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Focusing on Japan: Magic Japan becomes Project Tokyo

By Barbara Russ

25 Jan 2019

The Magic Japan trade fair will reposition itself in the future: Under the new name Project Tokyo, the "carefully curated event" will be offering contemporary men's and womenswear collections as well as denim and accessories, according to the organisers in an announcement. It will debut in March and move from the outskirts of the city to the Tokyo International Forum - in the middle of the Tokyo business district in the immediate vicinity of Ginza.

The fair is part of of UBM Plc.’s portfolio, which Magic Japan has organized in the past, and aims to help foreign brands gain a foothold in the Japanese and other Asian markets through its trade contacts. FashionUnited spoke with director Hayato Ishihara about what will change in the next edition and why these steps were necessary.

How did you redefine the goal and mission of Project Tokyo (formerly Magic Japan)?

We spent much time talking to brands and buyers to better understand their needs. We found that better scheduling, a more convenient venue, a clearer concept and more preparation and follow-up were the need of the hour. We completely adapted our new show to these needs.

So what exactly will change compared to the past?

We have changed all the points mentioned. The dates have been brought forward from the end of April to 27-28 March. We have moved the show from Tokyo Big Sight (on the outskirts of Tokyo) to Tokyo International Forum (in the heart of Tokyo). The new Project Tokyo concept is not an all-genre Magic Japan show, but offers and curates brands from contemporary to leading and emerging designer brands, bringing together Japanese and international buyers and brands. In the future, we will evaluate all brands and will not exhibit sourcing any longer. As a result, the show will be smaller, with some 200 to 250 brands expected. This will allow us to support the brands even more comprehensively before and after the show.

Why did you feel the show needed a change?

Because we talked to buyers and brands and listened to what they had to say. Both Japanese and international exhibitors and visitors expressed these wishes.

Who will be the target brands and visitors of Project Tokyo?

Our target brands are contemporary to leading & emerging designer brands. We will evaluate brands not only according to their price categories but also according to their history, originality and features.

Of course we want to attract the best retailers in Japan, including Isetan, Takashimaya, Tomorrowland, Estnation and others. We also have regional independent boutiques scattered across Japan, many of which are unknown and difficult for European brands to reach. We also want to attract online retailers such as Amazon Japan, Zozotown, Rakuten, Nissen and others. Finally, we are targeting other Asian retailers, including 19 from China, two from Taiwan, two from Hong Kong and two from Korea that have already committed.

We want to position ourselves as a gateway to Asia for European and American brands, and our trade fair presence will allow brands to try out numerous markets. The list of participants is constantly being updated and can be viewed on our website.

What is the difference between the Japanese market and the USA, where Project comes from?

The fashion here in Japan is very diverse, from street fashion and avant-garde to traditional and modern. We also have our own unique Harajuku styles as well as traditional Japanese fabrics and garments.

What are the advantages and challenges of this particular market?

The advantages are that Japan is a well-established, mature market where buyers and consumers understand product details and differences. Japan is geographically small and the population is quite heavily concentrated in the big cities, so the large number of shops is very concentrated.

The challenges are definitely the language and the Japanese retailers being strict in terms of quality and time. For this reason, Japanese retailers may be cautious when it comes to doing business with a new brand from abroad. It is often said that it takes time to do business with a new Japanese retailer, but once you've started, it's long-term - and sometimes hard to escape!

What kind of German/European brand/exhibitor should study the Japanese market?

Japan is particularly exciting for brands that have a strong history with many details and character behind their brand and products, or a brand that adapts to Japanese sizes and tastes. For example, the Japanese tend to be smaller and thinner than Americans or Europeans and they tend to show less skin than customers in the West. They are also a little more conservative when it comes to the colors they choose, as can be seen in comparison to the Chinese. Last but not least, brands that want to conquer the Japanese market should be patient and have a long-term strategy for the market.

How difficult is it to enter the Japanese market as a foreign brand and how would you proceed?

As mentioned earlier, it is often said that it takes time to establish a business relationship with a new Japanese retailer, but once you have started it, it lasts a long time. That's why we've expanded support for the show to include a pre-show matchmaking service and post-show communication support for the brands. Our mission is not just to sell space in an exhibition, but to connect with retailers and support them until they receive orders. As far as we know, Project Tokyo is the only event in Japan that offers such comprehensive support for brands.

What will visitors take home with them from Project Tokyo?

Japanese visitors can discover a wide range of selected brands from around the world, many of which are new to the market. Foreign visitors can discover high quality Japanese brands with character that are not yet well known in their markets.

The interview was conducted in writing and was originally published on FashionUnited DE. Translated and edited by Simone Preuss.

Photos: Courtesy Project Tokyo