Nowadays, any discussion of globalized economy’s impact on local business sounds out of date. However, its impact is so widespread that even Japan, which has always promoted and valued craftsmanship, cannot be spared.
Thanks to the typical climate in the Seto Inland Sea area, Shikoku in Japan is blessed with a warm climate with relatively little rain. The exceptional conditions of water and soil in the area has made it home not only to fresh and delicious fruit, but also to cotton of top-notch quality in Japan. A case in point is Imabari city of Shikoku, which began to produce towels as early as in 1894. Richly endowed by nature for its cotton of outstanding quality, and complemented with locals’ rich experience and exceptional skills in weaving, Imabari used to see its “Imabari towel” rising to prominence. However, despite its exceptional quality, against the passage of time, Imabari towels still cannot escape of fate of losing to the vigorous waves of low-priced imported towels. Pressed by this issue, Shikoku Towel Industry Association enlisted the help of Kashiwa Sato, Japanese prestigious designer, in the hopes that he can savage the dying towel industry in Shikoku.
Sato excels at discovering the real nature of objects and at communicating it effectively to customers. He had the track record of successfully catapulting UNIQLO to the world stage. After receiving the request from the Association, he first experienced for himself the exceptional quality of Imabari towels, and then he moved on to set twelve criteria for Imabari towels. At the same time, he also set up a system, the first of its kind, for evaluating and and monitoring the quality of towels in the market based on such criteria as color, thickness, elasticity, amount of shedding and bacteria resistance. These efforts have revived Imabari towels to their past glory. In 2010, Imabari towels even made an impressive sales record of 120,000 towels within a single day, with an annual sales revenue reaching 600 million yen.
But to return to the topic, how outstanding is the quality of Imabari towels? The Association seems to think that such characteristics of strong resistance against color fading, durability, and suitability for sensitive skin fall short of representing the quality of Imabari towels. Hence, it came up with a benchmark, which states that only towels which “sink within five minutes after being placed in water” are allowed to use the Imabari towel trademark in blue, white and red. The three colors represent the sun, the ocean, the blue sky and water. Not only does this reflect the local climate in Shikoku, it also shows the importance that the Association attaches to production quality. By one glance, people can now spot the exceptional quality unique to Imabari towels.