While the kigurumi trend first took off in Japan, it has now expanded to nations around the world. Both the UK and Australia, for example, have been at the forefront of this trend, and in Asian cities like Manila and Seoul, the trend is also popular. So how exactly did a trend that started with Japanese teenagers and manga fans become part of the pop culture mainstream in cities like London and Melbourne?
The first kigurumi in the UK is generally traced back to 2009, which is the year that two UK entrepreneurs stumbled across the Japanese kigu trend as they were coming up with new ideas for festivals and events in the UK. They literally used Google Translate to translate between English and Japanese and then emailed the top manufacturer of Japanese kigurumi (SAZAC). They placed an order for 300 kigurumi, convinced that British consumers would love the product. By 2011, the two entrepreneurs were hosting kigu-themed events, with one of the biggest being the Forest Frenzy event, which became a massive animal-themed rave set in an indoor woodland. The star of the show, of course, was the animal onesie.
From there, the trend in the UK just took off. The next big hit was the UK music scene. The cold, dreary weather in Britain turned out to be a bit of good luck, because concertgoers were looking for ways to stay warm and dry while spending the whole afternoon or night outside. Kigurumi became so popular that they soon became preferable to ponchos. There was even a pop-up kigu store in the center of London’s fashionable Soho district that was covered by Time Out London.
If the key to success in the UK market was music festivals and so-called “fancy dress” costume parties, then the key to the Australian market was the university scene. Australian importers from Melbourne specifically focused on the young university students in the city, and that soon led to incredible demand for these animal onesies in major Australian cities.
In 2013, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story called, “Animal Onesies a Booming Market.” The big takeaway was that importers and distributors couldn’t keep up with demand. The article cited the example of one retailer that literally sold 6,000 animal kigus in a span of 6 hours. What was truly extraordinary is how the animal onesie trend seemed to be cutting across age groups. In other words, it wasn’t just young students or hipster millennials buying them – in one example cited by Forbes magazine, an Australian man organized a kigu-themed 60th birthday party for 100 of his closest friends, requiring all of them to dress in animal onesies.
So what’s next for this trend? In the UK, one noteworthy change has been the creation of an entirely new clothing category (“kigoule”) based around animal-themed ponchos and rain boots. Very British, right? The British have always embraced the pac-a-mac (i.e. a foldable raincoat), and now they are innovating by creating waterproof kigus that fold up just like raincoats. And the British kigu is also going mainstream further, with special deals set up to sell these adorable creations at retailers such as Topshop, Selfridges and Urban Outfitters.
In Australia, one new change has been the re-marketing of these kigus to the Under 10 crowd (kids age 2-9). Australians are working with big brands like Disney and Nickelodeon, both popular with young children, to create officially licensed kigu products. And there has also been an attempt to market these kigus as “loungewear” for female tweens and teenagers.On a global basis, it’s impossible to overstate the role that celebrities play in spreading awareness of the kigurumi trend. For example, Western entrepreneurs point to Lily Allen and Cara Delevingne as two celebs that have helped to kick-start the trend. So as more celebrities worldwide are spotted wearing kigus, and as more images of adorable dinosaurs and unicorns appear across social media, it means that the trend could continue to grow and expand globally.