A sustainable business is an enterprise whose management is focused on balancing the needs of People, Planet and Profits. ANYTHING Maekake is an inspiring example of a successful business that preserves heritage while providing a great product to the international market.
This June, I had a chance to talk with Kazuhiro Nishimura CEO of ANYTHING, a traditional Japanese Maekake apron manufacturer, about his business.
Anything is preserving heritage [PEOPLE], making efforts to minimize waste [Planet] while securing steady income streams [Profits]. A key aspect of ANYTHING’s sustainable business model involves effective marketing to the international market. This makes it a great case study of a successful sustainable tourism product.
The Decline of Maekakae in Japan
Maekake was traditionally gifted by manufacturers to the retailers who sold their items. When shop staff wore these functional yet stylish aprons to sell products, the companies benefitted from the subtle marketing to their target market. For many years, it was an effective branding strategy. Maekake marketing helped promote items like Shoyu, Sake, Miso, Fertilizers, Food Products and a range of traditional products for many years during the post-war economic recovery period.
In recent years, however, as ANYTHING President Kazuhiro Nishimura describes it, the businesses and retailers that used to support the Maekake industry lost interest in the use of Maekake in branding and many apron craftspeople gave up on the industry. He recalls talking with many older Ojisan retailers and businesspeople who said Shoganai – “it’s a shame, but nothing can be done due to change Maekake decline”. They seemed to expect that the craft would dwindle along the same lines as Tatami straw floor mats and other traditional Japanese items no longer essential in modern Japan.
Maekake Revival with ANYTHING
Despite the lack of enthusiasm for Maekake in the domestic market, Kazuhiro Nishimura still had a passion to continue Maekake manufacturing and found a niche in appealing to the international market.
The looms used in the factory originally came from England, so he started building relationships there. His mission to reach a new market to revive the industry seems to be working. Through international relationships and a clear design strategy, ANYTHING has been able to tap into the inbound tourist market as well as customers abroad who appreciate the traditional craft.
ANYTHING Maekake aprons and products can be seen at Tokyu Hands, Narita airport (Terminal 1 & 2 in the shops featuring traditional Japanese crafts), Rakuten Global Shop Online and some select stores abroad such as Labour & Wait in London. The aprons are also available at artisan select shops in Switzerland, Italy and Germany.
The Maekake Apron Product
People – Made-in-Japan Heritage
Continuing a traditional business such as Maekake by establishing new income streams in markets with higher demand is an important aspect of sustainability as it protects the craft from extinction. Maekake making in the traditional way in Japan preserves an interesting and appealing part of Japanese heritage and culture which is an asset for Japanese society as well as preserves destination appeal. As these Maekake are made-in-Japan, customers can feel confident in the high-quality as well as be sure that the workers are paid a living wage and have good health coverage under the standards of Japanese labor law.
ANYTHING’s new factory opened in June, 2019 in Aichi prefecture. Nishimura-san expects to add Factory visits, a new tourist attraction, to his lineup as it will be open for Kengaku 見学 from the spring of 2020. Part of the factory’s appeal will undoubtedly be its points of sustainability. The facility continues to use traditional techniques of energy efficiency, such as sharing a single small motor to move the material through the looms
Running a sustainable manufacturing business involves looking for ways to reduce waste. As we see in the Naoshima coffee shop post about Akaito, an entrepreneurial couple who started a new business and upcycled products sparked by frustrations with denim waste, we see similar drive to reuse waste materials at ANYTHING.
Nishimura-san has been trialing various products using waste material produced in Maekake production. InboundAmbassador is collaborating with Nishimura-san on an original upcycled product- details coming soon! Nishimura-san is working on a variety of ideas to reuse the waste material, such as book covers, shoulder bags, and other upcycled items.
Overall, ANYTHING is Everything- it is pursuing success in the textile industry by balancing the needs of people and planet while seeking profits in the international markets. ANYTHING is a great example of a sustainable business selling sustainable tourist products.