20 years have passed since Akira Minagawa founded ‘minä ‘ in 1995. With a change of name to ‘ minä per honen’ in 2003, today it is a popular fashion brand with a lot of fans within Japan and abroad.
“Although it’s been 20 years, it is only now that I can safely say I have laid the foundations of minä. Using an architecture analogy, I feel that the framework of the business isn’t yet completed. From the very beginning, the pace I set for myself is for minä to be the way that I envisaged it. That is why I started with the foundations first, then convey my idea to those within and outside the company, before handing minä over in the best shape I can to those people. Minä literally means ‘my own’ in Finnish. My reasoning is I want the people working at minä perhonen to always do their ‘own’ work.” This is the “philosophy” that Minagawa often likes to tell people. In 2014, the fashion label incorporated the essence of this philosophy into a condensed sentence which is written as ‘How to Make’.
“The philosophy behind minä is to build a strong relationship with factories highly skilled in either textiles or sewing, to push forward together with them and to keep making products long into the future that contribute to our customer’s happiness. To achieve that, I always make demands on the factories every chance I get. I challenge them that would add further possibilities with the potential and skill they currently possess. I believe to devise the solution as a team is the best for each other. Though there are times they express their reservations, if I feel they are not challenging the possibilities, I stick to them regardless (laughs). I’m not the kind to get visibly angry even if I repeatedly have to ask the question as to why they won’t do what I ask of them, instead I leave the door open for some time for them and offer them to do it their way. If getting rid of that state of affairs is related to the customer’s satisfaction, then it is for the best.”
Minagawa states that to be a manager and a designer serves a great purpose. “If you look towards the long-term without immediately tying it to profits, then being a manufacturer brings necessary trials and tribulations. As I see both design and management as one in my mind, I’m able to judge the necessity of a challenge or an investment. Doing this raises the creative possibilities and the potential of the factory, skills can be passed on, and the relationship that leads to making great clothing continues for a long time, can be maintained. It isn’t because I’m a designer that I think this way, but my regard to the idea of craftsmanship, I believe it is not only important to think of the short term efficiency or results but to have a view of things in the long term and what value can be created which is what I seek as a manager”
Small to medium scale manufacturing are not able to stay solvent, so it’s not uncommon to hear that the passing down of skills could be irretrievable.
“That is because the profit is disproportionately allocated to the ordering party. When the profit of the manufacturer receiving the order decreases, business becomes strained so creativity has to take a backseat. As well as considering how to achieve that balance, to judge what is deemed a reasonable price that satisfies customers is the responsibility of those on the design side.”
In addition, many fashion brands idea of progress is expanding or moving towards the high-end market, whereas to Minagawa, his definition of growth and development is completely at odds to theirs.
“The clothing made by minä remains everyday clothing. As we are steadfast into making everyday clothing, I want to nurture a brand which anyone can wear, can last for many years to come and where you feel great when you wear them. Although an impact or a fast cycle is needed for new items in fashion, I want to focus on knowing that it is possible’ to be together forever, even if it may cost a little more. I want to bring a value that would not go to waste too soon. As much as I can, I want them to respond to ‘alterations’ in people’s lives for that reason. Not one in every 10,000 pieces of clothing, but aiming for a long period of development and mass production that is like we will make 10,000 pieces over 10 years, 100 years.”
Behind Minagawa’s gentle expression is an unwavering belief to go forward while cherishing one’s own style, without slacking or rushing into things.
“I believe I’m creating a ‘way of thinking’ with our clothing. No matter how long it takes, if I persevere, then the thinking behind the way minä makes things should resonate with more people, whether they are the customer or the factory. I feel it’s here where minä perhonen has value and responsibility.
Mother Nature in black and white, peaceful and eloquent
Akira Minagawa chose “This is the American Earth” (1960) as his favorite photobook, a series of photographs taken by Ansel Adams, renowned for his eloquent black and white landscape photography, together with writer and critic Nancy Newhall.
Adams spent his life photographing America’s nature and national parks such as Yosemite and left his mark on the photography world of the 20th century thanks to his artistry and technical skill.
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it” — this aphorism of his skill carries an incredible persuasive power.
Ansel Adams, photographer. Born in San Francisco in 1902. Adams published his first photobook “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras” in 1927. In 1932, he was one of the founders of the photographers’ group “Group f/64”. In 1941, he developed the “zone system”, a technique to determine correct exposure and improve control of the printing process. The Metropolitan Museum of Art held a large retrospective of his works in 1974. Ansel Adams died in 1984.
Born in Tokyo in 1967. After graduating from Bunka Fashion College, established ‘minä’ in 1995. Opened first store in Shirokanedai, Tokyo in 2000. Changed to minä perhonen in 2003. Designing apparel, furniture, containers etc. as well as designed uniforms for galleries and Tokyo Sky Tree. Has written several books including ‘a trip with my mina’and‘minä perhonen’s overlap of time’