Ditching your tie doesn't cut it on casual Friday, Itochu says
Japanese trading house turns to Isetan to help workers really dress down
TOKYO -- Japan's Itochu is prompting employees to loosen up every week with suit-free Fridays, and is partnering with department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings to overhaul its dress code and introduce new styles.
The program began on Friday. Itochu's President Masahiro Okafuji has led the charge, suggesting that "the Japanese businessman ought to be a bit more fashionable." The goal is to foster an environment that sparks fresher, more flexible ideas by letting employees dress differently than usual.
The trading house revised its dress code based on advice from the flagship Isetan Shinjuku department store. Itochu's general manager of human resources, Toshiyuki Kakimi, explained the company will allow jeans and encourage employees to wear those and other relatively casual items, including cotton suits, cargo pants and pants with rolled-up legs.
Kakimi prefaced that "consideration for our clients is, of course, necessary," but said he would like employees "to experiment with more casual suits and other such options in situations where suits must be worn."
Itochu will also launch an event where 10 of its workers, men and women, will be chosen to try to coordinate new styles. Each employee will be assigned a stylist from Isetan Shinjuku, and can buy new clothes on the company dime based on their stylist's advice. The first presentation will be held in mid-July, and the company intends to repeat the event once every season thereafter.
Itochu introduced casual Fridays in 1995, but that mainly led to just keeping suits while ditching neckties. The concept also felt less special when "cool biz," a slightly dressed-down but business-appropriate look geared to keep employees cooler and save on climate control, began to spread in the 2000s -- another factor that prompted the new lose-the-suit program.
Itochu's ancestral business may be linen trading, but as a general trader it now does business not only with more freely dressed clients -- such as apparel companies -- but with more formal ones like banks, steelmakers and power companies. Will employees start visiting clients in jeans? Will they find a style that relegates suits to the back of the closet? Fridays at Itochu look set to become tests of employees' fashion skills.