This Year's Hot Seasonal Item for Women
August 29, 2001
This summer, the Japanese archipelago is sizzling under a heat wave so fierce that people are collapsing from heatstroke. But for manufacturers and retailers, the prolonged onslaught of broiling days and steamy nights has a silver lining, in the form of unusually high demand for many seasonal products. In the realm of fashion, one of the hottest-selling items is the parasol. Japanese women have long used umbrellas for sun protection. Once upon a time, parasols were typically made of white or pink lacy fabric that gave an appearance of coolness; by contrast, the "in" color for parasols this year is jet black.
The emergence of black as a favorite color for women's parasols was inspired by reports that black is more effective than light colors at blocking ultraviolet rays and preventing suntan. Department stores responded to the reports by enriching their supply of black parasols, and these items have been flying off the shelves.
Parasols in other dark colors, such as brown and navy, are also selling well. Parasol sales are particularly brisk in western Japan, where sunlight is strong: Some retailers in the region are selling twice as many parasols as they did last year. The major manufacturers have boosted parasol production by about 20% over last year's volume, and black parasols account for 40% of this increase. Also fueling the parasol boom is the availability of products licensed under famous designer brands, such as Ralph Lauren and Burberry.
While parasols have long been used by middle-aged and elderly women for protective purposes, it is only this year that young women have fully seized upon parasols as a fashion accessory. The Japanese standard of beauty has always favored fair skin (the dark-suntan craze was nothing more than a passing fad among Japanese teenage women), and the number of Japanese women of all ages who worry about sun exposure continues to grow. Black umbrellas complement the retro fashions that are currently in vogue, moreover, and black looks smarter than white, the traditional parasol color.
Parasols are also coming out in new materials, including fabrics with an anti-UV coating that filters out 90% of ultraviolet rays. Another recently developed fabric is made up of fibers that possess long-lasting anti-UV properties. The bestselling black parasols have simple designs and range in price from 4,000 to 8,000 yen (33 to 67 U.S. dollars at 120 yen to the dollar). Traditional white parasols, with their more intricate fabric designs and the addition of such decorative materials as lace, are more expensive, with prices ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 yen (67 to 83 dollars).
Black parasols are not the only anti-UV products that are selling briskly these days. Cosmetics, gloves, hats, and other goods designed to block out ultraviolet rays are also doing well. Furthermore, this year's extreme heat has boosted consumer demand across the entire category of special seasonal items, such as sunglasses, minitowels for wiping away sweat, and folding fans.
Sheltered beneath black parasols and armed with other UV-fighting goods, Japan's young women are as active as ever under the summer sun.