Imabari1 has led the Japanese towel industry in high quality for 120 years with good reputation in softness and water absorbency. With a temperate climate for cotton, Imabari was named “Manchester of Japan” in the 1920s, and the underground water of Sojagawa River is gentle with few impurities most suited to produce delicate, soft and bright color fabrics. In its heyday, it took more than half of the towels sold in the domestic market. However, Imabari faced with a dramatic decline due to cheap towel imports around 12 years ago. Towel production plunged and hundreds of factories closed, and the industry in Imabari on Shikoku seemed to disappear in no time.

The local towel producers fought back and eventually succeeded with a new business strategy, which has become a successful model in Japanese revitalization. They assigned Kashiwa Sato, one of the leading creative directors in Japan, to build a high-end brand for Imabari Towel to compete with other brands on quality. In 2006, the Imabari towel recovery project launched. The new strategy and actions included 1) created a meaningful brand logo; 2) set white towels as key product; 3) established new product quality standards such as “five-second rule”; 4) introduced a certification system for “Towel Sommelier” to teach the world about towel quality; 5) the Shikoku Towel Industrial Association devised its original standards to certify whether the products can use the trademark and logo; 6) promoted the action as a model of regional revitalization through media.

Today, Imabari Towel becomes a symbol of the high quality towel in Japan and Europe. Its high-end towel even prices over 1,000 HKD. It has been taken as a luxury product for high-quality lifestyle. The creative director Sato’s business strategy did revitalize the traditional industry. A flowchart for the business model is illustrated as follows.

The Imabari Towel model is a classic model to realize regional industry revitalization. The important step is to build standards and form a flexible but well-managed cluster, and branding is a plus. High added value products with appropriate business strategy and model are still competitive, especially for traditional manufacturers.

  1. [20-08-2018]