British Week Supports UK Firms
Sept. 13, 2017
The best of UK produce has been brought to Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi as part of the luxury department store’s annual British Week, held twice over 6th–18th September.
With a range of items on sale and display each week, the event this year focuses on offering what Mitsukoshi describes as “an elegant and lovely teatime that is so familiar for Japanese people and so representative of the UK.”
And that famous activity is big business. Mitsukoshi has transformed its seventh floor event space into a myriad of small booths selling not only well-known brands of tea, shortbread, scones and other teatime favourites but also a wide range of china and silverware to serve it with. On the edges of the hall, a number of cafes offer a sit-down teatime experience, while other stalls offer British favourites such as pies and fish and chips.
High turnover for high tea
At the close of her first week at the event, Peggy Porschen, London cake-maker to celebrities such as Kate Moss, Elton John and Madonna, estimated to have had about 200 covers per day at her pop-up shop instore, with another 100 or so cupcakes being bought daily to take away. It was the first time for her to present her trademark pink Victoria sponge cake and bespoke cupcake line featuring Champagne and honey in Japan, and she was delighted with the reception.
“The customers this week love our cakes and are slowly coming round to the cupcake idea,” she told the BCCJ, pointing out that, while most associate the UK with scones and cake, they were surprised to see cupcakes on offer. “In London, even our new customers buy a pack of six cupcakes; here, customers are buying one to try. But the good news is that many have come back on successive days for repeat purchases.”
Sales of Peggy Porschen cookie cutters and sugar craft books were also on demand, as were the skills of Ms Porschen herself. Having taught sugar craft to hobbyists in Japan three years ago, fans were lining up to join her morning workshops before heading to Mitsukoshi for her afternoon treats.
Ms Porschen therefore sees potential in bringing both arms of her business to Japan: the retail arm named the parlour and the cake design and sugar craft academy.
“British Week has been a great way to test the market and find out what potential we have here,” she said.
After six years of operations, the firm has received interest from markets in the Middle East and Asia. Thanks to the UK’s reputation as a leader in the sugar craft market and Japanese people’s love of British produce, she believes Japan would be a good market for her blooming business.
Royal warrant draws customers
In the adjoining hall, a British lifestyle is on sale, with vendors displaying cosmetics, clothing, shoes, accessories, furniture, ceramics and art. Amid famous names such as Molton Brown, Mackintosh, Dunhill, Church’s and Hunter are also up-and-coming brands.
On the day of our visit, most popular among shoppers were brands with a royal warrant, which savvy sellers had displayed prominently in their point of sale materials.
“Japanese people really love this because the Queen is often seen using it,” explains Jo Daigo of Launer London, pointing out a black handbag with a price tag of some 260,000 yen.
“There’s a boom in Japan at the moment for classic products which, together with Japanese consumers’ appreciation of UK quality, is driving sales of this bag for special occasions.”
According to Takuya Hasegawa, CEO of H.I.T. Ltd., Launer’s distributor in Japan, about 20 of the handbags were sold at the event over four days. A specialist in bringing British products to Japan, his firm has been displaying and selling at the Mitsukoshi event for three years and believes consumers’ desire to enjoy a British lifestyle through products continues to grow.
UK material, Japanese design
Bringing a twist to British Week with his UK-inspired but Japan-made products is Takemasa Bamba, representative of BMB Trad, Inc. The Japanese firm operates the brands of Hey Gentleman Café and Royal Brown, which are popular for their tartan and tweed lines of bags, wallets and bespoke jackets.
Mr. Bamba began designing, marketing and selling the items after falling in love with iconic Scottish patterns. His materials are sourced from Harrisons in Edinburgh, which has been weaving since 1863, and Harris Tweed on the Hebridean archipelago, while he gets his ideas from across the UK. On arriving in Japan, the materials are assembled by artisans to create the finished pieces.
"Our products are a UK–Japan fusion, combining traditional British materials and style with the skill of Japanese craftspeople,” he said. “We want more people to know about the goodness of these vintage UK fabrics.”
Having established a firm following at his base in Osaka, Mr. Bamba was pleased to speak to visitors at the event from across Japan as well as non-Japanese residents of Tokyo, all curious to find out more about British goods.
Produced by Sterling Content for the BCCJ