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What This 330-Year-Old Company is Learning from Startups

By Tim Romero: Serial startup founder in Japan and indomitable innovator

The conventional wisdom is that traditional Japanese companies can't innovate. And traditionally, that's been true.  Hosoo, however, might be carrying on a 1200-year-old tradition, but they are hardly a conventional company. Today we talk with Masataka Hosoo, who is the 12th-generation leader of Hosoo, one of Japan's most famous kimono silk makers. And while the company used to provide kimono fabrics to emperors and shogun, times have changed. Masataka explains how he is changing with the times and working with not only fashion brands like Dior and Chanel, but companies like Panasonic to develop user interfaces that involve textiles rather than simple lights and buttons. We also talk about a possible innovation blueprint that Japan's other small businesses can follow. It's a great conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it. Show Notes How ancient weaving techniques are used in modern fashion When Japan hit peak-Kimono (it’s not when you think) Bringing kimono fashion to Paris How to retrain a 300-year old company to be innovative Why textiles should be seen as jewelry How traditional Japanese crafts can go global How other 300-year-old companies are reinventing themselves Why Kyoto might be Japan's next startup hub The 80/20 Rule for innovation in Japan Links from the Founder HOSOO global website This year's Hosoo Collection Hosoo's current design projects Videos of the fabric and the production process Kyoto's Go On project Panasonic's Kaden Lab Leave a comment Transcript Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me. Who says traditional Japanese companies can’t innovate? Well, okay, actually, a lot of people say that. I mean, yeah, to be honest, almost everyone says that, but the point is, those people are wrong. Now, I have talked before about my work at Tepco and other large companies and the progress of they’re making their innovation programs, but today, we are going old school and I mean really old-school. Masataka Hosoo is a 12th generation leader of Hosoo, the company that bears his family name. Now, Hosoo is one of Japan’s most famous kimono makers. They used to provide fabrics to emperors and Shogun, but times have changed, and today, Masataka explains how he is innovating and changing with the times. Hosoo still makes kimono fabrics, of course, but they are also working with companies like Dior and Chanel to create new design ideas, and also with companies like Panasonic to change the way people interact with electronics. It is a great conversation, not only about fabrics and fashion, and the unexpected way that they affect our lives, but one of a unique approach to innovation and of punk rock, but you know, Masataka tells that story much better than I can, so let’s get right to the interview. [pro_ad_display_adzone id="1404"  info_text="Sponsored by"  font_color="grey" ] [Interview] Tim: Cheers! Masataka: Cheers. Tim: So, I’m sitting here with Masataka Hosoo of Hosoo, one of the most innovative textile manufacturers in Japan. So, thanks for sitting down with me. Masataka: Thank you. Tim: Hosoo is a very different kind of company than the startups that usually come on the show. I mean, you were founded 330 years ago, but you are doing really new things. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who Hosoo is and what you are doing today? Masataka: Okay, now, Hosoo is a family business and we had been making kimono more than 300 years in Kyoto. Of course, Kyoto is a 1000-year-old chapter and our textile called Nishijin textiles. Nishijin is a district’s old name in the center of Kyoto about 3 km², and this area had been making textile more than 1200 years, and before, our client is Imperial Kyoto, Shogun at the top of a samurai. Tim: So, Nishijin-ori, I mean, you mentioned its 1200 years old.

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