The Shake Up At Tokyo Fashion Week

Jessica Michault,

Two key changes at Tokyo Fashion Week this season will be affecting both the business side and the creative side of the event going forward. First, in terms of business, Rakuten has stepped up to become its official main sponsor. Rakuten is a Japanese online retailing giant that is giving Amazon a run for its money as the leader of e-commerce in the country. On the other hand,when it comes to the creative side of the fashion week, the organization has enlisted Kaoru Imajo, a young and dynamic director to head up the Japan Fashion Week Organization (JFWO) – which organizes the event.

The news that Rakuten would be taking over as sponsor from Amazon this year was only announced in August. This left little time for the organization to make any major changes to the day to day operations of the fashion week, however at an exclusive cocktail to celebrate the partnership, Hiroshi Mikitani, the Japanese billionaire businessman and founder, and also the chairman and CEO of Rakuten talked about how “this is the beginning of a new stage for our fashion business. Our intent is not just to grow our own fashion site but we really wanted to become a big supporter of the entire Japanese fashion [industry] and designers. I think there is huge room for growth and I think we can make fashion a huge industry for Japan.”

Rakuten Brand Avenue is now Rakuten Fashion.

Considering that Fashion reportedly contributed sales of 600 billion yen (£4.4 billion) to Rakuten’s bottom line recently, according to Vogue Business, it is understandable why Mikitani is so bullish about the partnership with the organization. Additionally, he announced that the company’s fashion e-commerce platform changed its name, to coincide with the fashion week, from Rakuten Brand Avenue to Rakuten Fashion.

Imajo’s potential to lead Tokyo Fashion Week into the next decade has already been spotted by Business of Fashion which named him one of only 100 new members to its highly regarded BOF 500 list this year. But he is no stranger to Tokyo Fashion Week. Imajo has been working with the organization for 10 years. He trained under the tutelage of his predecessor Akiko Shinoda and in that time he learned all the ins and outs of how to run a fashion week like a well-oiled machine. 

 Where his fingerprints could be felt the most this season was in the rebranding of the fashion week to something younger, hipper and a bit more daring. The best example of this was his decision to tap creative director Kosuke Kawamura to create the imagery for the week-long event, which included a retro-cool homepage video and covetable black and white Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo t-shirts worn by the staff throughout the week.

“I go out with the designers. I go out drinking with them. I go with them to the clubs. I know them on a more personal level and I want to bring things into the fashion week, like having Mr. Kawamura do the key visuals this season, that people in Shibuya will find interesting,” said Imajo. Additionally, he also said that he would like to invite more international designers to show at Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, not just from the west, but also from within Asia to highlight top talents from all over the region.

This season, less than 10 of the 42 brands who showed during the fashion week were from outside of Japan – three of which came via a new collective called Fashion & Culture Exchange Africa-Japan (FACE A—J), an organization that brought the work of LVMH Prize winner Thebe Magugu, LVMH Prize finalist Kenneth Ize and Kenyan Anyango Mpinga to Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo and saw Japanese designers present their creations at Lagos Fashion Week.

Japan has also built a strong infrastructure of fashion awards that act something like a funnel towards building brand awareness for local designers internationally, supporting them as they mature and grow. For example, take designer Takuya Morikawa, his brand TAAKK first won the Tokyo New Fashion Designer Grand Prix back in 2013 as a young designer. Then in 2017, he was one of the six designers chosen to receive the year-long support of the Tokyo Fashion Award. Finally, this season he was the recipient of the prestigious Fashion Prize of Tokyo – a win that will support Morikawa with his future FW20/21 and SS21 collections at Paris Fashion Week.

Takuya Morikawa, the founder of TAAKK, was this year’s winner of the prestigious Fashion Prize of Tokyo.

The American fashion consultant Nick Wooster, who has been a regular fashion week attendee since 2014, is on the jury of the Tokyo Fashion Award and thinks programs like it in Japan are key to helping local brands understand the global market. “It’s an incubator for promoting Japanese designers abroad for over a year. We choose six brands and they expose them to the West with a booth at Pitti Uomo and a showroom in Paris during the fashion weeks in January and June. And we have already seen great results for brands like Facetasm, Doublet, TAAKK and Children of the Discordance. It gives an opportunity for Japan to show itself to a wider audience,” said Wooster.  

Another way for these brands to gain global awareness is by having more international press and buyers attending their shows in Tokyo. This season, Shanghai Fashion Week and Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo worked together to split costs on press and buyers who want to attend both fashion weeks. A strategic move that, going forward, would make it possible to stretch budgets to invite more key industry players to the fashion weeks. 

“I think it is always good if people from different fashion weeks can coordinate and cooperate so that it is possible to have as many international press and buyers attend these fashion weeks,” said Jesse Hudnutt, a consultant and freelance buyer who was in Tokyo for the brand Trés Bien.

But that sensible idea of collaboration could be a fleeting solution as Imajo hinted that changes might be afoot in the calendar dates of Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo in the future. “We are kind of thinking of moving this fashion week to end of August or beginning of September next season,” he said.





Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.

the writer

Jessica Michault

Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.

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