A longstanding love affair: Japan’s appreciation of Scottish style
Traditional Scottish staples have long been a key part of the Japanese wardrobe, building on strong economic and cultural links between the two countries. They share a common appreciation of the artisanal skills, craftsmanship and heritage that Scottish fashion and textiles are known for, as well as the stunning landscape which inspires many collections.
Each season in Japan, leading department stores and statement boutiques are awash with Scottish designs ranging from chunky Shetland sweaters and Fair isle knits through to Harris Tweed accessories, tartans skirts and herringbone jackets. You are often more likely to see a unique take on the traditional Scottish look in Tokyo or Osaka than you are in Glasgow or Edinburgh.
The prestigious Isetan department store holds a Tartan Week each year, while Hankyu department store runs a very well publicised British Week every year featuring a number of Scottish brands.
“Japan is the most supportive of all of our export markets for Scottish manufactured fashion and textiles,” says Paul Alger MBE, Director of International Business at UKFT Scotland. “The Japanese consumer is the most enamoured with Fair Isle knitwear, Harris Tweed from the outer Hebrides and each year the Japanese consumer demonstrates their great affection for these products.
“The Japanese have a unique ability to take Scottish heritage and design and to present it to consumers in a contemporary way. They are extremely good at distilling the essence of the story of ‘made in Scotland’ while making it relevant for contemporary urban Japanese lifestyles.”
Johnstons of Elgin, the cashmere and woollen specialist with two mills in Elgin and Hawick in Scotland which was established in 1797, has a long history with the Japanese market. It has its own permanent office and local distributor, selling to major department stores and leading luxury retail groups, as well as independent boutiques.
Simon Cotton, CEO of Johnstons of Elgin, says: “We have found the market to be extremely interested in authentic, Scottish-made, high quality products with a genuine story to tell. It is our largest branded export market.
“The Japanese consumer is extremely interested in heritage, authenticity and quality and is extremely sophisticated, taking tremendous pride in putting together their wardrobe from a combination of Scottish brands, Italian brands and other international influences. They generally see the UK as a great source for traditional styles which they will combine with contemporary offers to create their own look.”
ERIBÉ is a knitwear design and manufacturing house based in Melrose, Scotland, known for its twist on traditional Scottish knitwear, in particular the classic Fair Isle.
Rosemary Eribé CEO of ERIBÉ Knitwear, says: “We started working together with Japanese wholesalers in the early 1990s and learned new ways of conducting business and the pleasure gained through collaboration and mutual support.
“Our Japanese customers have been loyal to ERIBÉ, appreciating new designs, innovations and our Scottish colours. Japanese people relate to Scotland, living on mountainous islands themselves and therefore appreciate and enjoy Scottish culture, heritage and what we produce.”
Japan’s relationship with Scotland’s iconic Harris Tweed, meanwhile, is long and complex – starting with cloth merchants more than a century ago.
“It is because Harris Tweed has been known and revered in Japan for so long that it has adapted time and again to be part of changing fashions,” explains Margaret MacLeod, Sales Director at Harris Tweed Hebrides. “Perhaps more than anywhere outside its homeland, Harris Tweed is known and respected as a brand in its own right.
“The Japanese have the ability to use the fabric’s unique colours and patterns to design special things – whether it is a lady striding down a Shibuya street holding a tote bag or a gentleman wearing a blazer in an Osaka café. Few wear it better or respect it more.”
Paul Alger MBE says: “The Japanese have great appreciation for quality textiles and knitwear. Every year we see queues of Japanese consumers at Florence menswear buying show Pitti Uomo outside the stands of brands like Shetland and Fair Isle knitwear specialist Jamieson of Scotland, and they regularly have to turn people away.
“Japan’s fashion and lifestyle publications are the most informative, probing and inquisitive in the world and the Japanese consumer has a far greater understanding of the way goods are manufactured, why heritage is important and the significance of great design than probably any other market.”
Paul Alger MBE continues: “The Japanese consumer is all about the story behind a brand and in Scotland, there is a really strong story about artisanal skills, craftsmanship and the beautiful colours of the landscape that they can’t get enough of.
“That’s why we are delighted to promote the strengths of the Scottish fashion and textiles once again and introduce these 13 brands to the Japanese market, in this unique collaboration with Scottish Development International.”
Neil McInnes, head of the consumer lifestyle team at Scottish Development International, said: “Japan is a really an important market for Scottish textiles and there has always been a strong appreciation amongst Japanese consumers for the heritage and craftsmanship of Scottish products. Project Tokyo is a fantastic platform for us to showcase some new and exciting brands for the Japanese market from luxury fashion and knitwear to designer handbags, luxury watches and sustainable skincare products.”
Read more on the Contemporary Scottish lifestyle showcase at Project Tokyo