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Workman -- not Walkman -- makes quiet boom in Japanese apparel

Blue-collar clothing vendor wins female fans of outdoor wear and athleisure

Workman has tried to broaden its appeal beyond construction and factory workers. (Photo courtesy of the company)

TOKYO -- The name Workman may not evoke images of ladies' fashion, but in 10 years the Japanese vendor of job site gear has grown its profit sixfold in part by appealing to women.

The chain store operator's bread and butter has long been the kind of protective suits ubiquitous at construction sites and factories in Japan. Even the prime minister dons such work wear when visiting disaster areas, for example.

But in recent years, Workman has forayed beyond its blue-collar customer base by offering more private-label items designed to appeal to athleisure-wearing women and young people.

The four-decade-old company has stepped up openings of its Workman Plus stores, which sell casualwear, mostly in urban areas.

Heavy on wood-grain furnishings, these locations offer clothing in smaller sizes. They have enabled Workman to build up a following among women for its athletic and outdoor wear.

A Workman Plus store near Kobe. (Photo by Tatsuro Miyazumi)

Now, nonconsolidated operating profit in the six months to September apparently beat the company's forecast to reach about 8.5 billion yen ($78.3 million), up by half from a year earlier. Its full-year guidance may get an upgrade when results are announced Nov. 5.

Mirroring its earnings growth, Workman's share price has been on the rise this year. It marked what was then an all-time high Sept. 25, the day it was reported that fast-fashion chain Forever 21 would exit Japan.

Workman's market capitalization of 625.3 billion yen as of Friday surpasses that of such bigger retailers as convenience store operator Lawson and footwear chain ABC-Mart.

Operating revenue, the equivalent of sales, likely reached about 41 billion yen in the April-September half -- about 2.6 times the level of a decade earlier.

Work wear remains a major earner and helped drive an estimated 40% year-on-year rise in sales for the half. Fan-equipped clothing sold well during searing August heat, while typhoons helped lift sales of protective gear. Same-store sales went up 28%.

The higher revenue offset the expense of preparing for this month's Japanese consumption tax increase.

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