[From June Issue 2012]
Motherhouse Co., Ltd.
Motherhouse sells a variety of products that have been made in developing countries. By doing so, it plays a part in highlighting the incredible potential of such countries or areas. They are now selling bags and stoles made in Bangladesh and Nepal at the company’s Japan-based stores, as well as over the Internet. In the future they intend to increase their range of products and have their sights set on the global market.
The concept of Motherhouse was born when YAMAGUCHI Eriko, the public face of the company, visited Bangladesh during her student years and came face to face with the poverty there. Yamaguchi discovered that “jute,” a kind of hemp, can be used to make an environmentally friendly material. “I’m going to make bags of the highest quality with this,” she said to herself, and founded the company in 2006.
Yamaguchi set out “not to give charity, but make people self-reliant through trade,” and gradually established a means of production. She did not want to make goods that people would buy out of pity, instead she aimed to make goods that would really appeal to people. The first 160 bags, made by inexperienced factory workers, sold out in two months. Things were going well for the business at the start: it was decided that more items would be produced and events aimed at attracting customers were successful.
However, political instability and numerous cyclones hitting the area meant that business was often disrupted. In this prolonged period of political strife, passports were lost, factories were looted and promises were broken, causing Yamaguchi much anguish. But even in the midst of such difficulties, Yamaguchi held on and continued with her activities in the area.
Consumers are able to lend their support to charitable efforts in the area with the “Social Point Card” system. Customers receive one point for each purchase of 2,000 yen and, once they’ve collected 25 points, are awarded a discount of 1,500 yen. At the same time 1,000 yen is assigned to the local community. Up to now, this money has been used for projects such as handing out relief supplies to the victims of the cyclones, or providing school bags to street children.
Motherhouse, which intends to establish itself as a brand that supplies goods made in developing countries to the world market, has now begun production in Nepal as well as Bangladesh. They have increased production and, at the same time gradually widened their sales network. At the end of April 2012, their network grew to nine stores in Japan and three in Taiwan.
“Identifying the worth of a country’s raw materials as well as the value of its people, we aim to fully develop both, allowing them to realize their true potential and become self-reliant,” says Yamaguchi. It’s a good example of how a business enterprise can be socially involved. Yamaguchi’s dream of “having bags with a ‘Made in Bangladesh’ label carried not only by women in Japan, but also by women in places like Paris and New York” might not be so far off.
Text: ITO Koichi