Seasonal changes that accompany the coming of spring are normally highly anticipated — in part, because of the fashion that goes with it.
However, with COVID-19 precautions becoming more stringent in Japan since the end of the March, this seasonal pleasure has gone out the window. Department stores and boutiques have been asked to close until May 6.
“Air Closet,” a new project, aims to meet the need created by the “stay home” market gap. It allows one to enjoy fresh fashion and different clothes by renting them from the comfort and safety of home.
You apply online, and a box with your order comes straight to your door. This way, you can have a regular share of new clothes to brighten up your online meetings and provide a little extra positive influence in your life.
According to the company, monthly subscriptions at Air Closet increased by 2.8 times following the government’s requested temporary closure on March 29.
“This is a trend which doesn’t happen normally,” explained Satoshi Amanuma, CEO of the company based in Tokyo’s Minato ward. Subscribers have been working from home since the government declared the state of emergency in April. As such, we are getting different types of requests, such as: “I would like more tops because they show in the online meetings.” To meet the demand, the company has been focusing more on sending blouses and knit sweaters in sets for this limited period of time.
The company’s main plan costs ¥9,800 JPY ($91 USD) per month. It gives you access to one set, always made up of three items, renewable as many times you want. You can choose from more than 100,000 items from 300 different brands presently found in department stores. Your selections are then shipped to you, after being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Subscribers to the plan surpassed 300,000 in February, with more than 90% of them working women ー especially mothers in their 30s and 40s who have little time and mental space to dedicate to fashion.
The project also provides personal feedback to subscribers from more than 300 stylists. If you provide information about your taste, height, face shape, and bone structure, the stylists provide specific advice on how best to choose your outfit. There are also helpful lists which can provide inspiration, with titles such as: “Elegant outfits to wear at your child’s school.”
Company president Satoshi Amanuma, 40, hypothesized that, apart from the direct effect of the closure of shops, there are other factors affecting business this year.
“During a time of emergency, the importance of clothes is reevaluated…. There is a rising awareness that, especially in a time of high stress, clothes can help make you feel more energetic, and hopefully make you feel more cheerful,” he said. “I hope that people can experience new clothes, and with it a new version of themselves right in their homes.”
The email feedback from customers seems promising. Comments have been sent back to the company, such as: “I did a fashion show at home!” and “ If you wear something fashionable even just to go grocery shopping, your mood changes completely.”
The business was started in 2014 by a group of three friends, based on an idea from the wife of one of the owners. Despite owning many clothes, the story goes that she would say: “I can’t find what to wear today!”
When you own a lot of clothes, it becomes difficult to find the perfect fit, and with both parents working, there is not a lot of time in the morning for personal grooming. In other words, the company’s idea captured the needs of a modern-day woman.
The three founders, Yusuke Maekawa, Shoichi Kotani and Satoshi Amanuma came up with the concept: “Leave the styling to the experts. After wearing, no cleaning required. Let’s create a system where you receive new clothes when you give the rented ones back.”
Air Closet was the first flat-rate daily rental service in the industry at the time.
There are two other concepts behind the success of the brand. It avoids being limited by the “borrowed” label, and its appeal is spread by word of mouth.
Part of the explanation lies in the mass production and the disposal of apparel has become a social problem, thereby the rationality of sharing previously worn clothes is gradually being accepted by the wider public. The recent trend toward minimalism has also played a role.
The business’ operating strategy has gathered attention beyond the fashion industry, and been picked up by more than 35 food products and cosmetic companies.
The author of this article also tried Air Closet’s rental service. My order included an orange knit sweater, beige skirt, and soft green one piece dress, all of which arrived in my box. In addition, there was a delicious-looking soup sample to taste. Trying on the clothes and pairing them with accessories reminded me of the days of playing dress up when I was a child.
Due to COVID-19 precautionary measures, the interview for this article took place online — a first for me, but I suppose it can’t be helped until the outbreak is contained. At least I can write the article at home wearing clothes that I really like!
Author: Akiko Shigematsu