Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Barbies strut their stuff

March 10, 2009

The Barbie event wasn’t like the typical press conferences I cover. The gathering to fete the iconic doll’s 50th birthday was full of women decked out in micro minis and spiked heels, with pink the dominant color – and Tokyo’s ubiquitous dark-suited salarymen nowhere in sight.

I felt a bit out of place in my navy business suit among all the fashonista public-relations reps and their “cho kawaii” (“super cute”) outfits designed for the Barbie clothing line for adults.

Barbie maker Mattel, having a hard time winning the hearts of Japanese children, is trying to charm adult women instead, launching golf, lingerie and home collections.

It will also roll out this year a Barbie Bridal line, bolstering the brand in a country where the doll market is ruled by local rival Licca-chan.


Mattel vice president John Cullen told me the company was trying to initially target grown-ups, as Japan is a strong adult-apparel market, before focusing on their core and original target — kids.

Mattel’s strategy seems to make sense for Japan, where single women aged 20-34 spent around $940 each on clothing in January to June last year — 70 percent more than men spent during the same period, according to private research firm Media Shakers.

The Barbie brand concept of “Elegant and Romantic” also would fit with Japan’s love for all things cute like the glittering decorations hanging from many women’s cellphones, music players and bags.

Companies, especially apparel makers, are finding that ”kawaii” has become a big profit-generator. The “Tokyo Girls Collection”, held last weekend, attracted over 20,000 people and related sales of $580,000, up 50 percent from last year, according to the Nikkei business daily.

What struck me most at the event was how confident, energetic and attractive the Barbie-like women were — and how unphased they seemed about recent tough economic times.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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