Expected cuts in air conditioning at companies this summer are expected to heighten the humiliation of ugly sweat stains as well as damp clothing clinging to uncomfortable spots on the body.
But retailers are countering by offering lines of clothing specifically designed to add some degree of comfort for people broiling in their work places.
In what has been dubbed the "power-conserving biz" campaign, many companies plan to conserve energy during the peak summer period in light of expected power shortages caused by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Air conditioning is one of their first targets.
In recent years, the "Cool Biz" campaign to cut down on electricity usage created a trend among the public to wear lighter clothes in the office.
Although some formal wear retailers fear a decline in profits amid the summer heat, retailers of casual clothing expect a spike in sales of "power-conserving biz" clothing.
Uniqlo Co. on April 21 set up a special store in JR Ikebukuro Station for "power conserving biz" items, including Sara Fine and Silky Dry undershirts, both of which absorb sweat and dry quickly.
The clothing giant expects to sell about 36 million of these undershirts, double from a year ago.
AEON Co., one of Japan's largest supermarket operators, will start selling a new undershirt brand called Coolishfact at about 900 locations nationwide in late April.
In addition, polo shirts are expected to replace business shirts in the summer, even at the stodgy Tokyo Stock Exchange, which has decided to allow people to wear polo shirts at its site to conserve electricity in the summer.
Renown Inc., a leading Japanese apparel maker, will increase production of its polo shirts by 30 to 50 percent from a year earlier, while Polo Ralph Lauren Japan Corp. on April 27 started a sales campaign that lets customers choose the colors of the materials and logos for their polo shirts.
Orders are expected to increase as more customers are seeking polo shirts in colors suitable for business, sources said.
In June, Sanyo Shokai Ltd., another Japanese apparel maker, is scheduled to release short-sleeved shirts consisting of U.S.-made Coolmax fabrics that boast quick sweat absorption and drying features.
Onward Kashiyama Co., a Japanese major clothing retailer, will market shirts and trousers with similar features, including body cooling functions, in late May.
Major Japanese department stores are also expecting the "power conserving biz" campaign to provide a much-needed lift to their sales.
Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co. and Seibu department store in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district have forecast sales increases of 1.5 times from last summer.
However, companies specializing in suits and other formal wear say the power cuts could dampen summer sales.
Aoyama Trading Co., Japan's largest retailer of men's suits, added a light-weight version to its lineup of "cooler-feeling" business suits. Still, Aoyama lowered its sales estimates to a 10-percent increase from last summer to 20 billion yen ($2.46 billion). Before the March 11 earthquake, the company was expecting a 15-percent jump in summer sales.
Aoyama's main rival, Aoki Holdings Inc., will release its Premium Air Cool Suit that contains improved heat-shielding features. Aoki expects sales to rise 25 percent to 10 billion yen during the summer shopping season, compared with the same period last year.
Other Japanese companies plan to implement power-conserving measures earlier than expected.
Panasonic Corp. said April 26 that it will resume its Cool Biz measures after the Golden Week of holidays ending in early May, earlier than its usual start in June.
The manufacturer is also considering introducing a summer time system and allowing employees long-term summer breaks.
The Cool Biz period generally ends in September. But with substantial power shortages looming ahead, Panasonic will extend the period to the end of October.
(This article was written by Keiko Nannichi and Tokuhiko Saito)
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