Member participating in “Kurashiki Dyeing”
Kojima, Kurashiki City is known as a production center of jeans. It is said that the jeans washing technique, which led to the global recognition of Japanese jeans, originated here in Kojima. We interviewed Mr. Tashiro, president of HOWA Co.,Ltd, who has been challenging new technology since he established the world’s first stone-washing technology.
Developed the world’s first jeans washing process
HOWA was founded in 1965 as a sewing business, but later transformed into a jeans washing and processing business. The idea of washing new jeans to remove the color and soften them was actually born in Japan and did not exist in the U.S., the home of jeans.
In the 1950s, used jeans were first imported from the United States. It was not until later that new jeans were imported. As you know, new jeans are dark blue and hard, while used jeans are faded and soft. Since Japanese people first became familiar with used jeans, they felt uncomfortable with the stiffness of new jeans and came up with the idea of washing jeans to make them softer.
In 1978, the world’s first stone wash was developed. In 1982, a super black finish was developed, and in 1986, the chemical wash, which became a big boom, was developed.
By teaming up with major national jeans brands, HOWA was able to grow into one of the largest wash processing plants in Japan, but after 2005, the company decided to explore a new path.
Push for mechanization before the coming of the era of labor shortages
From the mid-1990s, manufacturing and processing of low-priced jeans began to move overseas. And after 2005, it became difficult to continue manufacturing and processing in Japan as before due to the beginning of the struggle of major jeans manufacturers.
Although small-lot production can be handled by a small number of workers, the scale of orders received by HOWA is too large to be handled by a small number of workers. It has also become difficult to recruit employees through job openings. We are not in a situation where we can secure many successors to our craftsmen’s skills.
In 2007, we obtained a patent for a processing method that burns the surface of fabrics by irradiating them with laser beams.
Until then, the washing process was strongly associated with the manual work of craftsmen, but with the introduction of computer-controlled laser processing machines, anyone can now perform the same process after a certain amount of practice. Also, the work time is shorter than with manual labor, and production efficiency has improved. The biggest advantage is that it has prevented inconsistencies in the finish of the processing.
So now we have also introduced a shaving robot equipped with AI (artificial intelligence) in 2022. This is a robot of our own design that we ordered from a specialized manufacturer. By mechanizing the most time- and physical-intensive processing work, we will be able to reform our work style by shortening working hours and increasing annual holidays, as well as achieve quality stability. We intend to continue to introduce and develop robots to further ensure a system that can handle large lots to a certain degree.
Aiming to Establish a Supply Chain
Since the process of washing alone has many factors that depend on the conditions of other processes, we wanted to build a sewing factory and establish an integrated production system from sewing to washing. Just in 2021, a major jeans manufacturer will close its own factory in Akita. Akita is an important area where highly productive factories have gathered and supported the production of jeans in Japan. So we immediately flew to Akita and after much discussion and coordination, HOWA was able to take over the factory.
In 2022, we changed our name to “Odate Sewing Factory” and started new activities as the HOWA Group. We are still in the process of establishing various systems, but this has made it possible for us to set up an integrated production system from sewing to washing.
In the future, Odate Sewing Factory aims to receive orders not only from domestic brands but also from overseas brands.