⟨ Object ⟩

IMABARI TOWEL

A towel of deluxe value

Words / Phaedrus Lam
Illustration / Furze Chan
Translation / Ian Tsang

全球化經濟對在地產業的打擊,如今聽起來已是個老掉牙的話題,然而其波及的廣泛程度,可是連向來推崇職人精神的日本,也不能因此獨善其身。

仰賴於瀨戶內海式氣候,為四國地區帶來溫暖少雨的天氣,其優厚的水土條件,不僅栽培出的水果新鮮好吃,棉花品質也在全國中首屈一指。而當中位於四國地區的今治市,由1894即開始製作毛巾產品;其得天獨厚的棉花品質,加上當地人的編織技巧嫻熟高超,曾為「今治毛巾」帶來過顯赫的名聲。然而時光荏苒,今治毛巾的品質再卓越,仍不敵於廉價進口毛巾的凶猛攻勢;為此頭痛不已的四國毛巾工業協會,就特意請託日本設計界名人佐藤可士和,期望他能打救奄奄一息的四國毛巾產業。

擅長於發掘事物本質,並有效地傳遞客戶訊息,更曾推動成衣品牌Uniqlo躍升世界性舞台。佐藤可士和在收到四國毛巾工業協會請托,親自體驗過今治毛巾的優異品質後,著手為今治毛巾引入了十二道標準,同時率先首創「毛巾品評師」制度,苛刻地從色調、厚度、彈性,掉毛率和抗菌程度等指標去評價、監控毛巾成品,重新打響了今治毛巾的名聲,甚至使今治毛巾在2010年創下單日十二萬條、每年營業額六億日元的驕人佳績。

而話說回來今治毛巾的品質到底有多厲害呢?也許是協會覺得毛巾不易褪色、長壽耐用,以及對敏感膚質無害等等特點,仍不足以表現今治毛巾的品質,協會於是訂立下最低標準,唯有達到「毛巾置入水中,必須在五秒內沉降」,才能用上今治毛巾的藍、白、紅三色商標;其分別象徵著太陽、海洋、藍天和水的三色商標,除了是對四國當地天氣的反映,也是協會對生產品質的一份執著;讓人們能夠一望而知,那就是專屬於今治毛巾的上好品質。

Nowadays, any discussion of globalized economy’s impact on local business sounds out of date.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.