The market for our shoes is where the population is aging
Japan-based FitJoy, a shoe brand for women, has been in the footwear industry for over 50 years. Known for its comfort, the brand uses high-quality insoles, lightweight material and cushion-like soles to distribute the burden while walking and reduce fatigue. VP & COO Mark Tokuhara discusses the footwear market in Japan and more in an interview with Fibre2Fashion.
What are your expectations from HKTDC Fashion Week Fair?
We are into manufacturing shoes, and this is the first time we are attending the Hong Kong Fashion Week. We make lightweight shoes which are soft and elastic. They are made out of sheep's skin. We have been in the OEM business for more than 20 years. FitJoy is our first brand. The Hong Kong shoe market is huge, and it is also the place for getting entry into other shoe markets. I can find wholesalers and retailers in the industry to expand business here.
For how many years have you been in this shoe business?
All our customers are in Japan since we were into the domestic market. Last year, I attended the Taipei Gift Show in Taiwan Type and we did land a deal with a wholesaler at the show. This is the second fair that we are attending. We have been in this business for almost 20 years; this is my family company. My father is now 50 years old; he made shoes for the first time in Japan and moved to Korea, then Taiwan, and then to China. We are now making these shoes in Cambodia; so, our manufacturing is in Cambodia. The shoes are designed in Japan and then developed in China, but our manufacturing unit is in Cambodia. So, I often go around the globe for work.
How would you describe the shoes market? What factors impact this market?
People are aging now, especially in Japan. The market for our shoes is where the population is aging. Most of our customers are people over the age of 60. They like our shoes because they are soft and comfortable. Aged people like our soft and stress-free shoes. Our designs and colours are soft and pastels. We have received great feedback from our customers. Many aged people complain about not finding the right footwear and facing discomfort. But after trying FitJoy, a lot of our customers tell us that they've finally found something comfortable to wear.
What do you think is the global market size for your product?
We are so far only dealing in women's footwear. Our target is the senior market; we are looking at aged people since young people in Japan do not have enough money.
What is the cost of the shoes?
Our shoes are not very expensive. Our retail price is about $120. But, it also depends on what kind of retail stores are there at different locations. For instance, in Tokyo, our customers find the pricing very cheap. But customers from a small town at a departmental store will not think of it as cheap; so, it all depends on the location.
Where do you source your raw material from?
I went looking for many tanners for the material, and I finally found one in the very interior part of China. The shoe's sole is very soft and provides great cushioning, and is very flexible as well and not slippery.
What is the strength of the footwear industry in Japan?
Japan is a very small country, an island. Its population is aging. Hence, I need to look and find new markets and visit fairs like these to sell my product.
What has been your growth story in the last few years?
This is the second year for us. We started in 2017 spring summer. Thus, 2018 spring summer will be our third time. We have already sold 20,000 pairs in Japan. We are available in most of the Japanese departmental stores that include centres in all of Tokyo and all of Osaka. We are present in about 50-60 departmental stores. So, the business is enough in Japan, and it's time for us to go out and expand.
How do you receive feedback from customers?
We spend approximately in 4-5 per cent of our profits on it. We put a post card in our shoe boxes, telling our customers to send their opinion so as to get a $5 money card. We have received feedback from about 3,000 people. We get a lot of information.
How do you see the emergence of smart footwear?
You know Adidas is going back to Germany to study to make shoes. Everybody sees that shoes and apparel is the fundamental industry. Adidas has already started on its automation concepts. My next target is the automated shoes with online or IT solutions.
What are the latest trends in material composition or design, colours, embellishments in shoes?
As for Japan, aged people like light colours and light decoration. Young people like white, black, red. Also, aged people like pastel colours.
What are your best-selling products?
As of now, one of the most popular designs is the one without shoe laces. Aged people hate to tie and use hands for wearing shoes. If they desire to make it more fit, then there is a zip on the inside. They don't like zippers outside. This is the most popular one so far. There is one more shoe which appears flat and a lot of customers tell us that it's just like putting on socks and not shoes. These are very light. The other product that is popular is our running shoe, which are just like marathon shoes for professionals.
What are the major challenges of footwear as a category?
I am not looking here as a retailer. I don't like shoe stores because there are huge shoe brands in the world. If I give my shoes to stores here, then business would be very difficult, as my product will get lost in the crowded market. In Japan, we supply to shoe floors in departmental store.
How many stores do you have in Japan?
We have 60 stores in Japan. We plan to expand in Taiwan next.