Sue Kinoshita: Director of UK Trade & Investment Japan, shares her experience of this year's GREAT Week in Japan events which involved nearly 50 UK companies and over 500 Japanese buyers.
It wasn't quite the Queen in her carriage being hailed by her subjects, and no crowns were involved, but riding the top deck of a UK “Shopping is GREAT” branded double-decker around the hippest part of Tokyo and having passers-by wave and smile gave me a bit of a sense of what Her Majesty must feel like. We even had an outrider, in the shape of a similarly-branded Mini.
The British brand is so strong in Japan, with the Union flag ubiquitous on clothing, accessories, soft furnishings and dog-wear (what do you mean, your dog doesn't follow fashion? Shame on him/her!), that those of us who'd hitched a lift on the bus to advertise the GREAT week in Japan suddenly felt a whole lot more popular than we would have done on foot among the same crowds.
The patriotic vehicles were just two of the features of this year's GREAT Week in Japan. Designed to raise awareness of British style and quality, and sales of British products, it incorporated a plethora of B-B and B-C elements, and the interplay between them all combined to create both business and buzz. Nearly 50 UK companies relatively new to the Japanese market, from the fashion, lifestyle and food/drink sectors joined the GREAT Week mission to participate in a business showcase that attracted well over 500 buyers.
From the mosaic-inspired ties and bags of Mark/Giusti to the 50s-England taste of Breckland Orchard’s cream soda with rhubarb, from the mythological references of Simon Harrison Ltd's jewellery to the wood-inlaid footwear of Diego Vanassibara, the rooms just abounded with creativity and painstaking workmanship, all executed with a sense of fun and exuberance that was completely infectious, including to the visiting distributors and retailers.
Best of British brands on display
These companies were at the start of their foray into Japan, but they have plenty of role models to inspire them. Dozens of British brands with an established presence in Japan, from Daks to Doc Martens, Daylesford Organic to Drakes (other letters of the alphabet are available) also signed up to the Shopping is GREAT jamboree. Media partner Time Out Japan produced a brilliant map showing their locations in the main shopping areas of Tokyo, and their associated online feature made it to the number one slot over an attraction-packed Bank Holiday weekend.
For those who couldn't make it out to the shops there was the online retail option too, with leading Japanese fashion e-retail platform Laso creating a special UK Shopping is GREAT page featuring 42 British brands, both new and established. Online shopping isn't yet as popular in Japan as it is in the UK, so there's a real opportunity for companies to snatch some early-mover advantage in this space, and GREAT Week was there to help them.
There were plenty of other attractions too, from talk shows, Shaun the Sheep and a pop-up shop at ultra-trendy MaruCube in Tokyo's premier shopping district to special offers, a dedicated Facebook page which attracted over 10,000 followers, and a British promotion at leading department store Isetan.
I took up residence for a while on the 2nd floor there to point out to unsuspecting passing shoppers the Roundel London casual wear based on old London Underground upholstery designs. I was unaccountably thrilled to see this little scrap of my childhood memory-bank gracing Tokyo's most on-trend menswear store and felt compelled to tell everyone just how cool and retro it was. When I took my husband back 20 minutes later to show him, they had sold out, so my impromptu sales pitch seemed to work. Either that or the staff quietly removed them in case the crazy gaijin (me) came back and started proselytising again.
Explore the market
We're still collecting the feedback from the trade mission members, the sales reports from the participating stores and the order figures from Laso. But all the signs are that the promotion was hugely successful in both of its aims - increased sales of British products and heightened awareness of British style and creativity.
If you are in the retail or consumer goods sector, now would be a great time to explore the market and capitalise on the buzz generated by GREAT Week. And just as soon as we've recovered from our Royal Wave RSI we'll be starting work planning next year's edition - look out for details in due course on www.exporttojapan.co.uk.
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