The Japanese designers building a more sustainable fashion industry

Written by Lena Vazifdar, NCS

In Japan, the time period “mottainai” — loosely translated to “what a waste” — has deep roots. Originating from a Buddhist perception that each object has intrinsic worth and must be utilized for its full life cycle, the credo has been threaded all through nationwide tradition for hundreds of years.

“Mottainai and handmade culture is everywhere in Japan,” mentioned Kaoru Imajo, director of Japan Fashion Week Organization, mentioned in an electronic mail. Sake lees (the residual yeast left over from the fermentation course of), he factors out, has lengthy been used as a cooking ingredient, and discarded orange peels have been diminished to fibers and was paper. Brands like Nisai, of their Autumn-Winter 2021 assortment proven at Tokyo’s Rakuten Fashion Week (pictured above), upcycle used clothes to design “one-of-a-kind” appears. Then there’s the case of boro textiles — materials which might be usually worn out, however then repurposed, patched collectively to create new clothes.

“We have been fixing old carpets, clothes and fabric so we can use (them) as long as we could,” he mentioned. “Now, boro textiles are traded very expensively and known as a ‘Japanese vintage fabric.'”

Today, a variety of Japanese fashion labels are channeling these conventional concepts within the title of sustainability, embracing centuries-old garment manufacturing strategies and pioneering new know-how to cut back waste and reduce environmental hurt all through the manufacturing course of.

An exhibition featuring garments made of boro textiles at The Museum of East Asian Art in 2015.

An exhibition that includes clothes fabricated from boro textiles at The Museum of East Asian Art in 2015. Credit: Brill/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Innovation from nature

At Shohei, based by inventive director Lisa Pek and CFO Shohei Yamamoto in 2016, sustainable decision-making begins with the dyeing course of. Pek says the model, which operates out of Japan and Austria, has been working with a Kyoto-based artisan to acquire textiles dyed utilizing conventional kakishibu strategies.

During the kakishibu dyeing course of, textiles are immersed within the fermented juice of unripe persimmon fruit — a substitute for standard artificial dyes, which might be damaging to soil and waterways. After the dyeing course of, the material is tanned within the solar, creating orange hues. The kakishibu dyeing course of additionally creates a waterproof impact when oxidized within the air, and offers antibacterial properties. “This is something you might find in a tech fabric,” Pek defined in a video name, “but it’s already there in nature.”

This Shohei garment was dyed using the traditional kakishibu method.

This Shohei garment was dyed utilizing the standard kakishibu methodology. Credit: Courtesy Shohei Collection/Stefan Reichmann

The brand also uses  another traditional dyeing technque, called shibori, in its fabrics.

The model additionally makes use of one other conventional dyeing technque, referred to as shibori, in its materials. Credit: Courtesy Shohei Collection/Yuji Fukuhara

Shohei additionally sources material dyed utilizing shibori — a hand-dyeing method that dates again to the eighth century — from a family-run enterprise in Nagoya. Like kakishibu, shibori makes use of pure dyes (usually derived from indigo) and is much less dangerous to the surroundings than its artificial counterparts.

In a related spirit of eco-friendly manufacturing, Japanese designer Hiroaki Tanaka, founding father of Studio Membrane, has been working with biodegradable protein resins derived from wool — the premise for “The Claws of Clothes,” a assortment of avant garde, architectural womenswear unveiled on the 2018 Eco Fashion Week Australia in Perth. Created in collaboration with Shinji Hirai, a professor on the division of sciences and informatics at Hokkaido’s Muroran Institute of Technology, Tanaka likens the protein resin’s texture to a human fingernail, and its sturdy texture to plastic.

An image capturing the protein resin process.

An picture capturing the protein resin course of. Credit: Studio Membrane/Hiroaki Tanaka

Hiroaki Tanaka of Studio Membrane used resins derived from wool as accents in his "The Claws of Clothes" collection.

Hiroaki Tanaka of Studio Membrane used resins derived from wool as accents in his “The Claws of Clothes” assortment. Credit: Studio Membrane/Hiroaki Tanaka

“I wanted to make totally biodegradable clothes,” Tanaka mentioned over Zoom, by means of a translator. “Because it’s just made of wool, it’s very (ecologically friendly).”

However, Tanaka admits that his protein resin is best suited to wearable artwork than on a regular basis clothes. When the resin is moist it reverts to its ordinary wool type, and loses its construction. However, since wool is biodegradable, he believes the fabric may very well be used to interchange sure disposable gadgets, similar to diapers, which might be at the moment filling landfills.

Using tech to fight waste

As material decisions are integral to sustainable fashion, new know-how and equipment can be on the forefront of this environmental motion, reducing the quantity of cloth wasted throughout pattern-making, sampling and stitching.

In this area, Japanese producer Shima Seiki has set the usual with its computerized Wholegarment knitting machines. Unlike the standard manner of manufacturing knitwear, the place particular person items are knitted then sewn collectively, Wholegarment gadgets are seamlessly knitted of their entirety in a singular piece.

With Shima Seiki's computerized Wholegarment machine, a whole garment is knitted in a single seamless piece.

With Shima Seiki’s computerized Wholegarment machine, a complete garment is knitted in a single seamless piece. Credit: Courtesy Shima Seiki Mfg. Ltd

According to Masaki Karasuno, a Shima Seiki spokesperson, as much as 30% of cloth is wasted in normal manufacturing, when particular person items of sample are lower from bolts of cloth earlier than being sewn collectively. “All of that is eliminated when an entire garment can be knitted in one piece directly off the machine,” he mentioned in a telephone interview.

Wholegarment’s equipment provides manufacturers the choice to provide clothes on demand — one other strategy to cut back industry waste. “Mass producing garments based on projected demand tends to overshoot actual demand (and is the reason) why there’s a lot of overstock… which results in waste,” Karasuno defined. “Wholegarment can produce the number of garments that are required, when they are required.”

Nisai, a brand that upcycles used and vintage clothing, shows at Tokyo's Rakuten Fashion Week on March 15.

Nisai, a model that upcycles used and classic clothes, exhibits at Tokyo’s Rakuten Fashion Week on March 15. Credit: Japan Fashion Week Organization

Another look from Nisai's Autumn-Winter 2021 collection that was featured at Tokyo's Rakuten Fashion Week.

Another look from Nisai’s Autumn-Winter 2021 assortment that was featured at Tokyo’s Rakuten Fashion Week. Credit: Japan Fashion Week Organization

In 2016, Fast Retailing Co., the dad or mum firm to quick fashion large Uniqlo, began a strategic partnership with Shima Seiki referred to as Innovation Factory, the place they produce a number of Wholegarment knits for the Uniqlo model. Since then, Italian fashion label Max Mara and American clothes model Paul Stuart have additionally turned to Shima Seiki’s Wholegarment know-how.

Shima Seiki additionally presents a digital sampling platform which offers real looking renderings of particular person clothes — options to the bodily samples which might be produced as a assortment is developed. Often, sampling is an iterative course of, with factories sending new, tweaked variations of a garment till the designer is content material with the ultimate product. While the method is useful for designers, permitting them to regulate for components like match, placement and high quality, these prototypes usually find yourself landfills.

“Each of those samples that gets wasted requires time, cost, material and energy to produce … and all of those are just thrown away,” Karasuno mentioned.

Shohei has been partnering with No Form, a digital design studio, to provide real looking 3D photos of a few of their clothes utilizing tech much like Shima Seiki’s digital sampling platform. These renderings can be utilized of their on-line retailer instead of images of samples. “It’s the same as when you think about architecture, where you create a model… before building it,” Pek mentioned. “It’s also another way to be environmentally friendly and save costs.”

Related video: The artisan making warrior prints for contemporary Japan

Christina Dean, the founder and board chair of Redress, an environmental charity that goals to cut back textile waste, believes the steps taken by Japan’s fashion industry is setting a optimistic instance for a more healthy fashion ecosystem internationally.

“I think it’s very interesting how islands deal with innovation. If you have a country that can’t have endless landfills, and you can’t ship all your waste and dump it somewhere else… it drives innovation,” she mentioned in a telephone interview.

“When you go to Japan it’s a beautiful, considered, minimalist, cultured society, and if you couple their traditional past with the fact that they are very high tech, the textile industry in Japan is a champion in terms of technology.”


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