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 café and a book corner as well.
There is not a great deal involved in establishing a new shop or café 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.