I spoke at the second workshop of the Fashion and Translation network at Northumbria University earlier this month, on my perceptions on the interaction between Japanese and British fashion brands over the past few decades, mentioning how Burberry ending the contract with Sanyo Shokai recently to represent them in Japan seemed like the end of an era.
Teaming up with a trading house used to be the main way Western fashion brands entered the Japanese market, licensing production and design to local firms – but it did result in brand dilution – such as Ungaro, Pierre Cardin and (I seem to remember) even Burberry logos appearing on toilet slippers.
Masahiko Sugiura, the President of Sanyo Shokai,says it will take five years for Sanyo Shokai to plug the gap that Burberry will leave, in an interview in a recent edition of Nikkei Business (Japanese, subscription required). Apparently the contract had been renewed for 20 years from 2000, but the decision was made by Burberry in 2009, in the aftermath of the Lehman Shock, to shorten the contract to 2015. He acknowledges this will have a major impact on Sanyo, who started importing Burberry coats in 1965, and then began manufacturing under license, teaming up with Mitsui, in 1970. They now supply around 300 outlets in Japan, but the impact of this goes beyond the Japanese market, as so many tourists come from Asia to shop in Japan, which is presumably why Burberry felt the need to regain complete control.
Sanyo’s Japan manufactured products were 30-40% cheaper than imported Burberry and they also started a Burberry Blue label for women, and a Burberry Black label for men. They are going to be allowed to continue these labels but without the Burberry name. However Sugiura is not betting on customers continuing to support these labels without the Burberry association, so he is looking to link up with other brands – but says this was not easy to do whilst still associated with Burberry. Sanyo did acquire British brand Mackintosh in 2007, however. I’m guessing there will not be any toilet slippers in forthcoming ranges though.
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