Kimonos a dying art

The sale of kimonos has declined in recent years. In 1999, sales were still Y797.3 billion (£3.34 billion), but the Japanese Yano Research Institute estimates that sales will have dropped to Y529.5 billion this year. Demand for the traditional costumes has fallen as contemporary Japanese women are increasingly chosing Western gowns for their weddings over the kimono.A decline in the Japanese population has also resulted in smaller sales of kimonos. Moreover, they are extremely expensive, with prices somethimes reaching tens of thousands of pounds.

Perhaps emphasising the deterioration of an industry that is grounded in tradition, a US private equity fund – Olympus Capital Holdings Asia – is acquiring a 33.3 percent stake in kimono retailer Kyoto Kimono Yuzen. With 53 stores throughout Japan, the company is the market leader in furisode , a formal kimono with long sleeves that is often bought or rented for a daughters 20 th birthday – a rite of passage in Japan. The average price of a furisode is Y400,000 to Y500,000.

Olympus will bring in its own management, with the current president – a member of the founding family – resigning his position. The company believes there is a future for kimonos and the goal is to optimize current operations, particularly exploiting the customer database to target wealthy families who might buy a traditional kimono. “It is a very traditional industry but the company has relatively healthy operating margins at 15-18 percent,” Olympus Capital Japan’s managing director Naoto Obama told the FT. “There is a huge opportunity to expand revenues from the traditional kimono segment.”

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