Japan’s Mitsubishi Rayon, Kuraray and other leading fabric makers are preparing to enhance sales of their quality materials to the Middle Eastern market, to be used for traditional garments. Made-in-Japan fabrics, many of them featuring cutting-edge, high-performance materials, have gained popularity there for their soft and rich texture and wrinkle-resistant convenience. Now that economic sanctions to Iran have been lifted, manufacturers are eager to enter the large and promising market.
Prices of these garments — black “abaya” for women, and men’s white “thobe” robes — can cost from a few dozen to a thousands dollars each. Japanese fabrics are a popular choice for expensive items. According to Kuraray, fabrics from Japan sell for at least $5 per meter, more than double the price of those from Indonesia and South Korea. Japan supplies some 30% of materials used for thobe, and about 10% for abaya.
Mitsubishi Rayon will start enhancing its sales chain in the Middle East as early as this year, hoping to tap into the strong demand for fabrics for abaya. The company currently exports to Saudi Arabia and Dubai its unique tri-acetate fabric, of which about 10% is used for abaya.
Osaka-based Shikibo, which also sells fabric for thobe, plans to enter the market with a wider selection of products. It is preparing to sell sandals and other clothing accessories.
Hit hard by the current weak crude oil prices, Middle Eastern economies are not as strong as they were. But the demand for the “made-in-Japan” fabrics has remained steady, and some manufacturers are even unable to fully fill orders from the region.
According to a United Nations estimate, the population of the Middle East, including Iran, and surrounding western Asian countries, together surpassed 336 million in 2015, and the number will grow roughly 40% to 487 million by 2050. This indicates that the market will remain promising for these fabric suppliers over the medium to long term.
Mitsubishi Rayon’s silk-like tri-acetate has become recognized as one of the finest such fabrics in the Middle East. Keiichi Uno, a board member of Mitsubishi Rayon Textile, has high expectations for Iran’s market of 70 million people. “Following the scrapping of sanctions, demand for high-quality clothing materials will surge,” he said.
Kuraray, meanwhile, already accounts for half of the abaya fabric supplied by Japanese manufacturers. The company has begun selling its soft and wrinkle-resistant fabrics for thobe, in Dubai and other locations. It plans to boost shipments of garment fabric to the Middle East by 30%. With this effort, it has laid out a sales target for its subsidiary Kuraray Trading at 130 billion yen ($1.14 billion) for the year ending December 2017. This is a 10% increase from the 2015 result.