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Japan: small sizes make for a great opportunity

9 May 2017

You will have to get used to very different meanings for S, M and L if you are going sell in Japan. A British woman who usually wears a smaller size, for example, a UK size 8, would be forced to look at the large racks when shopping in Tokyo. Japanese clothing sizes can be perplexing for UK sellers, but taking a look at the average height of the population can make the translation more meaningful and, if you get your sizing right, be beneficial to your business.

In Japan, the average height for a woman is 158 cm (5ft, 2 in) while a man is 171 cm (5ft, 7½ in). An English woman is, on average, 164 cm (5 ft 5 in) tall; this gives you a brief idea about the meaning of the world “small” or “medium” in Japan. The benefits of these dramatic size differences mean that Japan might provide you with a market for the sizes that you can’t sell in Europe, and even more so in the USA.

Classic supply and demand rules suggest that if you are struggling to sell smaller items as they are not popular, you should lower their prices – but this is not the only option. International ecommerce allows you to sell the right item in the right place, which sometimes means a different market or places where small sizes are significantly more popular.

 A DIFFERENT SIZING SYSTEM

Nadine shoes discounted in size 3

[Discounted shoes available only in size 3UK on a European ecommerce site]

Japan uses a different sizing system to those used in Western countries. For example, in Britain, a woman shopping for clothing size 6 would need to look at size 7’s in Japan, one of the most popular sizes. How many people in the United Kingdom wear a size 6, and are 162cm tall? This one digit sizing is also used for blouses and jackets in Japan, but a different system is used for trousers, in which a two-digit number is used to represent the waist size in cm, to a granularity of 2cm.

An example is Cecile, a Japanese brand that sells “plus size” clothing. With this brand, a woman who is 165cm tall would shop in the Tall section, as the standard height is considered to be around 158 cm. Even bras are smaller than the average Western size: a relatively medium bust of 95 centimetres is considered XL.

SMALLER SHOE SIZES

 

Japan Sizes

[Japanese bra size chart from the brand Cecile]

By now, it should be obvious that European clothing is considered quite large in Japan. The same is true for shoes. The average UK size for a woman is 6 (EU 39) which is usually the largest size available in Japanese shops. The most popular size for a Japanese woman is equivalent to a 3.5 in the UK (EU 36.5).

Japan Cecil plump sizes

[Summer collection from Cecile “plump” for chubby and tall woman]

The Japanese shoe size system is, however, simple to understand as it is just the length of the foot in cm: a British 5 is actually a 23.5 (cm.5) in Japan. Shoes may also be labelled as S, M or L which respectively map to 23, 23.5 and 24 cm

You are probably already aware that Japanese shoppers are keen to buy Western luxury brands, as they are considered high quality and a status symbol, and shoes are no exceptions. If you are careful to target the correct sizes and brands, this market could be a perfect match for your business.

The Japanese ecommerce landscape

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