Japanese connection

December 5, 2017
By Erum Noor Muzaffar & Maria Shirazi

Be on time, 1:30 p.m. sharp at Avari Lobby,’ we were reminded many a time by a very soft

beauty interview

"Be on time, 1:30 p.m. sharp at Avari Lobby," we were reminded many a time by a very soft but efficient representative of Japan Consulate before our interview, which was lined up by J.C, with Japanese designers Eriko Yamaguchi and Hiroko Ito, who were here on a short visit to Karachi in connection with a fashion-based workshop. Knowing how punctual these people are, we reached Avari exactly at 1:30 p.m. and as expected both designers were waiting for us in the lobby. Smartly dressed and with almost no-make-up, both ladies appeared humble and friendly. In our society where being fashionably late is a norm, especially with celebrities who always arrive late - be it a red carpet or an event launch or an interview, it was a pleasure meeting the two designers of international fame with no starry tantrums. Unlike our miniature celebrities with big egos, Eriko and Hiroko had no airs about themselves. When asked ‘how do they like being famous’? They simply replied, ‘Oh, we only do our work. We don’t even know whether we are famous or not’. We were impressed by their professionalism and commitment to work. No wonder, the economy of Japan is the third-largest in the world by nominal GDP and the fourth-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP) and is the world’s second largest developed economy. Doesn’t it sound correct that when we can copy foreign styles and fashion, why can’t we copy their mode of working? You don’t need connections and good PR to promote your brand, if your brand is strong, it speaks for itself as in the case of Eriko Yamaguchi’s ‘Motherhouse’, which has 32 retail shops in Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan and Hiroko Ito’s ‘HISUI’ - a popular label in Japan. Read on to find out more about their work and their beauty secrets...   

You! What was the purpose of your visit?

Hiroko Ito: The project of Silk Development and Market Diversification of Garment Industry in Pakistan under Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) recently held an exciting workshop, sponsored by Ministry of Textile Industry and TDAP in Karachi. The workshop was focused on developing international branding and designing based on the success stories of Eriko and myself. I was here as a lecturer of the seminar to share my experiences as a designer.

You! Is this your first visit to Pakistan?

H.I: Yes, it is. And it has been a different experience. I was afraid to come to Pakistan as everyone around here carries guns. (haha)

You! How long have you been designing clothes?

H.I: I have been designing clothes for the past 18 years. When I was in junior high school in Japan, there used to be a stitching and sewing class. So from there I developed my interest in making kimonos. And that resulted in designing clothes. I learnt the basics in school; however, I got my formal training from Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York.

You! When did you launch your label HISUI? What is it all about?

H.I: I have been running my business in Tokyo, Japan for the last 18 years. I started HISUI in 1999. Actually, HISUI means ‘Jade Stone’. Also in English it means Tomboy.

You! What is your design philosophy?

H.I: My design philosophy revolves around expressing one’s feelings through clothing.

You! Have you participated in international fashion shows?

H.I: I have been showcasing my collections in Japan Fashion Week since 2005. And in 2016, I participated in Shanghai Fashion Week, China.

You! Do you have outlets in other countries than Japan?

H.I: I have an outlet in Japan. And I have buyers from different countries but mainly my buyers are from China as they like Japanese clothing.

You! Have you thought of launching your label in Pakistan?

H.I: No, not yet.

You: What kinds of materials do you use for designing clothes?

H.I: I design keeping all the four seasons in mind, So, I use cotton, viscose, wool, silk, polyester and sometimes leather.

You! Are Japanese women fashion conscious and obsessed with brands?

H.I: Not anymore. Almost 10 years ago women used to be very fashion conscious.

You! What colours are you expecting this winter?

H.I: Red and orange.

You: Your future plans:

H.I: I plan to expand my business.


You! Which is one beauty product that you cannot do without?

H.I: Eyebrow pencil

You! When stepping out do you wear makeup?

H.I: Yes, I do. Especially lipstick

You! Which cosmetic brand do you use?

H.I: Japanese brand - RMK Rumiko

You! Do you carry a makeup bag?

H.I: I do. I have loads of lipsticks, blush on, eyebrow pencil and foundation

You! Favourite perfume:

H.I: Tom Ford

You! Do you use anti-ageing creams?

H.I: Yes I use creams to keep wrinkles at bay

You! Are you fond of using too much makeup or you prefer good skin with minimal makeup?

H.I: Light, natural makeup

You! Do you go for makeup shopping?

H.I: I do, mostly to buy presents for my friends.

You! Can you share your success story with our readers?

Eriko Yamaguchi: I established my company when I was 24 years old. Back in Japan, I was studying Development International Corporation. And then I went to Washington to work with an international organization. Being engaged in donation and International Corporation I realized that I need to visit the developing countries and so I decided to go to Bangladesh. There I observed that people were in need of a job and not donation. When I was there, I looked for local factories and materials and came across natural fibre like jute and leather. In order to utilize the local materials I thought of making good quality bags out of the local materials that I found there. 

And that too with the help of local craftsmen. After establishing my company, I decided to set up my own factory in Bangladesh because as a buyer when I asked the local supplier for products; I wasn’t satisfied with the quality and design. For the sake of building trust with the local craftsmen I started my own factory where 200 Bengali workers are employed. From Bangladesh I export the bags to our own 32 shops in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. So the unique point is that there is no middleman involved; everything is direct - we have a factory and shops where we stock our entire range. The whole process is very transparent as we aim to introduce who is working and how all the work is being carried out. We are responsible for every step of development. I am designing everything and at the moment we are producing cow leather bags in Bangladesh, jewellery in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and we have a shawl production in Nepal. So basically our focus is on the local materials of every country.

You! What was the purpose of your visit?

E.Y: This is my first visit to Pakistan. My purpose of visiting Pakistan was to look for uniqueness of the country along with local materials and craftsmen. We have explored the markets of Lahore, Karachi and Sialkot and looking for the possibility of producing goods from local stuff.

You! Are Japanese women fashion conscious and obsessed with brands?

E.Y: Not anymore. Women now believe in investing on basic stuff that is long lasting. The Japanese fashion market has shrunk over the years due to various reasons like economy and changing trends. But there are people who prefer quality goods and also give importance to the story behind the product and how it has been manufactured.

You! How would you define your own sense of style?

E.Y: Simple and functional.

You! Do you keep in mind the latest trends when designing bags?

E.Y: I don’t follow any trends. I design customized bags that are simple and basic; keeping the emphasis on original colours.

You! What is the best part of being a designer?

E.Y: I spend most of my time in the factory as I firmly believe in working in the field, checking the materials and be involved in every step of the way. Basically, the role of a designer is to motivate the employees to produce the best of the best.

You! Did you find any difficulty in setting up your own factory in Bangladesh?

E.Y: The most challenging bit was to find a local business partner. And we started off on a very small scale where we produced just one or two samples and gradually we expanded when orders started pouring in. So we didn’t have financial issues even in the initial stages. Now all the money comes from our label - Motherhouse.

Yamaguchi @ work in her factory

You! How many bags do you manufacture in a month?

E.Y: Around 9000 bags per month.

You! What are your future plans?

E.Y: My plans are to expand the business, both the production and marketing sides. We are looking for a country that has some unique material so that we can have a diverse range of products from different countries.


You! Which is one beauty product that you cannot do without?

E.Y: Lotion

You! Which cosmetic brand do you use?

E.Y: Japanese brand - Shiseido

You! Do you carry a makeup bag?

E.Y: I don’t carry one

You! Favourite perfume:

E.Y: Hermes

You! Fitness regime:

E.Y: I do a lot of yoga to keep myself fit and young.

You! Do you use anti-ageing creams?

E.Y: Not so much.

You! Do you go for makeup shopping?

E.Y: No!