Japanese Street Style and the American Obsession—No Translation Needed?

If you work in the fashion industry, you’ve heard the term before: Harajuku. For the uninitiated, this is an easy way to describe the most prominent Japanese street style to make its way into the American fashion market. In reality, this clothing trend is much more complex and showcases one of the longest-lasting cultural crossovers in fashion history.


Time and Time Again

Most fashion trends imported to the United States from other countries last only a few years—remember the country’s obsession with all things Australian after the release of movies such as Crocodile Dundee and Young Einstein? Japan, however, occupies a unique position in the American fashion lexicon. This is partly due to American influence on Japanese culture after World War II, when Japanese men and women started emulating North American looks. Now, Tokyo is the fashion capital of Asia, and its Harajuku district has spawned a host of styles that regularly affect large fashion markets such as New York and Los Angeles.

In 2004, Bloomberg Businessweek wrote an article that claimed Japanese style was “taking over the world.” Although world domination hasn’t quite been the result, a recent Fusion article notes that Japanese street style is alive and well in American pop culture. Pop star Gwen Stefani featured four “Harajuku Girls” as her backup dancers in 2004, while fasion and music icons such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Avril Lavigne have all waded into this fashion pool for music videos. Japanese street fashion clubs are also springing up on university campuses across the United States.

Understanding the Brand

So, what’s the secret to growing your e-commerce fashion business when it comes to international style? It is important to understand its inherent nuance. Consider Harajuku. It’s worth knowing the difference between Kawaii (cuteness), Gyaru (gal), and some of the more extreme styles, such as Ganguro and Yamanba. Japanese street style is just one example, because at any given time, there’s a variety of nation-specific trends making their way into North American culture.

The reverse is also possible—your brand could become the next big thing on an international stage. However, making this kind of impact requires a combination of commitment to a vision and timely translation (or transcreation). In some cases, this could mean adapting a slogan or tagline for an international audience, or redesigning your website to attract customers overseas. Translation also plays a role in generating consumer interest, because a combination of professional human translators and translation management systems makes it possible to capture both the big message of your brand and the more complex subtext of each trend or item. This takes fashion from just clothes to a unique experience, which raises your global profile.

International fashion continues to have a significant effect on American pop culture and style. Although clothing itself needs no translation, the growing need to translate website content is another story.

Image source: Bigstock

The Global Content Question


About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is a freelance technology writer with a passion for telling great stories about unique brands. For the past five years, he's covered everything from cloud computing to home automation and IT security. He speaks some French, is fluent in Ancient Greek and a master of Canadian English — and yes, colour needs a 'u'.