This has been a notable year for ethical fashion in Japan, as the apparel industry welcomed a few newcomers who have the potential to accelerate the ethical movement.
Leading up to this year, Japanese ethical fashion players have tied their work to social entrepreneurship. Their purpose, to create ethical fashion, originated with a social vision: to achieve a better environment and to provide work for people in developing countries. The CEO and designer of Hasuna and the CEO of Motherhouse are good examples of the ’pioneer generation’, who brought the idea of ethical fashion into Japan.
Hasuna is the first luxurious ethical jeweler in Japan. Its founder, Natsuko Shiraki, has a typical international development background. Until 2002, she studied International Development at King’s College in London. After she graduated, she was accepted to an internship at the United Nations Population Fund Vietnam-Hanoi office and also worked at the Asian Development Bank Institute. Following her work at the investment fund, in April of 2009 she then established Hasuna Co. Ltd.
She describes her motivation as follows:
“I have brought myself to dozens of countries until now, thinking what it is that I can do for this world. Walking through places in Asia, Africa, and South America, I have faced some scenes which I couldn’t help turning my eyes from. Could there be something I can do to make a change? After over 10 years of hard thinking, Hasuna was the best answer I reached.”
Motherhouse, founded in 2006, is another ethical accessory brand, primarily producing bags. The company’s CEO, Eriko Yamaguchi, can be considered as one of the few successful Japanese entrepreneurs involved in fair trade. Motherhouse actively fosters the idea of fair trade, through direct deals with producers in Bangladesh and other developing countries.
Eriko enrolled in the faculty of Policy Management at Keio University, and then she went to Bangladesh to study at the Graduate School of Development Studies of BRAC University. When she encountered Bangladesh’s primary product, jute, she was inspired to use this fiber to create bags. Eriko recalls her motivations in this way:
“There was a time in university when I wanted to become a politician, but after taking Mr. Heizo Takenaka’s classes, I got an interest in economical theories and the economical difference between developing countries and advanced countries. I worked at an international organization from Washington DC, but I felt that just giving financial support and helping the poor wasn’t enough. From the viewpoint of a business, making a product and getting compensation for it is the main thought behind producing. That’s also how I worked with products, meanwhile making ourselves known in developing countries and contributing a little to lessen the gap between the rich and the poor.”
“Let’s make items that would be accepted just because they are simply ‘cute’, not because of an image of pity, like ‘they are so miserable that you need to buy them’, which are often called ‘aid or contribution’ based on others’ goodwill or self-sacrifice.”
Two new brands that have joined the scene are Andu Amet, and InHeels. The founders of these two brands have different backgrounds compared to the pioneer generation, each one starting with a familiar viewpoint that questions the modern manufacturing economy and system.
Andu Amet is a brand that produces fashion accessories, exclusively using Ethiopian sheepskin as its primary material. Designer and founder Hiroko Samejima worked in a Japanese company as a product designer, but she says that she always wondered whether the process of manufacturing and consuming large quantities of things at one time and then soon throwing them away was correct.
Later, Hiroko left that company and visited Ethiopia as a designer member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). She recalls that at first, she was shocked to see the poor living conditions of the country. However, as she worked on fashion projects and ran projects with local people during her residence in Ethiopia, she says she found people who took their work very seriously, vigorously producing wonderful materials and designs. From this she realized that the country had infinite possibilities. Simply wishing to work with Ethiopians again, Hiroko established her fashion accessory brand, which launched in April of 2012.
The founders of the casual and sexy InHeels ladies apparel brand, Yuka Okada and Taeko Ohyama, recall their motivation for creating their ethical fashion brand.
“Two of us were working on financial company. We put our primary value on profit-making. All we did were to move 100 million yen a day to merge companies, and to make maximum profit for our clients. But one day I stopped and thought, I made so much money, but what was it that I got as a result? And I did not have an answer for my own question. I had a sense of discomfort for that, and quit my work. I came to know that there are many things that cannot be solved by money in the world.”
This brand sets its prices in an easy to purchase range. For example, tops are 2000–3000 yen (£15 – £23), while genuine leather bags are about 10,000 yen (£78). The company set their prices in this way to accommodate women who are unable to spend a lot of money on fashion. The tags on the products describe their back story in a brief, casual way, to convey the connection between the user and the production process.
The difference between the pioneer generation and the new generation is whether they entered the fashion scene motivated by a spirit of social entrepreneurship. The latter generation begins with an awareness of issues connected with preexisting capitalist structures. But for fashion entrepreneurs of either group, there is a gradual movement toward trends of stratification in price ranges and tastes, designed to meet diversified customer preferences in fashion. Since there are so many style trends in Japan, we need more variety in the design and price of ethical fashions.
With thanks to texƧture, our Eco Fashion Strategy partners. texƧture helps players in the textile, fashion and jewellery industry become successful and sustainable businesses by addressing their strategical and operational risks.
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