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STAFFS's artistry in hair dye and beyond

Interview - March 4, 2024

In an exclusive interview with The Worldfolio, Takaaki Shiraki, Representative of Staffs, takes us on a journey through the company's evolution from traditional textile dyeing to a global leader in hair color samples. With precision as its hallmark, Staffs distinguishes itself by directly dyeing nylon hair to achieve specific shades, setting it apart in an industry marked by mixed-color samples. Shiraki shares insights into their international expansion, focusing on Southeast Asia and China, and their unique approach to environmental sustainability through recycling. The interview explores Staffs' diverse product range, R&D capabilities, and the challenges of passing down traditional dyeing techniques amidst Japan's demographic shifts. As Staffs celebrates its 48th anniversary, Shiraki envisions rapid overseas expansion, increased market presence, and the development of recycled products, positioning the company as a beacon of innovation in the global market.

TAKAAKI SHIRAKI REPRESENTATIVE OF STAFFS CO., LTD.
TAKAAKI SHIRAKI | REPRESENTATIVE OF STAFFS CO., LTD.

Can you provide a brief overview of your company?

Our company, established in 1975 by our current Chairman, originated in the Owari area, carrying on the tradition of textile and colored textile dyeing. However, with the onset of rapid economic growth, Japan's textile industry faced a decline. Leveraging our Chairman's industry recommendations, we shifted our focus to hair dyeing.

During this transition, a relative working at a trading firm in Osaka, the first in Japan to import hair and create a hair color chart through factory processing, suggested that my father contribute to this venture. This marked the inception of our hair dyeing sample business in 1976. Although the hair color dye industry wasn't popular when we first entered the field, the 1980s, marked by Japan's economic bubble, witnessed a surge in the popularity of hair dyeing, a trend that persists to this day.

Due to the declining and aging population, the domestic market for hair color dyes has been shrinking in recent years. To secure our sales channels, we are actively pursuing international expansion.

 

Due to the declining population, we see a labor shortage and a shrinking domestic market. As a company looking to go global, what are your main competitive advantages as a firm? Why should consumers buy your products? 

The distinctive features that set our company apart are the quality and accuracy of our hair colors. Unlike our competitors, who often combine several colors to achieve the target color, our samples directly dye the nylon hair to a specific shade desired.

During a visit to Europe, I explored the possibility of a joint venture with a competitor. However, the collaboration did not materialize due to differences in directions. While overseas companies typically prioritize cost-effectiveness, our commitment lies in providing precise color samples.

We collaborate with traditional companies in regions renowned for their traditional color dyeing techniques. Notably, only 10% of companies possess the expertise to execute the traditional Japanese BISHU hank dyeing technique. 

Our partnerships extend to approximately four dyeing factories and companies across Japan including Ichinomiya, Kyoto, and Gunma. We handle the dyeing process in-house to ensure the confidentiality of our customers' color recipes.

 

Which market do you believe has the most growth potential for your firm? Are you looking for new partners to penetrate new markets and become global?

Globally, only a handful of companies specialize in manufacturing hair color dyes. In countries like France, Germany, Canada, and China, a prevalent technique involves mixing different color samples to create the ideal color, minimizing the need for extensive stock or inventory. In contrast, our company's unique strength is being one of the select few worldwide capable of producing direct colors.

Although we haven't personally observed other companies employing this method, there might be exceptions. Due to their associated costs and time requirements, many companies often avoid direct dyes. While our future target market is North America, given its substantial size, our initial focus is on Southeast Asia, particularly China. In 2018, we established our 100% subsidiary in Shanghai.

We had to overcome several hurdles in our venture in China. Our entry into the Chinese market involved establishing a local entity and obtaining Ecovadis CSR accreditation in France. The effort invested in securing Ecovadis accreditation proved valuable, generating new contacts from companies in Germany, France, and other European countries.

Eexchange rate fluctuations are impacting our company, especially as we prioritize quality by producing color samples in Japan. To ensure reliability, maintaining the delivery of high-quality products is imperative. The depreciation of the Japanese yen is prompting us to reconsider our approach, contemplating the possibility of producing our core products, hair dyes, in Japan while handling assembly overseas.

 

In addition to color charts, Staffs has a wide variety of products such as hair bulks, coloring wraps, and original brushes and cups. Among all these products, which one do you think has the most business potential? Are there any other categories you are focusing on?

We are actively pursuing ways to broaden the applications of our hair dye samples, with a primary focus on environmental friendliness. Our hair dye samples, crafted from nylon, can undergo processing to transform into chips.

Our commitment extends to identifying new environmentally-friendly and human-friendly applications for hair. For instance, in cases where hair color samples do not meet the desired color standards, we explore recycling possibilities. By repurposing nylon hair, we can create diverse items such as trays or cosmetic chips, offering a versatile range of applications.

We are among the few companies actively contributing to sustainable efforts through material recycling. Furthermore, we plan to use this approach to appeal to overseas companies.    


 


Staffs is the only company in Japan specializing in manufacturing and selling hair color samples. How are your products superior to your competitors?

The primary distinction lies in the quality of our products. Unlike other companies that offer mixed-color samples, our company specializes in providing direct color dyes. As a Japanese company, we pride ourselves on ensuring exceptional quality and delivering a high standard of service. Our commitment to quality has been well-received by overseas customers, who have commended our salespeople for their attentive care and service. Our sales team invests the necessary time to assist customers in selecting the perfect dye sample colors.

 

Could you please talk to us about your unique R&D capabilities and some of the technologies that you have been able to develop in-house? Is there a specific new product that you would like to showcase to our readers and the global market?

Many find it hard to believe, but our products are entirely dyed by hand, a 100% manual process. Every dyeing task is skillfully executed by human hands and meticulously assessed by human eyes. Unlike machines, which may struggle to achieve and accurately reflect the correct colors on the final products, our manual processes guarantee precision in color outcomes.

 

Could you walk us through how you can maintain the quality of your products?

Currently, all our manufacturing processes take place in Japan. However, in the near future, we are considering shifting the assembly phase to our base in China. While the color variation might be subtle, maintaining precise color consistency demands experience and technical expertise. If we were to expand production overseas, it would entail starting with sending Japanese experts to train local workers to maintain our high quality.

 

Due to Japan’s shrinking population, it is somewhat difficult to pass down the know-how to the younger generation. What are you doing to overcome this challenge caused by this demographic shift?

We consistently bring in new and younger employees, passing down our accumulated knowledge to ensure continuity. Collaborating with over three dyeing companies across Japan is a strategic measure to uphold the stability of our business. Unfortunately, the number of individuals possessing intricate techniques for color dyes is declining, even in the Ichinomiya area.

Given that our craft is not only a necessary skill but also a tradition that must be passed down to the next generation, continuous training of new personnel is crucial.

 

Staffs are also involved in the importing of cosmetics. Since you handle everything from filling, packaging, distribution processing, warehousing, and shipping, what led you to enter this business? What advantages does importing and distributing cosmetics provide for Staffs?

To address the fluctuations in demand for our hair color charts and hair color trays, which serve as promotional items, we diversified our business by venturing into the import, processing, and distribution of cosmetics. Companies occasionally scale back sales promotion items for environmental and cost-reduction reasons.

To have another business pillar for our company's stability, we formed an OEM manufacturing division specifically catering to hair color companies. Clients who previously purchased our hair color charts have expanded their needs, now also contacting us for OEM production of hair care products.

 

This year, your company is celebrating its 48th anniversary. Imagine we come back in two years and have this interview all over again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for this company, and what goals would you like to achieve over the next two years? In one sentence, how would you like your company to be seen by the international market?

The dynamics of societies in Japan and across the globe are evolving rapidly. It is crucial for us to swiftly expand our operations overseas and establish a substantial market presence within the next one or two years.

Anticipating growing demand for our hair color chart samples, a key sales promotion item, we foresee significant potential, especially in Southeast Asia. Our initial focus is on expanding our color samples in the Southeast Asian region.

At the same time, we are committed to enhancing the development of recycled products using nylon hair, with our ultimate goal being expansion into North America.


For more details, explore their website at  https://www.staffs.co.jp/en/ 

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