Saving the World, One Hawaiian Shirt at a Time: Environmentally-Friendly Marketing in Japan

How do you solve a national energy crisis?

Assemble a multi-national committee hearing on the environment?


Wait for Al Gore to film another documentary to make you aware of it in the first place?

Not quite.

Captain Planet’s got it covered?

No, he doesn’t. Not even if he teamed up with Al Gore and – with their powers combined – tried to stop it.

Japan, however, has found the solution:

Hawaiian shirts.

The Hawaiian’s shirt’s cute sister, the Kariyushi shirt.

The Hawaiian’s shirt’s cute sister, the Kariyushi shirt.

Yep, Hawaiian – or “Aloha” – shirts (call them “Don Ho” chic). As any wearer of a Hawaiian shirt should know, you shouldn’t be wearing one unless you’ve got a good reason to. Like a theme party that requires your presence to be made in authentic attire. Or the fact it’s the crucial finishing piece for your Ace Ventura Halloween costume.

I’ve got to give it to Japan, though, because they’ve probably found the best possible justification for these shirts. Also helps they’re named “Kariyushi” shirts, come without a stigma, and are actually regarded by some as a way to show societal standing.

As part of a national campaign to conserve energy during the summer, office workers in Japan were urged to dress in lighter and more breathable clothing. Building upon “Cool Biz,” an annual campaign from 2005, “Super Cool Biz” was introduced last year, due largely to the energy shortage from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Wednesday, June 13th, 2012, marks the beginning of the campaign season, running through October.

This campaign advocates maintaining thermostats at a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (or for us Westerners, here, 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

It’s a simple but effective way of maintaining a comfortable work environment. Years ago, when I studied at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, I worked in a studio that was part of a designated National Historic Landmark, and – as such – cannot be modernized or altered in any way (i.e., air-conditioned). Luckily, we had electricity, but a floor fan only works about as far as the cord can reach.

So how did we survive the heat? Long sleeves and long pants, believe it or not, in lightweight fabrics. They made the heat much more bearable. The sun reflected off of us, instead of being absorbed.

There’s a reason you see those East-Coasters in seersucker, and linen suits aren’t just for guys who keep up with the latest issue of GQ. They’re [literally] cooler to wear. Why cool the entire room when you can simply cool yourself? Back when no man’s outfit was complete without a hat, the transition into summertime meant swapping out the wool fedora for a straw one.

Long story short, seasonal changes in wardrobe were something folks used to embrace, but the tradition has been somewhat forgotten. Now, if your office entered itself into this campaign, and has its thermostat set to a balmy 82.4 degrees…chances are you’re going to need to go out and buy some cooler clothing.

Nope. This isn’t a luau party. This is just another day at the office, folks.

Nope. This isn’t a luau party. This is just another day at the office, folks.

Most companies aren’t allowing their employees to come in looking like they’re dressed for a Hawaiian Luau-themed party, however. There are rules. For the guys, solid-colored tees and smart, tear-free jeans. For the gals, undergarment-like tops (camisoles, etc.) and flip-flop sandals are banned.

Personally, I find it pretty funny that they’ve banned all but solid-colored tees, but are more than welcome to the idea of Hawaiian shirts, which are synonymous with loud, obnoxious, and busy prints. Upon further research, the rules – or lack thereof – vary from employer to employer.

Apparel retailers in Japan haven’t neglected to recognize the higher demand for summer clothing, and in addition to increasing their usual stock of seasonal items, have created entire “Cool Biz” lines.

One company is marketing smarter items, such as new suit jackets with heat-blocking and sweat-absorbing technology. Features usually found in sportswear have been integrated into casual business clothing, creating new innovations for the textile industry and as a result, more revenue. Other companies have improved their marketing by producing more “Cool Biz” items, and in the case of Renown Inc., literally doubled the size of their line to 119 items. Other companies have taken their existing stock and trimmed and thinned them down, including accessories like belts and neckties (they do make summer-weight ties, too, believe it or not).

Pee Wee Herman’s “Tequila” boots were cool shoes. But these ones are literally cool, with built-in vents on their soles! Now that’s something to dance about!

Pee Wee Herman’s “Tequila” boots were cool shoes. But these ones are literally cool, with built-in vents on their soles! Now that’s something to dance about!

As a result, sales projections estimate between 50,000 to 60,000 items will be sold, equaling roughly one billion yen in total sales. That’s no small number, and these participating companies have recognized that there is money to be made by simply participating in “Super Cool Biz.” 2012 will mark the sixth consecutive year for the campaign, with the aim and hope to reduce energy consumption by 15%.

So much money is spent, every day, by companies trying to heat or cool their buildings. Employees usually all have their own preferences, so finding an agreeable middle ground becomes difficult. How do they compensate? Employees will bring in their own personal desk fans or small space heaters. Not only is money and energy being spent on the building itself, but even MORE energy is being drained when the employee is left to his own devices to control his climate.

Let’s put it this way: you wouldn’t ask 50 co-workers to all agree on the same pizza toppings, so how could you possibly expect them to all be comfortable under one climate and one dress code (or uniform)? Give your employees the freedom to choose what they wear, and they can dress themselves to be as warm or cool as they’d like.

The fashion industry’s eager participation in this campaign is more than a novelty, it’s a necessity. The opportunities this campaign provides are enormous, whether it is in creating a new line, expanding upon a current line, or improving upon existing items. And – for the more fashion-minded – a chance to debut some warm-weather items that fell out of style when they no longer became necessary: Linen suits. Cotton ties. Straw hats. Seersucker. Let’s just leave the clam-diggers to the ladies, gentlemen.

How do you feel about Japan’s decision to bump the thermostat up, and the dress code down? Would you participate in such a campaign? Are there any drawbacks you could foresee? And – most importantly – would you ever wear a Hawaiian shirt to the office (without having to lose a bet to do it)?


Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. Cybernetic SAM

    That is really cool!!!! I think that is a great idea, I think it is only fair that if you in fact make the decision to do as they did you can either be a jerk and just say this is the way it is, or you can make a fun thing out of it! I think that more places should take and use this idea! They could also start using that money to green-cool their building. Most sky scrapers etc are all equipped and can be redesigned to heat and cool it self in a sustainable green way.

    • Eric

      My one and only concern has to do with ventilation/circulation.

      If you work someplace with lots of large windows that can be opened, and the roof overhang is generous enough to keep the sun out? Great! If you work in a city high-rise where you’ve no curtains to keep the sun out, and no windows to let the air in…chances are, it’s never getting any cooler than that 82 degrees.

      The idea is right, though. Staying cool starts when you dress the part. There’s no need for guys to be wearing wool suits in the summertime. At the very least, guys need to learn to lighten the color, and wear a lighter fabric. That much can be definitely be taken away to any location, and nothing gets lost in translation, there.

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    Saving your company energy/money? Making your employees happier when they get more of a say in their wardrobe? Sounds like an all-around winning situation to me. I can’t say that I’d enjoy sitting around in 82.4 degree office all day (that’s the target sleepy temperature), but if it’s helping save energy, I could certainly adapt.

    Great post, Eric! And super interesting!

    • Eric

      The merchandise is especially interesting, Mandy: I was pretty taken by the shoes with the little vents on the bottoms, and if they sold such a thing, here, I’d gladly buy them. I love wearing sandals in the summer, but they’re terrible to drive in and not acceptable for nicer occasions. Shoes with vents? They’re all business on top, party on the bottom. A simple, practical solution to a problem that’s been around about as long as shoes have.

  3. Rachel

    What an interesting article, Eric! I had no idea any of this was happening … it definitely sounds like a cool (hah) way to stay comfortable but also conserve energy (and lower the bills). 82 degrees would be difficult to get used to at first … maybe a compromise of 78 degrees or something would be better, haha, at least for me. 😉 Anyway, thanks for the lowdown!

    • Eric

      It’s tough at first, Rachel. When I studied at Taliesin, it was the middle of summer (July), with terrible humidity (hovering near 100% most often), and mosquitoes everywhere (UW Madison did a study there proving the countless types of mosquitoes meant at least one was always active during a 24-hour day).

      Cooled the feet with sandals. Kept the bugs away with full-length pants. And wore shirts in lighter colors that wouldn’t make me a magnet for UV rays. And it worked. Spent as much time as I could in the shade, only went out in the sun when I had to, and it wasn’t the completely unbearable situation I imagined it to be when I first got there, and learned “air conditioning” wasn’t only unavailable, but an architectural impossibility.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  4. Amy Swanson

    I’m not the least bit surprised that Japan is instituting this change, they always seem to be on the cutting edge of things. I personally would be up to give it a chance at the office, like Mandy said earlier, “Saving your company energy/money? Making your employees happier when they get more of a say in their wardrobe? Sounds like an all-around winning situation to me.”

    Who knows, maybe in five years this will become a practice here in the states?

    A very interesting blog, great job Eric!!

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