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Komatsu Matere: Shaping the fabric of society

Interview - November 14, 2022

Komatsu Matere is a leading fabric manufacturer with diverse business domains including the field of clothing such as fashion and sports garments, where the company supplies its products to leading overseas brands, the field of materials such as medical, architectural, and electrical materials, and the field of advanced materials centered on eco-friendly materials such as carbon fibers and ultra-foam ceramic building materials.

KENICHI NAKAYAMA, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF KOMATSU MATERE CO. LTD.
KENICHI NAKAYAMA | CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF KOMATSU MATERE CO. LTD.

While it’s true that in recent decades Japanese firms have been pushed out of mass markets by regional competitors, Japanese firms both large and small maintain dominant market shares, especially in niche fields. How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? What are the strengths of Komatsu Matere?

We are a company that creates dreams and excitement for people all over the world through R&D. In fact, R&D is the core or foundation of this company, combining research, product development, and engineering. Our strengths lie in the technologies and techniques we possess related to fabrics and chemical fabric manufacturing that no other company has. It is a great benefit to the company and keeps us a step ahead of our competitors. You can say for sure that Komatsu Matere is ahead of many rival companies. Our final aim is to be appreciated and recognized by the wider global fashion industry, not just in the Japanese market.

Actually, our R&D isn’t really targeted at the Japanese market. We are striving to go where other companies won’t go with technology that other companies don’t have. Ultra components, those that are impossible to replicate added value, have become the key that opens the doors to other markets. Once we achieve recognition, we can follow that up with a feeling of attachment to final users. This is the philosophy of our company, the idea that every action we take or any approach we make must be fresh. Fresh in terms of ideas and fresh in terms of it being new and previously non-existent. We aim to create an element of excitement and move people’s hearts to create a level of satisfaction. We are trying to introduce comfort with good fabrics and products.

We see this world arena as a battlefield, and everything we possess, the technologies and techniques we have accumulated over the many years of our existence are the weapons we can use to our advantage on this battlefield. We can take over the world with our techniques. Obviously, I can’t name specifics, but Komatsu Matere is the producer that serves some of the top fashion brands in the world. People all over the world love these brands and want their products. Needless to say, without our existence, these brands could not exist.

Our ultra components are not only being utilized by top-notch fashion brands, but also by the best athletes as our garments were featured in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In fact, an Olympic snowboarder, who won a medal at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, was wearing one of our garments.

Our garments have been worn by one of the most sensational Japanese professional baseball players as well. We are proud to say that Komatsu Matere is introducing the products that help these athletes be better and get better results. There are a lot of athletes at the top of their fields that are utilizing fabrics based on our materials.

It’s not only our garments but also our material fabrics that are setting us apart. Famous Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki wore our socks on missions. She chose to wear our odorless socks because they are a one-of-a-kind product. They represent a unique approach; however, you can see how it can be very hard to make this type of product cost competitive to a mass audience. These are tailored and are going to space stations.  

Komatsu Matere’s materials have other applications other than garments. Our materials are used for seat covers in the Shinkansen Bullet Trains, and as cushions for seats in various sports facilities.

 

As you mentioned R&D seems to be at the core of your business. We see that development in your Greenbiz an ceramic construction material created entirely from recycled industrial waste. Can you give us an overview of this product?

Greenbiz transforms living environments and spaces into a more environmentally friendly version using our recycled material made from waste from dyeing factories. The raw materials are clay, local diatomaceous earth, cast iron slag, and excess biomass cake from smelting. By firing it at a high heat of 1000℃ or more, countless small holes are created in the substrate. Greenbiz exhibits various performances by including water and air in these holes. We’ve applied it in all sorts of locations and applications, including pavilions in Italy, roads in Japan and rooftops in America. In fact, some of the flooring in the National Olympic Stadium in Shinjuku uses Greenbiz. It's a highly unique technology and Komatsu Matere is the only company that has it in its portfolio. 



Your CABKOMA technology, a thermoplastic carbon fiber composite, has enabled you to venture into other fields that are related to construction or architecture. How have your past experiences as a textile material maker helped you develop CABKOMA?

It comes down to fibers. Fibers are something that exist in fabric and are very conventional. Binding and weaving are processes that are not only common in fabrics but also in manufacturing and construction. Other companies may come up with the material manufacturing, but they don’t have the technologies to process and bend the thermoplastic carbon fiber (CFRTP) composite inside the rods.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Kiyomizu Temple, one of the most distinguished temples in Kyoto. It has been renovated recently to support the building and create anti-seismic measures. We have introduced CABKOMA into the renovation project along with Zenkō-ji Temple in Nagano. The building itself has stood for 250 years, and with the support of CABKOMA we are anticipating it to stand for another 250 years.

CABKOMA isn’t solely used for the renovation of heritage sites, it’s used in more modern new constructions too, including the new Osaka station building. There we built partitions that protect people from oncoming trains. We also have this application at Narita airport too. If you install a massive fence between people and oncoming trains, it makes people uncomfortable and uneasy. Some space efficiency needs to be introduced. Next time you are in Vancouver, keep an eye out for our CABKOMA anti-seismic installation of one of the biggest multinational coffeehouse chains. CABKOMA installations are not only in the Japanese market but in overseas foreign countries.  

 

Could you tell us a few of the strengths and weaknesses of Japanese firms compared to overseas competitors? What is it about Japanese companies that make them unique?

Human labor force discipline is very high. As you know human labor is very expensive in Japan and to compensate for it with the high feature rich fabrics is something that we can contribute. Japan is an island nation, with a scarcity of natural resources. It’s crucial for most Japanese manufacturing companies to become technically sound and have high levels of R&D capabilities. It’s important to make the most of what we have, expanding out into the world with our unique features and taking our place on the global stage.

 

With the COVID-19 global pandemic, many issues and many opportunities have arisen. In the case of Komatsu Matere, we know that you took the opportunity to produce high-quality breathable masks. Can you tell us a little more about them?

The most comfortable mask to be worn by people is also made by Komatsu Matere. Through research, we have discovered that the ideal temperature level between the skin and the fabric is around 28-32 degrees Celsius and the humidity level of 50%. We have introduced this concept to our masks. We are proud to say that Komatsu Matere masks are the most comfortable to wear in the world. You could say that a downside to this has been created by the added value of the product. It has been difficult to find a suitable audience for this product. When you add additional value to a product, it dictates a higher price. A higher price makes it hard to sell.

 

You’ve talked about and demonstrated many unique technologies and products today. Are there any new products or technologies you are working on for the overseas markets that you are allowed to share with us? 

Unfortunately, I cannot name one particular product, due to the many NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) we have, but I can say the overall activity in our R&D is oriented towards health and safety. One example is in stone. We are trying to utilize stone as a fiber because it doesn’t burn. Stones such as an igneous rock called ‘basalt’, which looks like limestone, are part of our new design concept. Our R&D is working very hard on finding new solutions to introduce different color variations because everything we have here at Komatsu Matere has different colors. R&D’s research into dyeing techniques is very important, as well as how we can contribute to the environment and protect the planet.

 

Your company is very well known here in Japan. Could you tell us about your strategy for approaching overseas markets? Are there any particular countries or regions you consider key as part of your expansion?

The change from supply chains to demand chains is being driven by market forces and enabled by new technologies. We live in a world right now where industries are cross-linked with each other. The supply chains too are inherently linked. It enables the easy identification of supply or demand from different areas.

There are no particular areas right now that we are looking at, it could be wherever the demand is found. I’m particularly fond of quotes from Mr. Michael Porter from Harvard University, and he shares this same understanding of cross-linked chains. If you are operating in one particular niche field, at some point in time you will reach the top. It’s important that as you travel along this long path, to make bonds with like-minded individuals or companies that can help create better utilization solutions, an interdisciplinary existence that creates a better world. The sky’s the limit.

 

You’ve mentioned that soon you will be leaving your position as CEO. What message would you like to leave for the next generation of employees?

My message to the next generation of Komatsu Matere is, don’t leave your job halfway, don’t copy ideas that are flying around and just tackle the obstacles that you have in front of you. Acknowledge them and never give up. Only through self-reflection and refinement, can you reach excellence. Keep up the good work and eventually, you will reach good results.      

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