hana print, demonstrating a mixture of Western fashion silhouette and Japanese fabric. Figure 1(c) shows a sweater and top ensemble with a kimono-inspired shawl collar.




Figure Demonstration of some of the professional designs currently offered from UNIQLO's design line, including notably a UV+ ensemble using UNIQLO's special UV-protectant fabric

The company currently offers products in a range of fabrics, with many of its premium clothing lines being constructed from luxury fabrics such as pima cotton, linen, and similar fabrics. However, the company also offers a large number of products that focus on basics; one particularly common retailing strategy used by the company is the use of multiple colour ranges for a single design item. Most items come in more than one colour, and some products, such as basic t-shirts or other basic products, are offered in up to two dozen or more colours. This is a markedly different strategy than the fashion-driven strategy as above, although it uses the same production system and many of the same materials; this is more consistent with the pre-1980 trend of fashion identified by Chang (2004), although it is also consistent with a modern fast fashion strategy. Figure 2 illustrates the strategy of producing a single item in a wide range of colours, which expands the range of goods. (Notably, these goods are also extremely inexpensive, encouraging the acquisition of multiple colours. In this case, the cap-sleeve top is approximately £7.50, while the V-neck top is approximately £6.) The less expensive top also uses the UV+ protectant, in common with the more expensive items above. 1(c), demonstrating the same technique in trousers, also shows the practice of melding traditional fabrics and new silhouettes.




Figure Illustration of the multiple-colours strategy of UNIQLO clothing (including UV+ top)

UNIQLO's men's strategies are similar, although the specific pieces offered as part of the core range are different. The men's clothing line offered by UNIQLO is more focused on the development of technical materials, including the UV+ material and a SILKY DRY sweat-wicking material. The men's clothing line is also available in fewer colours for most of the pieces offered than the women's lines are. However, it shows the same flexibility between Japanese and European styles and offers many of the same characteristics.

Overall, UNIQLO demonstrates many of the characteristics of Japanese fashion discussed in this paper. UNIQLO is fundamentally a fast fashion retailer, and as such does demonstrate the characteristics of vertical integration, rapid production, and supply chain management that are relevant to this fashion sector (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). It also represents a gendered differentiation of globalization as noted in previous discussions of gender and globalized fashion (Darling-Wolf, 2006). However, UNIQLO also demonstrates many of the characteristics of Japanese fashion that were thought to be less important than European design by survey respondents, such as inexpensive (or even cheap) designs and prices designed to encourage quantity buying. These models are endemic to the pre-1980s, American mass-production models of fashion, promoting the image of an older (and possibly even old-fashioned) Japanese idea of fashion, according to Chang's (2004) discussion of the development of Japanese fashion. However, it is also key to the homogenised and low-cost nature of modern fast fashion, a globalized response to increasingly rapid fashion trend changes and demand for fresher fashion that began with UK retailers in the early 2000s (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010). Given these conditions, it is difficult to state whether this element of UNIQLO design is truly out of date, or whether it represents the fast fashion paradigm and thus appears to be without uniqueness. The fashions presented by UNIQLO are effectively designed and technically competent, but from an aesthetic point of view, using a UNIQLO-driven wardrobe (particularly, though not exclusively, from the lower-priced basic ranges) would provide a very generic wardrobe that did not give any indication of its Japanese origins.


This research has shown that the influence of globalization on Japanese fashion has not occurred at just a single point or from a single area. Instead, it has changed according to global fashion itself along with changes in Japanese culture and fashion norms. The 1980s was a period of change in Japanese fashion, moving from an American, quantity-based mode of fashion consumption to a European, quality-based mode of fashion. This shift, driven by a rapid increase in economic growth and personal income, took the form of integration of European aristocratic brands, or as Chang (2004) termed them, 'superlogos,' which had specific race and gender based implications for the wearers. The introduction of fast fashion has further influenced Japanese fashion, although it has also resulted in a homogenization of fashion such that it no longer reflects the immediate political, cultural and other contexts of a given location such as Japan. In response, the development of street fashion can be seen as a hybridity response to the homogenizing forces of globalization and an integration of Japanese and international styles. Japanese style has not only been constrained to Japan, either. The UNIQLO clothing brand is an example of Japanese fashion that has been successful internationally, further increasing the cultural hybridity associated with economic globalization. Throughout this period, fashion in Japan has provided elements of both social belonging and expression of individual identity.

One of the most important lessons of this research is that fashion in Japan was neither imposed on a static system from the Western world nor did it develop as a form of mimicry or imitation of Western norms. Fashion has been a process within Japanese culture for a long time, and has often acted as a means of individuation among a highly constrained and hierarchal society. Introduction to Western fashion in the late 1800s during the Meiji period was not the introduction of fashion, but the introduction of a fashion and its change in order to meet the needs of the Japanese culture. This was the same situation as in the 1980s, when the rapid adoption of European fashion signified not the adoption of a dynamic fashion trend into a static society, but instead signified a shift in what could be determined a fashion paradigm. The on-going development and change of Japanese street fashion, as well as the global market entry of UNIQLO, demonstrate that the globalization of fashion is a live process that cannot be fully described in this essay.