How the Japan earthquake and its aftermath are affecting the global supply chain for companies like Sony and Apple has made front page headlines, but designers based in Japan, who also produce their goods there, and textile manufacturers based in the region are bound to be affected too.
While Japan certainly doesn’t come close to matching China or India when it comes to producing fabric and apparel, there will certainly be those who are impacted as factories remain shut from damages, the transportation system continues to be crippled, and many continue to migrate away from the radiation hot zones.
The good news is that experts believe the impact on the global apparel supply chain will be relatively small. Those concerned that the crisis will impact the price of cotton (which has already seen record highs this year) needn’t fear: Japan had been a major textile manufacturer and the US used to export a lot cotton to the country, but no longer. Dr. John Robinson, AgriLife Extension's cotton marketing economist says, "That industry has shrunk relative to China and some Pacific Rim countries," and there's unlikely to be any significant effect on cotton prices as a result of the crisis.
What's more: Japan doesn't actually represent as large a marketshare in terms of luxury as it once did, meaning low foot traffic or store closures for brands like Louis Vuitton might not necessarily make as much of a dent as some tracking the luxury market may have feared. As James Lawson, a director at Ledbury Research in London, told WWD:
As a marketplace, it is certainly less significant than even five years ago: Japan represents around 10 percent of global luxury good sales currently, down from closer to 18 percent in 2001.
Textile innovation, however, could be impacted. Japan has long been a leader in textile manufacturing beginning in 5,500 when artisans began making cloth fibers from bark. Today, Japanese designers and manufacturers are pioneering eco-friendly textiles and dyes.
Designer Hiroko Koshino, for instance, created a series of eco-friendly gowns last year using a silk crepe fabric combined with biofront, a highly heat resistant bioplastic. Small manufacturers in the region make eco-friendly textiles selling them on places like Etsy and through showrooms in New York City. And Japan remains a key supplier of advanced high-tech fibers (its fiber exports rose by 29 percent to $1.32 billion last year).
The impact on smaller luxury labels and cult brands that manufacture their goods in Japan has also yet to be seen. Brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Junya Watanabe make clothes in Japan. Mikimoto houses factories and a pearl farm in Ainoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture. And Japanese denim has been the go-to in cool for the last decade with companies like Diesel and Evisu depending on Japan to create high-end denim famous for its woven edges and its deep indigo color, which requires yarn to be dipped up to 30 times to produce. High-end Japanese street wear companies like The Bathing Ape, Julius and Dry Bones could also feel the deepening effects.
It should be said that the country’s apparel industry’s ability to bounce back from this current crisis may just come from what “Made in Japan” has come to signify in fashion—quality, innovation and craftsmanship—which aren’t considered that easy to outsource.
And while the impact to the apparel supply chain has been relatively minor at this point, it’s the fear of the long-term implications that has many unsure of the future. Kurt Cavano, CEO of TradeCard, a supply chain platform, says: "There's this huge trickle effect, this whole chain reaction that takes place, but you just don't know what that chain reaction's going to be. You can try to guess what's going to happen, but it's really tough."