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Japan’s clothing companies want to gain ground in the U.S. market. Many offer carefully sewn, high-quality products. Their biggest challenge may be building brand awareness.

“Some companies exported Japan-made clothes in the past,” said Taku Kawai at brand management consultancy Kurt Salmon. “But their products carried high price tags and the companies failed to fully emphasize the value they were adding.”

The recent upswing in tourism to Japan, however, has helped to stoke interest in the country’s brands among Americans, Europeans and Asians. So there is hope: In 2014, the value of Japan’s clothing exports was 35 percent below the 1990 level but roughly 10 percent up on the year. The weak yen provided a tailwind.

Sanyo Shokai is set to start selling its 100nencoat line—literally, “100-year coat”—at U.S. department stores. Marketing will focus on durability; the coats are made with Japanese materials and sewn in Japan. Retail prices are expected to fall into the $700 to $1,000 range.

Sanyo Shokai has been selling China- and Vietnam-made coats in the U.S. for approximately $400 to $650. But the increasingly positive reputation of Japanese apparel has encouraged the company to bring over its more expensive 100nencoat line. It is considering making Japan-sewn products account for 30 percent of its U.S. product lineup.

Jeans maker Edwin, meanwhile, is rolling out a new brand called Edwin E-Standard in time for the autumn-winter season. The jeans will be sold in Japan as well as the U.S.

The company used to export jeans to the U.S. but suspended sales two years ago, having failed to develop distribution channels. Now it is giving the U.S. another go, betting on the appeal of the made-in-Japan label and the power of its parent, Itochu. The major trading house last year stepped in to sponsor Edwin’s restructuring.

Edwin this spring resumed showcasing its products at exhibitions in the U.S. It plans to sell the new jeans for around $300 a pair.

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Maker’s Shirt Kamakura has already enjoyed some success in New York, where it opened its first overseas store in 2012. Sales have been brisk. The company behind the Kamakura Shirts brand plans to establish a second shop in the city in October.

The company sells Japan-made shirts for $79 each. Maker’s Shirt Kamakura will consider introducing products made with special materials at the new location.

To help Japanese clothing brands succeed abroad, the Japan Fashion Industry Council has created a new marketing tool: a certification system. This confirms that products are purely Japan-made and have gone through certain processes.

Sanyo Shokai has already had its 100nencoats certified. Onward Kashiyama, another apparel company, plans to join the initiative.
If these companies succeed as much as they hope to, it could create complications for manufacturing here at home.

Fact is, only a small number of sewing plants still operate in Japan. Of clothes distributed domestically, a mere three percent or so are sewn in the country.

“This is causing highly skilled plants to be swamped with orders,” said an official at one major clothing company. “Apparel makers sometimes have to compete to get their orders accepted.”

©2015 Nikkei Inc. Nikkei Asian Review is published by Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved.

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The Japan Fashion Industry Council has created a new marketing tool: a certification system.