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Understanding the Depth of Fashion
―A Confluence of Art and Business―

Hisashi Takei
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Waseda University

1. Studying Fashion

Bunka Fashion College is about an eight-minute walk from the South Exit of JR Shinjuku Station along the Koshu Kaido Road. The fashion college has a 90-year history, stretching back to its founding in 1923. Since the end of World War II, it has produced numerous designers who have enjoyed widespread international success. The college is said to have opened its doors to male students in 1957. There is a tendency to focus on the spectacular work of famous designers, but we must not forget that this was a college for women to acquire skills in fashion so they could make a living. The story of the Koshino sisters and their mother gained popularity when NHK started broadcasting a TV drama series modeled on them in October 2011. Hiroko and Junko graduated from the college at almost the same time as Kenzo Takada, who would go on to produce fashion items known under the Kenzo brand. The mother of the Koshino sisters lost her husband in the war and raised the three sisters while running a dressmaker.

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to take my seminar students on a field trip to see the inside of the college. We learned that pragmatic training in sewing with machines different from the ones for home use, including sewing machine practice, is a fundamental aspect of fashion education. We sensed that the history of Japanese textiles, apparel and fashion had been condensed and stored in the college, along with the exhibits at its Costume Museum. This was nothing more or less than the history of fashion and the development of industrial infrastructure. I heard that the students at the college had time to appreciate the aesthetics of the statue of Buddha in Nara and study the folds and other delicate forms. Fashion has been handed down for 1,300 years.

2. The Uniqlo Spirit

There is a quarterly magazine called The Thinker [Kangaeru Hito]. It was first launched in 2002, the latest issue being the July 2013 Summer Issue (Feature article: Are Mathematics Beautiful?). The magazine’s sole sponsor is Fast Retailing, known for its Uniqlo brand. Tadashi Yanai, the chairperson and president of the company, explained that the magazine was born out of a proposal from Shinchosha Publishing to create a magazine with the aim of carefully thinking about things while living a down-to-earth, simple life. He said, “I take pride in being a sponsor, and I think the employees of the company also sense how meaningful it is” (Treasure Chest of the Heart [Kokoro no Tamate-bako], The Nikkei, October 20, 2006).

Due to the company’s explosive growth since the fleece boom and the current size of its social presence, people do not remember that the first Uniqlo store opened in 1984 in Hiroshima and went out of business only to close in 1991, or that the company tried to branch out from the clothing business and sell vegetables, a plan that was eventually abandoned. Uniqlo’s progress was not as smooth as society imagines; you can tell it was a challenge Yanai staked his life on after inheriting his father’s store. The above-mentioned Treasure Chest of the Heart series in The Nikkei was very interesting because of the frankness with which Yanai discussed his feelings. According to the series, Yanai grew up in a men’s clothing store in the shopping district of Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture and was strongly influenced from a young age by his father, who served as his business teacher. And Yanai got his inspiration for turning Uniqlo into a SPA (specialty store retailer of private-label apparel) two years after the company was founded while on a trip to Hong Kong in 1986.

It is widely known that Uniqlo’s strategic partnership with Toray Industries, a material manufacturer, lies behind the company's subsequent development of hit products. A typical example is Uniqlo’s Heattech functional innerwear. The establishment of a strong system connecting the textile business from upstream to downstream was an event that symbolizes a major shift in the industry.

3. The Richness of Fiction

We live in an age when there is a demand for manufacturing by producers who keep the sale of the product in mind, regardless of the industry or scale. Branding is a tactic for this. It’s no longer enough to make a good-quality product and have someone sell it for you using their marketing skills. You need to develop products with the market in mind from the very beginning. Success in the fashion industry has been hit-or-miss due to the lengthy and complicated process of transforming raw materials into products and the presence of changing trends. Advancements in IT have enabled quick processing and sharing of information among companies, leading to the rapid growth of fast fashion, in which trends are quickly implemented and products are sold for short time periods. Fast fashion, characterized by speed and cheap prices, has gained popularity among young people.

Fashion is something that assigns meaning to things, captures people’s attention, and leads the times in its nature. Images are the world of fiction as opposed to reality. Just as recording an everyday conversation does not result in a moving drama, appropriate expressive devices and equipment are required to dramatize the world of fiction. One could even say that it is the richness of fiction that makes reality meaningful. Gaining an understanding of fashion requires us to deeply appreciate and think about daily life, learn from the past, and cultivate ourselves to be more receptive.

Hisashi Takei
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Waseda University

Professor Takei was born in 1954. He graduated from the School of Commerce, Waseda University and completed the doctoral program at the Graduate School of Commerce, Waseda University.
After teaching on the Faculty of Economics, Oita University and the Faculty of Business Administration, Kanagawa University, he became an Assistant Professor at the School of Commerce, Waseda University in 1993 and a Professor there in 1995. His major publications include Interpretive Marketing Research [Kaishakuteki Maaketingu Kenkyuu] and Modern Marketing Communication [Gendai Maaketingu Comyunikeeshon] (both published by Hakuto-Shobo Publishing Company). He specializes in marketing theory. He is the President of the Japan Society for Commodity Science.