Today I’m stepping back and letting social enterprise, Megumi Project, share their story. I’m really excited about their commitment to upcycling, sustainability, and cultural awareness and I hope you enjoy learning more about the brand. Thanks to Megumi Project for sponsoring this post.
Megumi Project – Restoring Beauty
Megumi Project is an ethical fashion social enterprise that provides employment and
community to women in post-tsunami Northeastern Japan. At our production site in
Onagawa, vintage kimonos donated from all over the country are recycled and recreated
into one of a kind scarves, bags, journals and accessories. We sell both online at
megumiproject.net and at our brick-and- mortar shop in Onagawa.
In Japanese, “megumi” means grace/and or blessing. This word reflects our ethos as we
desire to be a source of grace and blessing in the town of Onagawa where we are based,
a town that has suffered much loss in the past five years. This small port town was
devastated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which swept away 8% of
Onagawa’s population, along with 80% of the town’s infrastructure and housing. In the
wake of these disasters, Megumi Project was started by a Christian group of American,
German, and Japanese relief workers in cooperation with the local Onagawa community,
as a way to support the economy and community-building of the town.
Megumi Project currently employs seven women, mainly young mothers, who were all
directly affected by the tsunami.
None of the Megumi artisans, except for one, knew how to
sew initially. Two years into operation however, we’ve developed a rich assortment of skills
in sewing, product design, photography, marketing, administration, computer know-how,
customer service, and English communication, through learning from and encouraging one
another. One recent way our progress is reflected is in the launching of our recent kimono
accessory collection. This collection, which utilizes scraps of leftover kimono fabric to
make earrings, hair pins, and brooches, was spearheaded entirely by two of our staff-
members who, very successfully, brought their product design ideas to completion.
In the wake of the disasters, many people left Onagawa to start new lives elsewhere. Many young people in particular have left Onagawa in search of better job opportunities
and more hospitable environments to raise families. In response to this, Megumi Project
seeks to support the community of young families in the area by providing a workplace for
young mothers that is flexible and understanding of the specific demands and needs as a
So why kimonos?
The recycling of kimonos is a creative response to the decline of the
traditionally worn kimono in Japan. While the kimono continues to be a valued part of
Japan’s aesthetic and cultural heritage, it has largely disappeared from general everyday
usage, and only appears at formal occasions (weddings, funerals, coming-of- age
ceremonies). The detailed knowledge of how to dress oneself properly in a kimono is also
declining amongst the general population. With the kimono being reserved for only the
most formal of occasions, many heirloom kimonos, handed down through generations, are
left sitting in closets all over Japan, only to get moth-eaten or stained. In fact, according to
an article written for Fashion Revolution’s Japan website, the estimated value of
unused/unworn kimonos is 3000 billion Japanese Yen, which converts to roughly 30 billion
dollars. This is where innovative new
usages for kimono fabrics becomes a need. However, even before this current time of an
overabundance of kimonos, a tradition of repurposing and reusing kimonos has already
long existed in this country.
The inherent design of the kimono, which is made from a single bolt of fabric divided into
straight strips of fabric, is such that it can be disassembled to wash, repair or replace
individual panels, or be altered altogether. In Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), kimonos
that had become too threadbare to be worn, were recreated into futons, cushions, bags,
rags or diapers, and at the very last stage of their lifecycle, were turned into ashes, that
were then used in fertilizer or soap-making.
In other words, repurposing and recycling
are built into the very DNA of the Japanese kimono.
This careful, environmentally
responsible usage of the kimono embodies the Japanese ethic of mottanai, or the refusal
to be wasteful. At Megumi Project, we love that we are part of this tradition; not only
honoring the cultural and artistic heritage of the Japanese kimono, but also exercising an
ethic of responsible production and care for clothing. We have so much to learn from the
generations that came before us, the generations that modeled practices of repairing,
altering, recycling, and repurposing.
What we do embodies a slow fashion ethic as we prioritize sustainability and ethical
practice in fashion by taking fabrics that would otherwise be unused or tossed out, and by
giving them new life as contemporary fashion items. We receive all of our kimonos as
donations from people from all over Japan. Many of these generous people reach out to
us with stories of their mother’s and grandmother’s kimonos that sit unused, but of course
are much too precious to throw out. We celebrate the distinct culture of Japanese kimono
and are grateful that we can share a bit of Japanese culture through our products with
customers from all over the world. Through our online shop, we’ve been able to send our
unique kimono products to customers in 18 countries, and counting! At our brick-and-
mortar shop in Onagawa, we also enjoy meeting tourists from all over Japan and sharing
our unique story of restoring beauty.
Most importantly, we want to uphold the dignity and
nurture the personal development of each staff member, as we grow together as a social
enterprise community in the remarkable town of Onagawa.
Follow up Questions: