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Creative roots

The New Banshu Project

Hyogo's traditional textiles mesmerize the world


Pearly cotton is 100 percent cotton yet has a gloss like that of silk. It's representative of Banshu-ori, a traditional form of cotton textile from eastern Hyogo. Washed in the water of the Kakogawa River and slowly woven with an artisan's skill, it has a delicate, soft texture.

Kunihide Ozawa, president of Ozawa Textile, says the company began introducing pearly cotton to top overseas brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel about six years ago, which led to small-scale orders. When Doucet visited Ozawa Textile in 2012, he fell in love with the material, saying he wanted to use it in the dress that was going to crown his Paris show.
While the high price of pearly cotton has limited its success in Japanese markets, recognition from Doucet and other top brands in France has reaffirmed Ozawa's drive to develop it as a marketable product.

In an effort to strengthen its brand image, in July 2013, Ozawa Textile collaborated with other traditional handcraft companies in Hyogo to form the New Banshu Project, or Shin Banshu Kikaku (SBK). What effect has this initiative had on Ozawa Textile and the Banshu-ori that stands at the heart of the project?

Jean Doucet's pearly cotton Fashion Week dress was accessorized with works of Banshu-ori and Hyogo leather, while several models held leather and Banshu-ori bags designed by Doucet. Ohchi Nursery Co., Ltd., a flower farm in Tamba City, provided the preserved flowers that adorned the Fashion Week runway and also took charge of overall design. Their exquisite sense of style made such a buzz that even the local media took note of their work.

"Presenting in an opera house at Paris Fashion Week is without a doubt the highest achievement in the fashion industry," Ozawa says. "The fact that many local products, such as textiles, leather and preserved flowers, were acclaimed for their quality gives us pride and motivates our artisans."

Needless to say, Europe has its own lengthy history of producing high quality leather and textiles. In such a highly competitive and tradition-bound market, what can be done to increase the popularity of Japanese products?

"To Europeans, Japan still feels like a very far away country," Ozawa says. "There are differences in culture and language, and even in time zones. Tariffs are high. Even having decided to start doing business there, it can feel like the hurdles are insurmountable." Ozawa believes Japan needs to offer products so appealing that not only would Europeans want to overcome any hurdle to get them, but they would put effort into lowering those hurdles for the future.

While his company focuses on fabric, even when he introduces products such as leather and home decoration accessories, Ozawa says people will often tell him how impressed they are with Japanese goods. "I truly believe that Japanese products can compete in the global market," he says.

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