Japan sports retailers cheer as rugby shirts fly off shelves

Japan matches at the Rugby World Cup are played in front of a sea of red-and-white as fans snap up team jerseys. (Reuters)
Updated 09 October 2019

Japan sports retailers cheer as rugby shirts fly off shelves

  • Host nation success a bonanza for clothing brand Canterbury as sales leap

TOKYO: It is early morning outside the sportswear store near the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Stadium and customers are already queuing to get their hands on Japan’s hottest property: A Brave Blossoms replica shirt.

The red-and-white jerseys are flying off the shelves as the Japan team continues to defy expectations at the Rugby World Cup, winning three from three and on course for a historic quarter-final.

Japan games are played in front of a sea of red-and-white shirts and sales have exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts — with 90 percent of the stock for the whole tournament already gone.

Shirts are being sold as soon as they can be replaced, said Danny Robinson, manager of the Rugby World Cup megastore in Tokyo.

“Everybody loves the Japanese jerseys. It’s much, much more than we anticipated. Every day people are waiting at the door and coming in to grab the jerseys. So it’s very difficult to keep them on the shelves. We keep bringing them in every day,” he told AFP.

However, it is not just the Japanese who are snapping up the shirts. Robinson estimates that around half of the people buying Brave Blossom jerseys are foreigners.

Jesai Knight, an Australian rugby fan, has been searching high and low for his souvenir.

“I came today to get one of those Japanese jerseys. We came here yesterday at about 9.30 in the morning, and they were sold out already at that point. And they told us to come back in the late evening today to get one,” said Knight.

The 38-year-old has also encountered an issue many foreigners living in Japan find infuriating — finding the right size for the Western build.

“I am an extra large... it was a little difficult,” he told AFP, gleefully snapping up the one XL jersey available.

The availability of Brave Blossom shirts has not been helped by a supply problem with a warehouse in Chiba, to the east of Tokyo, that was affected by Typhoon Faxai a fortnight before the tournament began.

“The warehouse actually lost electricity,” said Robinson. “So people were picking by hand with flashlights to get the products here.”

The hiccup was resolved “a long time ago” and deliveries are now coming in two or three times per week, he added.

The World Cup has been a bonanza for Canterbury, the company that produces the Brave Blossom shirts along with other rugby gear.

They had forecast sales of 200,000 throughout the tournament — which ends on Nov. 2 — and “90 percent has already been sold,” said Yoshi Katsuta, head of Rugby World Cup operations for Canterbury Japan. “We are truly sorry” that some fans cannot get their hands on a Brave Blossoms jersey, but such demand was “really difficult to predict. We expected foreigners to also buy Japan shirts but not on this scale,” he admitted.

Another feature of this World Cup — the first held in Asia and in a non-traditional rugby hotbed — is how the home fans have “adopted” teams and dutifully bought their replica jerseys.

“I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a World Cup where the home fans have supported all of the teams this well,” tournament organizer Alan Gilpin said in a recent interview.

“And the merchandising sales for replica jerseys for every team being bought by Japanese fans is brilliant.”

The famous black shirts of defending champions New Zealand have proved especially popular, not just because they are one of the tournament favorites but also because “the Japanese love the haka,” said Robinson.


UK retailer Debenhams goes into the red again

Updated 10 April 2020

UK retailer Debenhams goes into the red again

  • Debenhams’ 142 UK stores are closed with Britain in coronavirus lockdown

LONDON: British department store group Debenhams went into administration for the second time in 12 months on Thursday, seeking to protect itself from legal action by creditors during the coronavirus crisis that could have pushed it into liquidation.

With Britain in lockdown during the pandemic, Debenhams’ 142 UK stores are closed, while the majority of its 22,000 workers are being paid under the government’s furlough scheme. It continues to trade online.

The retailer went into administration for a first time in April last year, wiping out equity investors including Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, and is now owned by a lenders consortium called Celine UK NewCo. 

Debenhams said administrators from FRP Advisory would work with the existing management team to get the UK business into a position to re-open and trade from as many stores as possible when restrictions are lifted by the government.

Chief Executive Stefaan Vansteenkiste said that he anticipated the firm’s owners and lenders would make additional funding available to fund the administration period.

However, the group’s business in Ireland looks doomed.

Debenhams said that it expected administrators to appoint a liquidator to the 11-store Irish operation, which employs 2,000.

The moves makes Debenhams the first major retail casualty of the health crisis in Ireland, where the government, as in the UK, has closed all non-essential shops.

Ireland on Monday reported a trebling of its unemployment rate to 16.5 percent with a further surge expected later in the month.

“We are desperately sorry not to be able to keep the Irish business operating but are faced with no alternative option in the current environment,” said Vansteenkiste.