Air-Conditioned Clothing: The Hottest Trend in Energy-Restricted Japan

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Japanese employees wear jackets with cooling fans in them in Toda city, suburban Tokyo on July 12, 2011.

They may not be the most fashion-forward pieces, but when the dog days of summer are upon us, who really cares?

With Japan reeling from electricity restrictions in the wake of the shuttering of the Fukushima power plant post-earthquake and tsunami, many are finding it tough to stay cool as the mercury spikes. Rather than sweat out the summer, the Japanese are turning to clothing-maker Kuchofuku, whose clothes have built-in fans to keep the wearer cool.

And it’s no secret what they’re signing up for with Kuchofuku’s clothes, as the company’s name literally means “air-conditioned clothing.” Their hottest seller right now is an air-cooled jacket, sporting two fans on the coat’s sides to draw air in. Yes, you might question it — wearing a jacket in summer? But read on.

(PHOTOS: Tsunami Strikes Fukushima Power Plant)

Each coat puffs up penguin-style when the fans are switched on, allowing the air to circulate through the insulated insides. And with a personal cooling system built into a person’s clothes, there’s no need for air conditioners to be cranked up. “It came to me that we don’t need to cool the entire room, just as long as people in it feel cool,” Kuchofuku president Hiroshi Ichigaya told AFP.

Kuchofuku has noted a strong uptick in sales since the Japanese government asked companies in the northern reaches of the nation to curtail energy usage by 15% to avoid blackouts. The company expects to double their annual sales this year, selling at least 40,000 air-conditioned products. And the biggest coincidence: even those who ordered the energy cuts have caught on to the necessity of cooling clothes. Ichigaya said a government official wanted to buy a half million jackets from his company, but there was no way he could meet their demand.

Each coat sells for about 11,000 yen ($140) – no small price tag for a sartorially silly jacket. But really, who can worry about haute fashion when beads of sweat keep dripping?

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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