Fair trade fashion is a relatively small but growing market segment in North America and Europe. But what is the situation of fair trade fashion in other markets? Here in the West we rarely hear about the market for fair trade products in Japan.
Today we're interviewing our friend, Tamae Takatsu to find out how things are developing there. Tamae manages a series of pop up retail shops called Love & Sense and also has experience serving on the board of OXFAM in Japan. She has been promoting and advocating for fair trade for over 10 years.
Tamae Takatsu, CEO of Fukuichi Co.,Ltd.
Escama: Hello Tamae! You have a unique approach to selling fair trade products, you're selling in Hankyu department store and to some of the most exclusive department stores in Japan. How do you do it? It would be difficult to pitch a fair trade themed pop up shop to Neiman Marcus, is Japan completely different?
Tamae: This is my own approach. Fair trade products in Japan are generally not positioned as high-end, or luxury items. I decided to take the 'path of most resistance'.
An early Love & Sense pop up shop in Takashimaya
Escama: The 'path of most resistance'? I like that! What exactly do you mean?
Tamae: More than 10 years ago, I was involved in establishing OXFAM Japan. I had the notion that the organization should retail fair trade products because I knew that OXFAM UK included product retailing among their activities. It turned out that it was difficult to do in Japan with some problems including the quality of the products. In those days, I gave up the idea to be involved in fair-trade, and ultimately I ended up running the shops by myself. I started to plan how to target a luxury market, an affluent clientele with high quality, high style products. That is what I mean by the path of most resistance.
Escama: But how did you follow the path of most resistance and actually end up in Takashimaya, Isetan, and Hankyu department stores? That's impressive.
Ground floor pop up shop at Isetan, the most popular store in Japan.
Tamae: It took many years, it didn't happen overnight. Early in my career, in the early 1990s, I had my own marketing company and my clients were department stores. I advised them with matters concerning merchandising, marketing and promotions. So I had connections with decision makers and I understood the culture of department stores. This was important but it was not the only factor.
Escama: What was your first exposure to fair trade and how did you start your first pop up?
Tamae: I became exposed to fair trade in 1998 and started to research artisan-made products on my own. I contacted the company People Tree and participated in their fair trade study tour to India in 2000. I gradually developed the theme for the store, (Love & Sense), started identifying products and made contacts with artisan groups. Then I arranged meetings with decision makers in department stores to convince them that fair trade was something that must be done. I told them that fair trade is necessary for other parts of the world. If we have marketing influence then we need to work with poor countries to increase fair trade.
National newspaper Sankei with circulation of 500,000 readers, covered the retail store Love & Sense, Tamae's business Fukuichi Co.,Ltd. and the fair trade movement for five straight days.
Escama: Did you convince them?
Tamae: Back then no. It wasn't time. But sometimes opportunities come by themselves. In 2006 the head of LOFT department store asked me if I knew anyone who could make a pop up shop in his store. I thought about it and decided 'I can do it'! I didn't have any experience doing a retail store. It was a disaster! No sales. The only sale was when my assistant bought a bar of chocolate. But the display was beautiful and we took lots of photos. Not long after that, a friend introduced Love & Sense to Omotesando Hills shopping center. It is one of the most elite shopping destinations in Tokyo. (Customers arrive there in Rolls Royce with chauffeurs, that kind of thing). It was a miracle! Our pop up shop was a hit in one of the best places in Tokyo. Because Omotesando Hills shopping center is so highly regarded, it opened the door for Love & Sense. Ever since then we have opportunities for pop up shops in department stores all over.
Escama: I love to hear stories like this! So for 10 years you have sold fair trade to the most affluent market segment in Japan. Do you have a feeling for how this has impacted Japanese views towards fair trade?
Tamae: In Japan, the biggest impact comes from famous shopping areas, never from the bazaars. Japanese people are insular and don't think about the outside world. So when famous department stores like Takashimaya, Isetan, or Mitsukoshi create promotions themed "I Love The Earth," "Global Green Campaign," it helps raise awareness from the top down.
10 Years ago I created the company Love & Sense to help promote fair trade in Japan. In 2006 we conducted a market research survey with 1,000 respondents and asked questions relating to fair trade awareness. Only 1% of people had any concept of fair trade, only 3% had heard the word. In 2015, according to the survey conducted by another organization, 50% of respondents had heard the word 'fair trade' and about 30% knew some of the concepts. Awareness of fair trade is becoming known in Japan through mass media. I have been doing media outreach for about 10 years and there's a growing interest in fair trade among Japanese people.
Media outreach is another key to Tamae's success.
Escama: What's next for Love & Sense?
Tamae: Big things are happening in May 2016. A fair trade 'Ethical Week' promotion in Hankyu Department Store, the most popular department store in Osaka will run through May 10. The location of the promotion will be in the highest traffic area of the store and there will be many other smaller fair trade pop up shops, each with their own unique theme.
Escama: For more information about Hankyu, visit the link >>
Ethical Fashion, slow fashion and sustainable fashion are trends that are increasingly visible in shows like NYNOW. And overseas artisan enterprises are gaining visibility. And there were more options for sourcing fair trade products than ever. Options for buying fair trade products include: from US-based Fair Trade Federation members, from non-US-based designers and exporters (such as the Mayan Store), and from artisan enterprises such as Sidai Designs sponsored under the Artisan Resource section.
There was a strong showing of Fair Trade Federation members in the Global Handmade section and for the first time there was a fair trade product display on the ground floor to drive traffic to Fair Trade Federation companies. In addition to FTF members and other traditional fair trade importers from the US, there were numerous exporter / designers from the developing world scattered throughout the show. This August 2015 show saw a much larger contingent of artisan enterprises exhibiting from abroad under the Artisan Resource section. This array of options reflects the increasing accessibility of products from the developing world and the growing ability of artisan enterprises to represent themselves at international trade shows.
Does the increase of fair trade exhibitors reflect a growth in demand for globally sourced handmade products? I assume the answer is yes. Overall trends in the gift and fashion markets make for a welcoming environment for fair trade handicrafts from the developing world. For example, 'Boho chic' is a popular style that can be seen not only in clothing, jewelry, bags, but also in home decor and tabletop. That's great news for artisans in South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East who fit into this genre. Also, the trend towards handmade / small batch products by US makers is giving global producers of artisan handmade products a terrific opportunity to be included in the mix.
Generally speaking, professional gift industry buyers rarely ask outright if a product is 'Fair Trade'. (Unfortunately we're not quite there yet). But the origin and authenticity of a product is paramount. Everyone is on the look out for truly hot products that are on-trend and have a great back story. If the holy grail is a product that is handmade, using traditional techniques, is ethically sourced and comes in at the right price point, then fair trade products can deliver something that is unique and a great value to retailers.