Kae: the product producer
The 9 Stories Third Series is about our listed product producer.
She is creating the future of traditional crafts in Japan.
9 stories about her, here it comes!
If you would like to know what is “The 9 Stories”, click/tap here
- WHO IS Kae?
- DESIGNING OWN CLOTHES SINCE SHE WAS A CHILD.
- BEING AN APPAREL DESIGNER IN KOBE.
- MARRYING INTO THE WORLD OF TRADITIONAL CRAFT.
- GENERATING A NEW CATEGORY.
- TO THE WORLD!
- CONNECTING WITH OTHER ARTISANS’ PROBLEMS.
- THE MOMENT: THE REALIZATION OF HER CALLING.
- FOR THE NEXT GENERATIONS.
1)WHO IS Kae?
She is a unique product producer in Kagawa, Japan.
She produces collaboration work/items of Japanese traditional crafts artisans.
It is common to see the collaboration work of designers and artisans.
But what she does is collaborate with artisans in different fields.
As a result, what she produces is quite unique that only she could create.
Yet, her path and the root of her motivation are more unique and inspiring than her items.
The 4th series of “The 9 Stories” is about the journey of her finding the work she does.
2) DESIGNING OWN CLOTHES SINCE SHE WAS A CHILD
She was born in Okayama where is across the sea from Kagawa (where we are).
Her mother was a seamstress. Her father was a tailor’s cutter.
The little Kae had a problem.
She could not find clothes which she wanted or/and could wear at the shops.
Because she was bigger than any other kids her age.
Also, she had a particular taste in fashion.
But she was lucky. Because her parents are well-skilled tailors!
Ever since she was an elementary school pupil, she has been designing what she wants to wear. And her parent made them for her.
She tells that sometimes she got buried because her fashion was ahead of other kids. Where other kids wore white undershirts, she worn nudie-colored ones. Other girls thought her undershirts were dirty. So, she was picked on by them.
What we love about her there was she didn’t care. She believed in what she felt right.
3) BEING AN APPAREL DESIGNER IN KOBE
It seemed a natural way to go in the world of fashion for her.
After high school, she studied apparel design at Osaka Mode Gakuen. One of the best-known vocational schools in the fashion industry in Japan.
Then she started her carrier as an apparel designer in Kobe. It felt like she was going up the ladder in the industry. But one tragedy happened.
The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake.
Kobe was one of the cities where got the most damage.
The earthquake happened in the morning. She tells “Even after experiencing the shake which I had never experienced before, I tried to get to work…”
Kobe took years to recover. Kae decided to go back to her hometown, Okayama. She found a job at a company that produces uniforms.
From the episode of the great earthquake, we can see her strong responsibility towards her work which we see in her today.
4) MARRYING INTO THE WORLD OF TRADITIONAL CRAFT
She loved her job and had no problem supporting herself. But before she became 40, she decided to get married. She met her future husband at one of the marriage meetings. He is from Kagawa where is across the sea from her hometown. He is the 3rd generation craftsman of his family business “joinery”.
They married and she moved to Kagawa. Marring him meant marrying into his family business.
She is an expert on cloth and clothes. But she knew nothing about wood, traditional crafts, or the industry of joinery. She says “Every day after I got married, I asked myself what am I put myself into…”, looking back at the time.
But instead of getting another job, she decided to learn about the business and the industry.
Year by year, the more she got to see the world of craftsmanship of her husband, her feeling of will to support grew. Today she is the biggest supporter of her husband in her unique way.
5) GENERATING A NEW CATEGORY.
She noticed the market of the traditional crafts her husband creates is shrinking. But she has a strong faith in her husband’s skills and knowledge of woodwork. She felt an urge to discover a new market for her husband.
“How about producing the items that I want to use?” that is how her challenge started.
The first thing she asked her husband to make was a wooden bag. The first thing he created was not fashionable, says Kae. She learned that the ability “to make something” and “making something look good” are different skills. Many conversations over with her husband to create the wooden bag the way she satisfies, she learned how to communicate with craftsmen and artisans. As well as what can be done with wood.
After that, her husband and she created a new category in their family business, “Knick-knacks”.
6)TO THE WORLD!
After a few years of developing Knick-knacks, Kae started to have a desire to bring their products abroad. Their products are produced by her husband who is a certified traditional artisan. But each look is modern that would suites everyday life in other countries.
She tried to learn international trade and export. Then a huge obstacle showed up in front of her. The language. It was not a problem making brochures in English. It was only a matter of hiring a translator and a designer.
But when it comes down to communicating with customers, she realized that it was impossible. On top of it, it was overwhelming for her to learn about so many documents and rules of exporting.
Then she was asked one thing by the translator and illustrator who worked on their brochures. “Why don’t we focus on what we are better at each other?”. It was our founder and head curator who had experience in international trade and sales.
7) CONNECTING WITH OTHER ARTISANS’ PROBLEMS
More the exposure of her & her husband’s Knick-knacks got locally, she started getting questions from many traditional crafts artisans from different fields.
They were also worried about the shrinking market of their crafts. Traditional Crafts are great but some things are the items nobody uses anymore. So, they know that they need to create something which can be used in everyday life. But they have no idea where to start.
Kae understands the struggle, pain, and fear of losing the market.
Also, she has seen many artisans had to close their businesses.
Some closed the factories because of not having any younger craftsmen to carry on.
The others had closed them because they cannot secure enough sales, even though, they had the will to produce.
She doesn’t want to see any more artisans who leave their fields.
She started thinking about what she can do to stop the negative spiral artisans are in.
8) THE MOMENT: THE REALIZATION OF HER CALLING.
She realized what she should be to stop the negative spiral artisans are in!
To become a producer who creates new items by putting more than 2 different crafts together!
She has been in the world of traditional crafts long enough. It means she knows how to create new items which each artisan can enjoy creating, as well as the customers want to have. Also, she knows how artisans work.
Her style of product development is “the inclusive”. She comes up with an idea then she asks the artisans if she is interested in making it. She develops items WITH artisans. Her respectful attitude is the reason why she is trusted by many artisans she works with.
9) FOR THE NEXT GENERATIONS
There is a reason why she works energetically to produce new items for different artisans to create.
Getting into the world of Japanese traditional crafts by marriage, she has learned so many wonderful traditions, crafts, and skills that exist in Japan. Because of the change in our lifestyle, they are in the hardest era to survive.
Yet, through her experiences with her husband, she knows that the “skills of artisans” can create so many different new items. Something that many people can use.
When her products were used by people, each artisan and their crafts get more exposure. She hopes that through her products, the artisans will get younger apprentices to take over their traditions.
KoLe SHIKOKU, Japan walks along with her wish and her husband’s dream.
That is all for The 9 Stories of Kae. Have you noticed that Kae is the wife of our listed artisan Takashi Morimoto? His stories are also on our Instagram.
FYI: They have dogs. A Great Dane and A Shiba dog.
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