Art

Imabari Towel –Infinite possibilities engendered by two warps and one woof–

06-10-2016
Imabari Towel
Infinite possibilities engendered
by two warps and one woof

 
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ima1
Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture, is Japan’s top producer of towels. While Imabari Towel products have the popular image of being luxury, in recent years an impressive logo and an English description, “imabari towel Japan,” can often be found on the products. Backed with a long history of towel production, the Imabari region achieved this successful result by promoting the region-wide brand strategy to compete with low-cost towels imported from foreign countries. This time, I visited Imabari City to explore what the brand strategy looks like, how Imabari Towel products and imported ones are different, and what attracts people to the products.

I interviewed Mr. Tadashi Kimura, managing director of the Shikoku Towel Industrial Association, in Imabari City.

History of Imabari Towel

ima2 According to Mr. Kimura, Imabari once richly cultivated cotton, making the region famous for cotton textile production. Later, Imabari people learned about the towel industry, which had begun in the Senshu region of Osaka, and started towel production about 120 years ago. The Imabari region is a producer of cotton and rich in soft water, suitable for towel production. In the past, towels bleached and dyed in the manufacturing process were dried in the sun. The low-rainfall region and its warm climate were ideal for the towel industry. Thanks to a natural environment best suited to towel production, many manufacturers started business in Imabari, and the industry gradually came to represent the region.
 Towel production in Imabari peaked in 1991 when Japan was enjoying the bubble economy, and annual production exceeded 50,000 tons. At that time, most foreign brand towels for gifts sold at department stores were made in Imabari. However, production gradually fell to one-fifth by 2006. This was due to a dramatic decrease in the demand for gifts and an increase in the number of imported low-cost products. With the drop in production, the number of association members decreased from 500 to 112 companies. Even so, Imabari City, producing more than 11,000 tons of towels each year, accounts for around 55% of domestic production today, making the city the top producer in Japan.
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