Japan’s Fashion Industry Hires Foreign Workers to Cope with Labor Shortage

Faced with a declining labor force, the fashion industry has to find ways to meet the retail demands of rising tourist numbers

A display window of the Uniqlo store, the fashion industry giant
Uniqlo store
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The fashion industry in Japan has been struggling to find enough employees to fill vacancies in retail outlets or to help with expansion to overseas markets. In the first six months of this year, 15.9 foreign visitors travelled to Japan, a 16 per cent increase from last year. But, despite this increase in tourist numbers, the fashion retail industry has struggled to meet, and capitalize on, the demand of foreign visitors.

Due to its ageing society and declining birth rate, Japan’s population is shrinking. The resulting problem is an extreme lack of eligible employees. Department store chain, Lumine, had to take drastic action by cutting back on its opening hours. It has had to close 12 of its store half an hour earlier due to labor shortages.

Efforts by the government to relieve retail labor shortages

The Japanese government has expanded its visa options making it easier for the fashion industry in Japan to recruit specialist and skilled foreign workers.

However, Shigeru Furuichi, deputy director of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) believes the current regulations still have many gray areas which deter employers from trying to hire foreigners. So, more changes need to be made to remedy this and bring more international attention to Japan’s famous fashion industry.

Language ability remains a problem when hiring foreign employees, though. Workers need to be able to communicate in Japanese in order to work comfortably and efficiently in Japan.

Fast Retailing, the company behind the Uniqlo brand, has hired 20 foreign graduates with plans to place them in managerial roles

Big brands recognize the benefits of hiring foreign workers

Fast Retailing, the company behind the Uniqlo brand, has hired around 20 foreign graduates with plans to place them in managerial roles. The company hopes that its new recruits will help drive up sales and smooth the way for further expansion overseas.

Harajuku department store, Laforet, hired a foreign intern last year in a bid to better understand foreign markets and perspectives. In that regard, foreigners are good to collaborate with as it allows Japanese retailers to tailor their marketing towards visitors.

Fashion industry retailers can also hire trained temps

Tokyo-based World Mode Holdings is a company that provides temporary staff to apparel and cosmetic industries. It has recently launched an initiative to recruit Taiwanese people who want to work in Japan.

The company will train prospective employees as well as help fund travel and provide housing support. Workers will be taught Japanese-style customer service and the basics of the fashion industry. Well-trained staff will go a long way to raising retail brands in Japan and encourage tourists to become long-term online customers.

World Mode Holdings hopes to start dispatching staff to retailers in the southern regions of Kyushu and Okinawa by the end of this year.

Though Japan has been reluctant in the past to open its doors to foreign workers, it seems that it is one of the few options available to sustain many industries throughout the country. The fashion industry will certainly benefit from having more foreigners in the job pool, to solve the labor shortage and to facilitate expansion into overseas markets.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Hiring foreign workers will not only solve the labor-shortage problem, but it will also help retailers connect more with tourists. 

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Written by Catherine McGuinness

Writer and Journalist with a love for all things Japan.

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