Can The Small and Medium Textile Companies Survive in Japan?

More than twenty years have passed since the domestic textile industry in Japan began to erode because of cheap labor costs in China and Korea. It was especially difficult for small- and medium-sized Japanese companies to survive if they did not have a strong technological base. The management of one textile firm announced: "About two-thirds of the factories in the outskirts have closed down. Even if demand returned to this country, there is no demand great enough for us to enlarge a factory."

However, attempts have been made to invigorate the textile industry. Sato Textile relocated its sake cellar, renovated a building that had been used for generations as a knitwear factory, and transformed it into a select shop, GEA, which opened in Yamagata Prefecture Sagae City (Sagae Motomachi 1-19-1). About two weeks after the opening, the shop had attracted many customers with its sophisticated interior and edgy, select merchandise. The shop exists in two buildings, selling fashion goods at GEA #1 (a two-floor structure, 296m² /3,186sf) and lifestyle products at GEA #2 (one floor, 164m², /1,765sf). Although it is not officially called "the textile industry," GEA is a good example in which a change of purpose has been successful. Sato has made the transformation from manufacturing to retailing, and in the meantime formed a new community.

At the fashion building, customers select such brands as Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Rag and Bone, and Kolor, along with silver accessories, such as the Navaho Cody Sanderson designs, and other brands with a reputation for excellent craftsmanship. In the lifestyle section, the shop presents sofas and chairs made in collaboration with Tendo of Yamagata, a local furniture manufacturer. In addition, glass and ceramics by local Yamagata artists, stationery, candles, and even cosmetics are sold, and the shop has opened a caf&eacute and a book corner as well.

There is not a great deal involved in establishing a new shop or caf&eacute in this area, but GEA creates a quiet but effective presence. Masaki Sato, the president of GEA, has been always been concerned about the crisis that would arise if the Japanese textile industry disappeared within twenty years, so he has been exploring a business model on a local level. He would like to have his business serve as an example to domestic and overseas markets.

There are not many select shops that handle high-end fashion in Yamagata Prefecture, so it is interesting to note that purchasing trends can be seen in this new commercial complex. Customers have already begun to go to Sagae from Tokyo, and this has attracted attention through social media.