Fabrics made by Hosoo Mill | Source: BoF.
The Nishijin textile district in the north of Kyoto was established over 1200 years ago. Today, the relatively compact area covers only a few blocks just northwest of the city’s busy Imadegawa-Horikawa intersection. But there are no sprawling industrial factories here; no plumes of smoke. In fact, it’s hard to identify the mills interspersed between the traditional wooden machiya houses.
Located down a nondescript side road stands one of the oldest enterprises in the city: Hosoo, a textiles mill that has been passed down through twelve generations of its founding family. Today, the mill is run by director Masataka Hosoo, 37, who is accompanied to work most days by his 86-year-old grandmother. In the showroom, a framed photograph of her receiving a hug from Pharrell Williams hangs next to an image of her and Caroline Kennedy. Such is Hosoo’s cultural significance to Kyoto that touring celebrities, politicians and ambassadors are often brought to visit.
The mill was founded in 1688, when it was kept busy weaving traditional kimonos for Shogun warriors and samurai from the elite Tokugawa clan. Nowadays, the kimono business still exists, but it is nothing compared to what it once was, says Masataka Hosoo. “The market for traditional kimonos has diminished by 90 percent,” he says frankly. To survive in such shifting markets, Masataka realises he needs to keep the mill on its toes. “In the crafts world there is a feeling that tradition is not enough. You need to diversify. You can’t rest,” he says. Together, Masataka and his team are diversifying into three key new areas of business: art, fashion and interiors.
Dressed in an artfully crumpled pale grey linen suit, worn unbuttoned with a t-shirt, Masataka is the picture of the affable, time-zone-hopping entrepreneur. By his side is Hosoo’s Parisian project manager, Benito Cachinero;, immaculate in a three-piece suit and tie. Both men have a vision that reaches far beyond the horizon of the nearby Hokuzan mountains. “We work directly with our clients, no distributors,” says Masataka, acknowledging that the pair’s straightforward business approach is unusual for most Japanese mills, but incredibly attractive for overseas clients seeking easy communication.
Many of these clients are global luxury brands, who purchase high-end fabrics for their store interiors, a lucrative business for Hosoo. Indeed, the mill has woven speciality textiles for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Chanel. “We have probably worked on 40 to 50 Chanel stores and, for Dior, we have made fabrics for 19 interiors,” explains Masataka. Hosoo’s work for fashion houses is due, in part, to their longstanding relationship with architect Peter Marino, who has designed luxury flagships across the world and worked with the mill since 2008. “I like the modernity of the colour mixes,” says Marino. “They always come out looking like a modern painting.”
One of Hosoo's looms | Source: BoF