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There are a wide range of style-tribes in Japan. Each tribe represents its group members’ identity and strongly presents the type of community to which they belong. For businesses, it is important to clearly determine what kind of style they want to offer, because many girls only consider shops that fit their own style community. For example, Shibuya109 is a fashion department store mecca that includes only gal-style shops, while MIDWEST, a multi-brand shop located in Shibuya, collects creative, high-end, street-style brands, such as Gareth Pugh.

I must note that the styles are changing constantly, and currently they are gradually mixing and merging with one another. There are, for example, gal-style girls that also make use of street style. The border of each style is very vague, so there are cases where one brand markets to various style-tribes. The style-tribes introduced here are the most common ones, and have become the basis for many hybrid styles.

Style in Japan (Image: Elastic

Gal style

Gal style is an extreme fashion style for girls around the age of 16–25. They tend to have extremely bleached hair, tanned skin and wear revealing items of clothing. This style is often said to originate from L.A. surfer style. The extreme nature of this look is highly attractive to young girls, and fed a unique culture.It has now evolved and subdivided into varying gal styles

Sister/Girlish style

The keyword in sister or girlish style is ‘cute’ (Kawaii). Girlish style is rather casual, and those who wear this style try to hide/cover their awareness of sexuality. Meanwhile, sister style is more associated with femininity and girls’ awareness of their popularity among men. Generally, the girls wearing these styles are about 19–25 years old, of steady, homely character.

From left to right: Sister style, Girlish style, Lady style, Street/High-end style (Images: Flickr/Drop Tokyo)

Lady style

Lady style is similar to gal style, in that it takes inspiration from L.A. style, but it also integrates a lot of elegance. Generally, women who adopt this style are in the age range of 28–35+. The keywords are elegant, rich, glamorous and above all, ‘celebrity’. Most women in this group wear body-conscious clothes and luxury brand accessories, and try to follow the personal styles of Hollywood celebrities. There are two types of lady style. One is ‘conservative’, these women wear basic, clean silhouettes; this is considered a luxurious version of sister style. The other is glamorous, which is often considered a luxurious version of gal style.

Street Style/High-end Style

Street Style. Image:

Street style is a style for 19-25 year old women, particularly popular amongst fashion and beauty school students. Women in this group are aged 26–35+ years; it’s a loose, casual, layered style. Members of this group love to be creative; they often dye their hair using unnatural colours and customize their clothes and accessories. Furthermore, they often shop at second-hand and vintage shops to find unique clothes. Consequently many fashion lovers end up in the high-end style. Members of this group know their style very well, and mix and match luxury-brand items with cheap, high-street brand items to create their ideal style. To see them, DROPTOKYO, is a fantastic website.

When we plot the ethical fashion brands in Japan, the graph below is generated. The pink brands are from Europe and are used in this graph as a reference. As mentioned above, the styles are gradually changing, therefore, a brand can cover more than just one area.

Where ethical brands are positioned

Brands in Japan try to find open positions in this fashion jungle for a wide market base. They are not just styles; each represents a community with a different culture. Thus, it is very important to understand the cultural context of a style-tribe to present an effective brand message. A good way to do this is to look at magazines. Indeed, while Japanese fashion magazines are having a hard time, magazines still have a firm position in fashion instruction. Even in just looking at the pictures, magazines can give readers a good sense of their way of communicating, as they show who and what they associate themselves with and what kind of life the community should follow.

Magazines that present each style-tribe are as follows:

Gal style: EGG, POPTEEN, SEVENTEEN, RANZUKI, Cawaii!, SCawaii!, Ageha
Sister style: JJ, CanCam, ViVi, Sweet, Ray
Girlish style: nonno, mina
Street style: Zipper, Cutie, Spring, Seda, mini, JILLE
Lady style: Classy, Anecan, Oggi, Baila, More, With, Gisele, Glitter, Glamourous
High-end/Mode style: So-en, FUDGE, InRed, SPUR, GINZA, Numero, Figaro, Vogue

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