The minimalistic Japanese philosophy resonates with sustainable consumption

Sustainable fashion brands are booming in Japan

In Japan, there’s an ancient term repeated by grandma’s for generations: “Mottainai”, which means “too good to waste”. While its origins lie on Buddhist traditions, the Mottainai philosophy relates to many aspects of Japanese culture: it carries the message that every object has an inherent value and that should be taken care of until the end of its lifespam. It resonates with the culture of respect and care that is cherished by Japanese tradition, but it also answers to the demands of our modern society for a more sustainable economy.

While there’s a global outcry for more ethical and environmental-friendly practices in fashion, beauty and leisure, the concept of fast and disposable goods has become obsolete. In this context, many sustainable start-up brands have come to light to show there’s a way to be socially and environmentally responsible while making profits – a trend that has inspired even giant chains.

This trend is represented by pioneer brands like People Tree, which has started to work with sustainable fashion more than 25 years ago, sourcing from local producers, garment workers and artisans in developing countries to produce ethical and eco-conscious clothing, and also by modern businesses likemStudio Membrane, which uses biodegradable fabrics to create clothing that resemble art.

MUJI store in Canada

Even cosmetics and beauty brands that are known for using ancient and natural ingredients have become valued and demanded, and not only by Asian consumers. European and American clients are increasingly interested in their sustainable packaging and organic formulas. 

It all helped Japanese brands to conquer Western markets, eager for products that are both innovative and eco-friendly. As of 2017, Japanese fashion chain Muji created its first sustainable collections, which use organic cotton and other sustainable materials. Since then, Muji has grown exponentially in Europe and has now more than 57 stores in the continent. Another Japanese fashion brand, Uniqlo has expanded in Europe by promoting its minimalistic, sustainable style, which includes recycling initiatives, reducing plastics and promoting ethical work.

Although these brands are seen as “trendy” and modern, many of them have worked under the traditional Mottainai philosophy. For generations, children are taught to not being wasteful and to respect the environment. One of the latest Netflix phenomena, the Japanese personal organizer Marie Kondo, is known for her minimalistic approach of things, which goes in the opposite direction of mindless consumerism.

As fast-fashion becomes an obsolete concept, the 3R motto (reduce, reuse, recycle) is starting to make sense for more consumers – or, as Mottainai grandma used to say in Japanese children’s books: “don’t waste!”.

Want to know more about Japan, the host country of SIGEF 2019? Follow our posts on Horyou blog.

SIGEF 2019 will take place in Tokyo on 18-19 September

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