Craftsman's Passion to Continue Producing the Finest Oshima Tsumugi Fabric [Muranaka]

Craftsman's Passion to Continue Producing the Finest Oshima Tsumugi Fabric [Muranaka]

We will continue to make the best products

Mr. Kawabata, a craftsman of Oshima Tsumugi, one of the world's three major textiles, says so. In this interview, we asked Mr. Kawabata, who took over as the representative of Oshima Tsumugi manufacturing company at a young age, about his thoughts on manufacturing and the future of traditional industry. Please take a look!

Career of a Craftsman

Q.Could you tell us about your career?

Once I graduated from high school, I went on to become a carpenter. However, due to my fear of heights, I quit after 4 months and started working in the family business. I was originally familiar with the production of Oshima Tsumugi since I had started helping out in the family business when I was around 5 years old. As a result, I started working in the family business at the age of 18 and became president at the age of 30. At that time, I obtained certification as a traditional craftsman, which is a sign of a craftsman who maintains high skills and techniques.

(Certification as a traditional craftsman)

Q.You became president at the age of 30! What do you find difficult and challenging?

Actually, I have not felt any difficulties at all.haha Perhaps I am optimistic, but the people around me have helped me a lot, and since I have been involved in this industry since I was a child, what I do has not changed in particular. I thought that just because I was a young representative, I would not be licked by the craftsmen of other companies, but the industry is very tolerant of people who can make things well, and I had enough skills to be certified as a traditional craftsman, so I was able to talk with them as an equal.

I don't know if I can call it rewarding, but it is nothing but fun because I truly enjoy making things. There is a lot to do in this job itself, but each Oshima Tsumugi I make has a different pattern, so I enjoy making products while having fun every day.

Craftsman's Vision for the Future of Traditional Industry

Q.What have been your thoughts on running the company since you became the president?

I have been acting with the belief that in order to continue the company for the next 30 or 40 years, it is necessary to manage with an eye on the future. This industry is an industry that manufactures and sells traditional products, but the reality is that not a few of the ways of doing things have not changed over the past few decades. If wages are low, the number of people who want to work in this industry will decrease, and if there are fewer people working, there will be fewer people to pass on the techniques, and as a result, the tradition will not remain. For this reason, the two things I tackled first after assuming the position of representative were "wage revision" and "improvement of the work environment”.

Q.What was your intention in prioritizing these two areas?

After all, I felt it was essential to "create an environment where people can be hired well and work for a long time" in order to preserve the company and carry on its traditions. To this end, we increased the wages of our employees by 20% and built a new weaving factory to create a comfortable working environment. Of course, this is not an easy thing to do, but I believe it is important to be honest in our efforts as we look ahead to the next 30 or 40 years.

Q.Why were you able to raise wages and improve the work environment, something that other companies cannot do?

I think one of the factors is whether or not the management thinks these things are important. For example, there are many presidents in this industry who are in their 70s or older, and many of them are planning to close their companies in their own generation. However, I am still in my 30s and want to continue working in this business for as long as possible. Therefore, the difference between our company and other companies may be that we are future-oriented in our management. Since I am still in my 30s, I hope to pass on the current environment to the next generation in a better state.

Another factor that enabled us to increase wages was our persistent negotiations with our wholesalers. To raise wages, we needed to increase sales, so we negotiated with our wholesaler to raise the transaction price. Of course, this did not happen immediately, but it took several years of communication with the wholesaler to achieve the price increase. We want to work in a win-win situation for both parties, so we will continue to provide the best products while maintaining a more reasonable price.

Commitment in Manufacturing Products

Q.Are there any particular points you are particular about when making Oshima Tsumugi?

What we are always particular about is "making the best quarity products". There is a lot of information about management in the world, but our stance is that if we continue to make products that we believe are the best, we will continue to be chosen by our customers. Of course, it is necessary to change the way we make products in response to the trends and demands of the times, but our stance of "making the best products" will never change.

In addition, in order to distribute Oshima Tsumugi, it is necessary to obtain certification from an inspection agency. This is a system unique to Oshima Tsumugi, but there is also a system in which all products are checked by a third-party organization. Without passing the inspection, the product cannot be officially called Oshima Tsumugi and cannot be distributed. If a product successfully passes the inspection, the following certification mark can be given to the product and it can be sold.

(Certification mark for Oshima Tsumugi produced in Kagoshima City)

(Certification mark for Oshima Tsumugi made in Amami-Oshima)

Oshima Tsumugi is mainly produced in Kagoshima City and Amami-Oshima Island in Japan, and the certification marks are different in each area. These are related to the history of Japan, such as the fact that the mark of the Japanese flag could not be used when the country was occupied by the U.S. after the war.

Q.Are there any other initiatives you are working on?

We are actively collaborating with other companies. For example, if we encounter any difficulties or questions, we sometimes consult with senior craftsmen we know. In other regions, I have never heard of such a proactive consultative relationship, but in Kagoshima, this is the case, and the senior craftsmen share their knowledge with us younger workers.

Other times, we collaborate with makers in other production areas to create new products. For example, we sometimes combine the skills of Oshima Tsumugi and Hakata textile craftsmen to create new products. In this way, we would like to further promote the industry not only within our own company, but also with the awareness that we are all members of the same textile industry.

To Customers using Oshima Tsumugi

Q.Please give a message to customers!

As a craftsman, I would be very happy if you enjoy Oshima Tsumugi itself rather than our products. Oshima Tsumugi is made with rare techniques such as twice weaving and mud dyeing, and there are many beautiful patterns in its design. We would be happy if you choose our products as a result when choosing white Oshima Tsumugi. We hope you will enjoy this typical Japanese textile. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us using the form below.

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Oshima Tsumugi Fabric Making Process Video