Sunday

Golf Apparel & Accessories: The Asia/America Disparity - Part 2

A couple of weeks ago a lively Linkedin discussion broke out concerning global preferences in golf attire.  The topic was launched by Dennis Allen of Back Nine, the new multi-media golf lifestyle and entertainment network.

He posted this: "Golf fashion - is it boring in the USA or is it just me?" 

The thing is, Dennis has a unique perspective.  He's an American who majored in Japanese and International Business at the University of Washington, then spent 25 years in the sports industry.  Fluent in Japanese, he's traveled the globe in top positions with some of the world's most prominent golf manufacturers including TaylorMade-adidas, Acushnet and Bridgestone.   Well, there were numerous responses to the sartorial query.  They came from men and women involved with golf in a variety ways both here and in Asia... and indeed, most agreed that there IS less variety on US fairways, and on our golf retailer's shelves.

Some attributed this to customer preference, suggesting that, in general, Americans don't care much about dressing stylishly for golf and would often prefer not to make a statement with their golf apparel. Others feel that years of draconian, country club dress codes have created a culture of golfers unable to see beyond the most basic boxy, polo shirts and correspondingly shapeless kahkis.  It was also suggested that the US Market's preponderance of portly golfers... might be part of why there isn't more style on our courses.

Christina Thompson is another highly authoritative voice who weighed in on this subject.  She's the founder and owner of Golf4Her, one of this country's top on-line destinations for women's golf apparel and accessories.

Golf4Her features an expansive collection of the best pieces from dozens of the best women's golf wear brands, including many of the awesome independent brands that aren't often available at the big-box stores and country club shops.  It's all carefully curated by Christina herself, and with their stellar customer service, a great rewards program and an engaging social media presence, and it's no surprise that Golf4Her has customers from all over the world.

Christina posted some observations on international shopping styles: "Based on what we see every day, our European and Asian customers love the high-fashion styles, our customers here in the US are a little slower to take those risks"  She added that she sees that changing now, as fashion-forward golf styles are becoming more accessible to US golfers.  --->

A 2007 report by the Japan Market Resource Network on "The State of the Japanese Luxury Brands Market" speaks about several consumer trends that have no doubt contributed to the unique way golf apparel... among other things... is marketed in Japan.  The end of Japan's bubble economy in the early nineties and the "lost decade" that followed,  resulted in changes to Japanese attitudes and behavior.  Consumers who at one time flocked en masse to the same luxury brands, began to seek unique products and higher levels of individuality.

Additionally, throughout the 80s and 90s Japanese women had been delaying marriage until later in life... or foregoing it entirely.  The result was that far more women were in the workforce... for the long haul... and had higher levels of disposable income than ever before.  In many cases these women continued to live with their parents, and their presumably insouciant, rent-free, lifestyle earned them the label of "parasite singles".

Notwithstanding that unflattering sobriquet, when studies came out revealing that many of these ladies were spending close to 10% of their annual income on fashion, companies and brands took notice.  In the golf apparel and accessories market, large established companies... as well as newer, smaller companies...  began looking beyond the sport's core constituency of middle-aged, male suburbanites and focused on a less obvious demographic: young, female, city-dwellers.  While the segment didn't have a long history of engagement with the golf, they had become the country's most voracious fashion consumers.  Also, at about this time Ai Miyazato, Momoko Ueda and a number of other Japanese professional golfers began achieving global success on professional tours. All of those elements... plus the fact that just about every neighborhood in every Japanese city has at least one driving range... took Japan's golf apparel market in the young, hip, cute, vibrant direction that so differentiates it from our US golf apparel market.

Annie Jaroszewicz, is the founder of Equipt for Play her company creates golf shoes and gloves that would fit perfectly on the shelves of Japan's most stylish golf emporiums.  They're designed with a remarkable attention to detail and an exceptional eye for style.

Having observed the world's professional golfers at tournaments and in the media, Annie decided to visit China and Japan last year because she was "flat-out fascinated by the passion that Asians feel for this sport and how it’s expressed in the fashion they wear."  Her observations are recounted in a blog post that presents a first-hand look at the Asian golf fashion scene ...through American eyes.  It's a must-read for those interested in golf's Asia/America sartorial distinctions.  Annie's observations from the 2011 PGA Merchandise Show are also quite revealing.

I realize that there are profound societal and structural differences between Japan and the US, but current economic conditions here do in some ways mirror those that existed in Japan a couple of decades ago.  Could that lead to golf fashion shift here?  It's definitely something I'll many of us will be watching for.

Read Part 1