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Business

Japan's clothing recyclers find eager markets in Southeast Asia

Don Don Up, Geo, Treasure Factory enjoying hot demand for secondhand items

Japan's Don Don Up sells used clothing from Japan at its Dondondown on Wednesday outlets in Cambodia.

TOKYO -- Japanese used-clothing retailers are keen to increase exports to Southeast Asia. The companies buy unneeded clothes from consumers and resell them at their stores -- which used to be mainly in Japan. Lately, however, they are finding that Southeast Asian countries are eager for their goods.

In addition to providing new opportunities, the efforts to encourage the reuse of what would otherwise be thrown away helps reduce environmental burden. Japanese discard about 1 million tons of clothes annually, which are mostly burned.

Don Don Up, a secondhand clothing chain based in Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan, launched its Dondondown on Wednesday store in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in 2014. It now operates 12 stores in Cambodia and aims to increase the number to 50 or so by 2021. The retailer also plans to expand into Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region.

"Most people in Cambodia, even those who are strapped for cash, have smartphones today," said Don Don Up President Akifumi Okamoto. "They now have access to sufficient information and have become conscious about what they wear and how they wear it."

On the other hand, global fast-fashion brands have barely landed in the country as yet. This is why the Japanese retailer sees growing demand there for used clothing.

The secondhand clothing retailer's policy is to "buy anything other than underwear." At its total 51 stores across Japan, the retailer never refuses to buy clothes brought in by consumers, even those other secondhand retailers would not accept, such as heavily damaged or stained items, as well as clothing with personal names marked on them.

For ordinary clothing, Don Don Up pays up to 500 yen ($4.42) per kilogram. Brand-name clothes are quoted individually.

The retailer picks what it wants to resell in Japan. The rest are sent to its overseas outlets. Some of them are remade into different items.

Don Don Up exported 2,865 tons of used clothing in the year through September. The retailer's weight-based purchases of used clothing in Japan came to 4,037 tons for the year through March. Total volume since 2007 has topped 47,000 tons.

Larger recycling retailers have followed suit. Geo Holdings in 2016 exported over 10,000 tons of secondhand clothes to Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The volume increased 50% from a year earlier. The business buys a wide range of used clothing from consumers, including non-brand items.

Treasure Factory, another operator of secondhand clothing shops in Japan, now sells such used items in Thailand. In addition to selling clothes imported from Japan, the retailer's Thai outlet buys secondhand items locally and resells them to consumers there.

Okayama Prefecture-based Vector exports secondhand clothing collected in Japan to Laos and other Southeast Asian countries.

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