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Make Clothes That Tell A Story - Fashion and Ethics

By Yuka Sugiura

Mari Kozawa, system designer of TSU.NA.GU. © Masaya Tanaka

Clothing - it is something we cannot live without. However, did you know that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world? From the production of crops to the manufacturing of materials and distribution of products, the industry is responsible for 10 % of world carbon emissions. It also uses and pollutes a huge amount of water, especially in the dyeing process. On top of that, the working conditions of the fashion industry are often very problematic, exploiting employees with low wages and long working hours.

Mari Kozawa, a 23-year old activist, is one of those who have stood up for this issue. She is serving as a system designer of TSU.NA.GU., a start-up fashion brand that manufactures ethically-made clothing using Japanese traditional craft. It sells ethical clothes for an inexpensive price and discloses detailed information on production to ensure transparency.

Brand logo of TSU.NA.GU. © TSUNAGU

Mari learned about problems in the fashion industry when she saw “The True Cost”, a documentary that sheds light on the dark side of fast fashion. At one point, she met the founder of an organization called folkcharm, which sells clothing that uses hand-woven natural cotton in Thailand. Seeing her business, Mari learned how ethical fashion could tackle social problems such as environmental issues and women’s employment. Also, she was deeply impressed by how Folkcharm creates a connection between the local people and consumers by highlighting local Thai culture through its clothes. Since then, she has been inspired by the idea to tell a story through clothing. Subsequently, Mari met Ms. Komori, who was starting TSU.NA.GU. She soon decided to join her team thinking that is a great way to make a difference in society herself.

Pricing system of TSU.NA.GU. © TSUNAGU

The goal that TSU.NA.GU. tries to achieve is “transparent clothing manufacturing”. The brand discloses detailed information on materials that are used, costs that incur in each manufacturing process, how and by whom clothes are made. By sharing all this information as a story - a story about manufacturers and their craftsmanship, TSU.NA.GU. aims to connect manufacturers, consumers, and the next generation. Indeed, the word “tsunagu” means “to connect” in Japanese. Also, the pricing is low compared to conventional ethical clothing, which is typically pricy. This is because orders can be made online and personnel and indirect expenses are reduced. Another interesting aspect of TSU.NA.GU. is that it sells a product for three different prices ("SEED", "FLOWER" and "FRUIT") and customers can choose how much to pay. The lowest price is equal to the cost itself, which means there is no margin, but you can choose to pay more if you want to show your willingness to support the organization.

Even though the business has been successful, Mari hopes to reach out to a broader audience, especially those who have not been interested in ethical fashion. For this challenge, Mari tries to convey that ethical fashion matters to everyone. She thinks the essence of being ethical lies in the transparency of consumption. That is, respect for traditional culture, communication by suppliers and the method of disposal are all included in what it is to be ethical in addition to the use of natural materials and sustainable production. She believes that a new consumption system that is essentially ethical is necessary.

Japanese traditional dyeing technique called Aizome © TSUNAGU

Mari has felt how much impact she has been making through her activities. TSU.NA.GU. had quite a few crowd-funding campaigns, and most of them were successful. Also, according to a customer survey, more than 75 % of the people mentioned that their perspective on consumption had changed through purchase from TSU.NA.GU. and 31 % said that they had deepened the understanding of what being ethical truly means. Mari believes that our small efforts to tell others about ethical consumption will eventually change people’s mindsets.

From now on, Mari hopes to create a community where people can get information on how to start engaging in ethical activities and communicate with like-minded people. Also, she is going to share tips on how to start a sustainable life even more widely via a website called FLAT., which is run by the members of TSU.NA.GU. and focuses on sustainability issues.

An earring and a T-shirt sold at TSU.NA.GU. © Evans Kevin Kazuyuki

As a young female activist who is making a difference in society, Mari has great advice to those who want to start something but do not know where to begin; “The most important thing is to meet people and talk with them. You can casually go to an event that interests you and go talk to a person that looks cool to you. Ask for their contact information and all you have to do is keep in touch with them. If you move on, you will find there are many people you can start working with! I believe a baby step itself is the door to the new world. ”


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