• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

School uniform makers evolve, changing outfits to echo the times

Japanese junior and senior high school uniforms are undergoing a wave of major transformations not seen in decades, with some moving away from mass-producing designs.

Some schools have also introduced gender-free options in keeping pace with recent trends.

FULFILLING SCHOOL LIFE

Despite the fallen birthrate, major school uniform makers have found themselves busy increasing production and distribution capabilities.

The prefecture-run Okayama Minami Senior High School in Okayama’s Kita Ward unveiled its new uniforms to the media on Dec. 1 last year.

The new clothing will be introduced this coming spring.

“Tsume-eri” uniforms with stand-up collars for boys will be replaced by gender-free blazers and slacks in navy blue.

White short-sleeved polo shirts will also be adopted as part of the summer uniform.

The school decided to retain not only sailor-style clothing for girls but also  the white jacket for winter because the jacket is popular among the students.

“Both current students and graduates unanimously agreed to keep the white jacket,” said Kiriho Nagao, a sales representative at a group company of Kanko Gakuseifuku Co. based in the Okayama prefectural capital, which oversaw the new uniforms.

“I thought hard about how to incorporate the public image of the white jacket into the new blazer,” she added.

To achieve it, she added a brown accent to the collar of the blazer to create a better sense of unity with the sailor-style uniform.

The polo shirts, as well as cardigans and vests adopted in the 2023 academic year, are also similar in style to the white jacket.

“I hope each and every student will have a comfortable and fulfilling school life as they choose what they want to wear for the day,” said Akari Fukase, a high school senior who was involved in discussions of the new uniforms, to her younger schoolmates.

A total of 747 junior and senior high schools across the country have adopted new uniforms since 2023, according to Japan Wool Textile Co., an Osaka-based leading manufacturer and seller of textiles for uniforms.

In 2022, a record number of junior and senior high schools changed their student uniforms.

And the figure for 2023 nearly doubled that, with 577 junior high schools and 170 senior high schools updating their apparel. 

By comparison, 78 junior high schools and 336 senior high schools replaced clothing for students in 1992.

GROWING DIVERSITY

Okayama Prefecture has boasted having the top domestic market share in school uniforms for many years.

The prefecture retained the top spot in 2021, with about 6.06 million uniforms shipped from the prefecture, accounting for about 70 percent of the domestic market in terms of value.

The industry rose to prominence in the prefecture in the Kojima district, now part of Kurashiki, between the late Taisho (1912-1926) and early Showa eras (1926-1989) when “tabi” sock producers and other business operators from different sectors switched their businesses.

School uniforms were mass-produced after synthetic fabrics were introduced following the war.

In 1963, a record 10.06 million uniforms were produced in the prefecture.

Although production decreased due to excessive competition and other factors, Akashi H.K.C. (currently Akashi School Uniform Company Ltd.), a leading student uniform maker known for the Fuji Yacht brand, self-published “Seifuku Kakumei” (School uniform revolution) in 1986.

In the book, the company promoted the concept of a “school identity,” under which the needs of students are incorporated into the educational ideal of the school.

In 1988, the company unveiled student uniforms designed by fashion designer Hanae Mori.

Kanko Gakuseifuku, Teikoku Co. (currently Tombow Co.) and others followed suit, introducing school clothing by famous designers, and they adopted blazers.

The major transformations since the late 1980s are driven by considering types of diversity among the students to make the school environment gender-neutral and friendly to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Kanko Gakuseifuku’s group sales reached a record high of about 40.9 billion yen ($276 million) in the year ending in July 2023, marking eight consecutive years of sales growth.

The company also reported a significant drop in profits, however, because of cost increases, posting a net loss of 207 million yen.

Kanko Gakuseifuku could mass-produce nationally standardized uniforms during the Showa Era, but it must be able to produce a wide variety of uniforms in small quantities to meet the widespread needs for uniforms unique to each school.

The company will increase the capabilities of its factory in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, this year to sew blazers and other outfits.

It has also become common for manufacturers to organize garment pieces into different sets for each student to wear, taking over the task from retailers.

The company has been enhancing the capabilities of its logistics centers in Gunma and Miyazaki prefectures, as well as in Kurashiki’s Kojima district, since 2019.

“We want to find out what changes are on the horizon and produce uniforms appropriate for the times,” said Norihiro Soyama, a Kanko Gakuseifuku director, who joined the company’s predecessor in 1985.


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