[From November Issue 2011]
Sato Seni Co., Ltd.
When the Inauguration Day ceremony of American President Barack OBAMA was held in Washington DC, the attire worn by Michelle OBAMA caused a stir. It is customary for First Ladies to wear suits for official functions, but Michelle instead wore a cardigan designed by the famous French fashion brand, Nina Ricci. The yarn used to create the cardigan was developed by Sato Seni Co., Ltd.
Sato Seni started out as a knitting subcontractor. But in the 90s business became very tight. This was because many Japanese companies moved production to China. Many clients repeatedly pressured Sato Seni to lower their prices. Sales figures dwindled to just a third of what they had been during the company’s peak. In 1991, Sato Seni had no other choice but to cut its staff of 130 by almost half.
The president of the company, SATO Masaki himself scrambled this way and that to get commissions. Still no sales were made. In the midst of this, an Italian company from whom Sato Seni purchased yarns invited Sato to their factory. The owner took Sato around the factory, showing him how yarns were processed for high-end and specialty materials.
“Even first-rate designers cannot make yarn. That is why factories like us have to motivate fashion designers,” said the Italian factory owner, holding himself with pride. “I felt embarrassed that we only created things that we were ordered to make. It was also shocking to find that the specialty yarns were made with the same machinery we used,” says Sato.
Sato returned to Japan determined to start afresh. “To meet the orders we received we had been copying Italian products and technology, but from here on there would be no more copying. Rather than blindly creating yarns, we had to copy the spirit of Italian manufacturing and create our own one-of-a-kind yarns.” This is how development began to create specialty yarns. It was very difficult to alter the mindset of the craftsmen, but through brainpower, guesswork and hard graft, Sato Seni succeeded in developing unique yarns. The next task was to find a way to have people appreciate the quality of these products.
Sato reasoned that if the product’s value could be approved by internationally acclaimed figures, the brand value would soar. With that thought, Sato proactively took the most unique yarns to various international exhibitions. At one of these major exhibitions, namely the Italian Pitti Immagine Filati, the designers for Nina Ricci took notice of them.
Sato Seni provided Nina Ricci with what is generally called “mohair yarn.” The knitted cardigan that Mrs. Obama wore was made from the finest mohair in the world. Mohair yarn is made from the rare natural hair of Angora goats. It has a very soft feel to the skin. The designers of Nina Ricci gasped in surprise at the fineness of the yarns created by Sato Seni.
Sato Seni grew into a successful company that provides over 1,500 kinds of specialty yarns, busily receiving orders from internationally famous fashion brands including Chanel. They have strengthened their brand identity brand in Japan as well as throughout the world. Their net income has successfully grown six fold in the past five years.
Text: TAKAHASHI Yoshinori