INTERVIEW Vol.2 President Teruyuki Yoshida – YOSHIDA&CO.,LTD. (PORTER)
“Heart and soul into every stitch” , What does it mean?
FASHION JAPANTWO(JP2): The phrase, “Heart and soul into every stitch” can be found in the company’s website and such, but what does it mean exactly?
Yoshida: “Heart and soul into every stitch” used to be the standard phrase of the founder of our company, and he used to say it very often. The founder was formerly a craftsman himself, so I think that he came up with this phrase, “Heart and soul into every stitch” to express his passion for the art of creation. Basically, he was saying that in making a bag, one must pour his soul into every stitch, one by one, and sew it neatly. Quality goods are created by quality work. That is the message he wanted to convey. Whether they had been hand sewn or machine sewn, as long as it had been done with a soul, the products will naturally be high in quality, and the warmth of the product will be felt by consumers. I think that those were the thoughts he had in mind, and now we hold it as our company’s motto.
Why do you insist on your products to be made in Japan?
JP2: While products manufactured overseas are popular nowadays, why do you insist on your products to be made in Japan?
Yoshida: The founder of our company originally being a craftsman, he left us with a strong will to value the craftsmen of Japan and to never let them cease. His last words wished for the Japanese craftsmen to continue putting their soul into their creation. We took on his will loyally, and we continue to protect and provide a place where craftsmen are able to do so.
JP2: What are your personal attachments to “made in Japan” products?
Yoshida: Craftsmanship, or shall I say, the feelings put into the works of craftsmen naturally creates this aura that can be felt through the product. It is something special, and I want to appeal to the people abroad the warmth of the Japanese spirit, and actually young people overseas are learning these things through various media. This is such a grateful thing. To respond to their interests as well, our determination to continue producing “made in Japan” will not change. There was a period when other companies of the same industry, all at once, began moving their production overseas. Products made with this idea to make cheap, profitable goods have no warmth. I was asked numerous times why we don’t move our production site to overseas, but I never turned to that option, insisting that our company will continue producing in Japan, and will always depend on the Japanese craftsmen. At that time, it was the mainstream for companies to cut down the prices of their products by manufacturing in China with its low production fees, and to be honest, our company suffered in this competition for lower sales prices. However, our sales staff has been able to secure a place in the market among our clients. Some companies that shifted to overseas production at that time are completely gone.
Uematsu (YOSHIDA & CO., LTD. PR /U):With the advancement in technology nowadays, it cannot necessarily be appropriate to say that Chinese products are low in quality. Yet, besides our basic product lineup, we are also developing collaboration items and coming up with new products. This makes frequent meetings and discussions with the craftsmen a requirement, which also makes it impossible to consider manufacturing outside of Japan. We establish communication by having the craftsmen come in and visiting them almost every day. I think that having a factory within the Tokyo region, not far from our headquarters, makes all of this possible.
Yoshida: Our products are made original from the materials; even most of the metal parts are our company’s original. So, in Japan where there are no language barriers, we are able to discuss detailed matters more easily and directly, which speeds up the process as well. It is also important for the designers to be able to check up on and see the products during the manufacture process, giving us another reason why we must stick to our policy. Our designers and craftsmen maintain tight communication. They sometimes even argue over things. There are times when, for instance, a craftsman claims that the specific way of stitching that had been requested by the designer to be impossible. But then, the designer begs him to take it back to the factory with him and to somehow make it work. Later, he happily comes back to us with it saying he was able to do it. Such things happen only because it is made in Japan. In cases of emergencies, the craftsmen go back and forth many times between the factory and the office in a day. This can’t be possible if it were to be abroad.
Uematsu: And also, working with craftsmen who we have had involvement with for a long time is very smooth. For example, there may be some who may think it unnecessary to reinforce the bag for durability,or to cut off the thread ends of the lining so neatly since it is not visible from the outside, but if we ask for it to be done the first time, they will do it without being asked the next. The building up of communications leads to a smoother process.
Yoshida: Especially since our designers never compromise.
Uematsu: Plus, in Yoshida & Co., Ltd., the president never interferes with production development. We, of course, ask for permission on crucial matters, but he gives all authority to the product planning without giving directions on what to make and how he want them to be made. I think that this is something rare among companies.
JP2:You don’t even give a thumbs down?
Yoshida: No, never. I don’t find out about the details of the products until right before the exhibition. The designers will not grow if we start interfering. What we are looking at is what is selling right now, but what the designers are looking at is what will sell ahead in time. We have no say in talking about what is selling now with the designers. It would just ruin their emerging ideas. That’s why I have never, before and even now as a president, have given a word in regards to production development.
JP2: That’s actually hard to do.
Uematsu: So, from the designer’s perspective, because the president has secure management of the whole of the company, they have the comfortable environment to create what they do now. There was a time that the sales of the Luggage Label plummeted after its popularity in the 80s. During this difficult period, department stores and bag sellers who carried our leather boston bags etc. became our best supporters. Basically, when our products targeting young people were not selling very well, we were able to sustain our business because our old-time classics such as leather Boston bags were selling steadily among elder people. After that, there was the Tanker boom, we focused on keeping stable business and made development little by little.
This was around the time I entered this company, and I got the impression that it is securing its capital to be prepared if anything were to come up. So what I’m trying to say is that I thought that there was the idea that no matter what happens, as long as we continue to produce, it will always lead to something else.
Yoshida: That was the principles our founder had for the company; never to push too hard, and not to cause problems for others. We have always asked the craftsmen for assistance with this in mind. In order to continue manufacturing, there must be financial stability. We have inherited this idea and continue to keep that in mind till this day. By continuing these things, we are involved with some for two, three generations. I believe that we must give support in order to be able to continue manufacturing our products in Japan.
Uematsu: If the craftsmen begin having trouble in making a living, they will shut down their business. There cannot be Yoshida Co., Ltd. without them, so we make sure nothing like that will happen by keeping track of how much work is given to whom and try our best to distribute the work equally.
Yoshida: Payment to the craftsmen is made through direct bank transfer so that they won’t have to put their work aside to come get their earnings. This is something that the founder had always done back in his days, taking the checks to the craftsmen and directly handing them to each. He even had gifts along with them; rice during the summer and coal during the winter. I think that such considerations with care have left a lasting impression. People often mention “made in Japan” lightly, but I think that there is no other company that surpasses us in terms of depth in its meaning.
Oftentimes, people send for the last bit of their product and put it together in Japan to call it “Made in Japan.” That is a fraud. We have never done anything like that.
Uematsu: All cutting and sewing processes are done in Japan. Because we are open about incorporating what is high in quality, we use materials such as leather and textiles that come not only from Japan but also from other countries as well.
Yoshida: But all aspects of manufacturing takes place in Japan.
What is so special about Japanese craftsmen?
JP2:What is so special about Japanese craftsmen in comparison to those overseas?
Uematsu: In terms of craftsmanship, I think that a company where workers each have a strong sense of responsibility should have similar ways as our company does even if it is overseas. Many of Yoshida’s craftsmen in the Tokyo region live in a shared space between their home and workshop. High prices for land in the city is one of the reasons why it is difficult to attain a separate workspace, but it is also secures contact with the person in charge when problems emerge in a space that is operated by a few but highly skilled workers. This allows for smooth process in making improvements. Additionally, when we receive products for repair, we give importance in putting it back to the workshop in which it was made. Instead of repairing products without knowing where it came from, we take the system of having the workshop take care of it properly, raising their awareness. In this way, we can also see which manufacturer has received the most products for repair. Repairing products involve taking it apart and redoing the creation process all over again and takes a lot of time and effort, sometimes making it easier to simply make another one. But, many of the craftsmen say that it is a wonderful study material that allows them to figure out what made it vulnerable and come up with solutions.
Yoshida: That is why it is so important to have our products made in Japan by those who can also deal with the aftercare. It can’t be done anywhere else.
Uematsu: Or, even if it were to be possible, it would take a lot of time.
What is the reason for the overseas advance?
Yoshida: The KURA CHIKA in locations other than Omotesando and Marunouchi (both areas within Tokyo) are all operated shops that we have tied alliances with. Actually, we have had a long interaction with the KURA CHIKA in Hong Kong, since the first store opened 12 years ago. The person operating it is Japanese.
Yoshida: A son of our founder’s friend who was then doing business in Hong Kong showed us his interest in incorporating the positive aspects of made in Japan products in opening a new store in Hong Kong. We had the same ideal, so we decided it would be an interesting opportunity and started to work with them. And now, he just recently opened a third store in Hong Kong.
JP2: Do you have any future plans on expanding business abroad in countries other than Hong Kong and Taiwan?
Yoshida: At the moment, we are giving a very careful consideration about advancing into mainland China. We have received offers from other places such as Korea, but right now, our priority is to strengthen the bonds that we have now. If we cannot do that, things will end up halfway. I think it more appropriate to think about new things after everything settles with what we have already began to establish. I make business developments after thorough research.
A Message for fans
JP2: To wrap it up, can you give the current and future fans of your products that are abroad a message?
Yoshida: Develop an eye for quality. I would like for our consumers to look at our products with an eye. Then, I would like for them to love our made in Japan products throughout their life; never to get tired or bored of them. And if they do happen to grow tired of a product, I would like for them to switch to another one of our products. I would like for everyone to have that kind of attachment.