Takao Yajima

CEO Flex Japan
29 February 2008
An interview with the President of leading shirt-maker Flex Japan
Takao Yajima is President of Flex Japan Co., Ltd. — one of Japan's premier shirt manufacturers. Flex makes a wide variety of shirts under their own private brands, as well as licensed goods for foreign labels such as Harvie & Hudson and Stephens Brothers. We sat down with Mr. Yajima to learn more about current trends in Japanese "shirt culture" and its market.

How did you originally get involved in the apparel business?

I entered Flex Japan at the age of 32. Before that, I had been working in a completely different sector. I specialized in aeronautics during university and then worked at a trading company selling fighters and missiles to the Japanese Defense Ministry. My parents ran this shirts manufacturer, but I had no interest in continuing the family tradition. But I was the only boy in my family, so I decided it was time to go back and keep the family business alive.

How has Flex Japan evolved since you joined?

In the past, we were a manufacturer that only catered to the "volume zone," but in the late 1990s, we started to make also make shirts for up-market retailers as well. At present, we sell shirts from the cheapest to the most expensive price zones and in all retail formats.

How has the Japanese shirt business changed over the last fifty years or so?

There are many ways it has changed. In Japan, we call shirts you wear under suits "Y-shirts." That "Y" comes from "white." As the word suggests, Japanese men basically wouldn't choose any shirt colors other than white for a very long time. Until the early 1990s, you could build your entire business on just making white shirts.

There were no other colors popular in the 1980s?

Just making white, blue, and light blue was enough. Looking around at our latest exhibition, however, you can see that things have gotten very colorful when compared to the past.

Who wanted more colors first —
manufacturers or consumers?

It was probably both. One thing is that the manufacturers were entering a price war by just making white shirts. There was little demand to buy new shirts, so the suppliers could only expand by making more colorful shirts. Speaking from the consumer side, you have to first realize the strictness of the dress code. More and more colors are finally being accepted. The biggest change so far was three years ago when the government instituted the Cool Biz campaign [aiming to keep down energy usage in the summer by asking companies to change teh office dress code to get rid of jackets and ties.] This made the dress shirt the main part of the man's wardrobe, which was a huge change to the flow of things. This year will be the fourth year for Cool Biz.
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