Had such a wonderful time learning about the tradition of MAEKAKE Japanese branding aprons from the ANYTHING co. President Nishimura-san. There is so much great material here that I have a second part soon!
Read this post for an introduction of the ANYTHING company and their Maekake products. The following is a description from Part 1 of the YouTube video series on the ANYTHING company.
What is Maekake?
‘Maekake’ is a traditional apron worn by workers and shop staff in Japan since the Edo period. This company is making Maekake and carrying on this 200 year old tradition.
Starting in the Edo period, Sake and Shoyu breweries or Miso paste makers would order these Maekake aprons to be made with their logo or brand’s design on it. Then they would give it to shop staff at the beginning of the year as a present and say, “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu”, ‘looking forward to working with you this year’. These useful aprons were then worn by the shop staff and workers throughout the year. It was used as a gift of good will and traditional branding for the companies. Nowdays, since Maekake is a high-quality and rather expensive product for these traditional manufacturers, the market has changed. Now it is bought by people who think it’s cool: chefs, shop staff and stylish people who enjoy using it for a variety of work and cooking both indoors and outdoors.
2) What happened to the Maekake trade in Japan?
About 15 years ago, the trade was dying out. I said to others, ‘isn’t it a shame that it’s dying out?’ At the time, there were only 3 Maekake businesses left in Japan and everyone said ‘we’re quitting’. Nishimura-san asked tried to encourage the older generation Maekake makers to keep at it, but they said it was no use as there was no market- the industry had the same fate as Tatami (rush mat) makers or Tabi (toe-socks) in Japan. They thought “the time had passed for Maekake” but it dawned on me that this product could have great appeal and potential for sales in the international market- if only they knew about it. I really had a passion to keep the industry alive, so I started the business 15 years ago.
Yesterday (June, 2019) we opened the new factory and it was attended by shop managers which sell our products like Tokyu Hands. (It was also covered by NHK and other news agencies.) Toyota staff also came as before the company made cars, they made weaving looms that we still use to this day at the factory.
3) How much of Maekake is #madeinjapan ?
Unfortunately, nowdays, the cotton is imported (it was grown in Japan before), but the thread is made by a Japanese company based in Osaka. So, we buy the thread and make the Maekake products in our factory.
4) How about the dye?
For the dye- we do use a 100% natural Indigo dye on the light blue dyed products that you see here, but the darker blue products need a commercial dye.
5) Can you tell me about the stylish Obi belt?
The Obi belt is a traditional black & white design on one side and a red & black on the other. The red & white color combination is traditionally used for special occasions. For everyday use, the color contrast is stylish and makes the wearer happy. This is the same Obi style as it was originally designed.
6) Can customers create their own logos for order-made Maekake?
Sure, that’s no problem. Anything from ordering one to bulk orders can be done with a customer’s original design in about 3 weeks. Prices start at 5,900 yen for 1.
7) Where can international customers buy ANYTHING Maekake?
It is available at Narita airport, Tokyu Hands stores (national chain), and has good sales at a London based specialty import shop, ‘Labour and Wait’
I have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs like Nishimura-san who has a passion for traditional crafts like Maekake and thinks laterally to find new international markets to keep the industry alive.
We should support made-in-japan businesses like ANYTHING which not only create great products but also add to Japan’s destination appeal.
Nishimura-san is running the business with a sustainability-focus:
PEOPLE: preserving Japanese heritage and culture, preserving the made-in-japan brand which requires sourcing material locally, hiring local people. ANYTHING has just opened a new factory outside of the major cities, this allows the business to position itself well between the manufacturers and the customers, but also helps revive rural areas. Factory visits will be available from spring of 2020 which will add an interesting tourist attraction to the rural area and increase the economic benefit to the area by attracting visitors there.
PLANET: using traditional techniques which are energy efficient and looking for modern options like solar which would provide opportunities to run more efficient operations. Nishimura-san is also trying out different ways to reuse waste materials by creating add-on #upcycled products to the product line.
PROFITS: by creating international collaborations and designing products which are transparent in operations, maintain the high-quality made-in-japan, and have access to international customers by being available in international airports and Tokyu Hands stores across Japan, they are successfully tapping into the international market where their traditional products are in high-demand.