When shoppers buy something from Inheels, a fashion house based in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, they find a tiny letter attached to their purchases with a string.
Each letter describes a heart-warming episode about the product's origin. For example, the "Arantza Flare Top," a women's top priced at 4,200 yen ($54) including tax, was sewn in a Nepalese factory. Profits from the product "will be used to help build a dental clinic and fund scholarships in a poverty-ridden village," the attached letter says.
The "Jawaja Editor's Bag," priced at 12,900 yen, is manufactured by people who have been discriminated against under India's caste system.
"Visits by foreign buyers are providing an opportunity for the discriminators to 'take a new look' at the discriminees," the attached message says.
Yuka Okada and Taeko Ohyama, the co-founders of Inheels, are championing "ethical fashion," a concept indicating awareness of the producers' labor conditions and natural environments.
"Ethical" is a loosely defined concept, born in Britain, that incorporates such notions as "eco-friendly," "charity" and "fair trade." It gained currency in Japan in the second half of the 2000s. The People Tree fashion house in London is a leading standard-bearer of the concept.
Many of the products touting ethical fashion have customarily been characterized by their simple coloring and design. But Okada and Ohyama wanted to challenge that norm.
They named their company in the hopes of presenting "cool and sexy" ethical fashion items that would go well with high heels.
"I think it would be ideal if a product that you bought because you liked its design and its feel on your skin turned out to be an ethical fashion product, rather than if you bought it on purpose to do good for others," Okada said.
Okada, 27, after finishing college, worked for a foreign-affiliated consulting firm, where she was in charge of corporate acquisitions. But she said she was feeling uncomfortable with her work, which was focused on the pursuit of profits around the time she learned about ethical fashion.
Okada flew to Britain in April 2010 and spent two years working for ethical fashion companies and studying dressmaking at an evening school to prepare for starting her own business.
Ohyama, a 36-year-old friend of Okada who lived in London and had a strong interest in ethical fashion, joined her venture.
When the pair returned temporarily to Japan last summer, they interviewed 100 women, mostly in their 20s, on the streets of trend-setting districts, including Tokyo's Shibuya and Harajuku, to study the latest trends and acceptable price levels.
The pair visited India and Nepal in September to tour factories, where they planned to outsource production, and fine-tuned the terms of purchases. Those efforts resulted in a lineup of 44 items, including stoles and T-shirts. They also opened an online store in June.
Some customers have come to embrace a sense of affinity toward the producers after reading the messages attached to their purchases.
"I want to say my 'thank you' to the producers in India and Nepal," one customer said in a letter.
* * *
Visit the Inheels website at (http://inheels-ef.com/) for more information (in Japanese only).
- « Prev
- Next »