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Life with rain need never be a pain

Interview - June 5, 2023

MAEGAKI plans, develops, manufactures, and sells high-quality rainwear and equipment to keep you dry making the lives of their customers easier through their three business pillars of: workwear, apparel, and OEM solutions.

TAKAYUKI MAEGAITO, CEO OF MAEGAKI CO., LTD.
TAKAYUKI MAEGAITO | CEO OF MAEGAKI CO., LTD.

In recent years, Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturing competitors who have been able to replicate certain Japanese monozukuri processes, pushing Japan out of certain mass markets. However, we still see that many Japanese firms are leaders in fields such as textiles and clothing. In your opinion, how have Japanese firms been able to maintain this leadership despite the stiff price competition?

I feel that there are only a few Japanese companies that are globally competitive, namely UNIQLO and MUJI. Although Japan is considered strong in the textile and fibre industry, it is confined to specialized and functional materials such as TEIJIN’s fibre which is fireproof, or other types of special-purpose anti-corrosion fibres. An example is Toray's microfiber, which makes products more lightweight and thinner. We have the same concept, and as far as I know, this technology is unique to Japan.

The Hokuriku area where we are now is an amalgamation of companies related to textiles. We have good relationships with Marui Orimono which manufactures yarn fibres, and KOMATSU MATERE which dyes textiles. We also have a good relationship with Toray. Our Vietnamese factory is a joint venture with Toray International, which is Toray's trading brand. Toray has a study group called the TORAY SYNTHETIC TEXTILE CLUSTER which is attended by many material makers, such as Marui Orimono, and finished product makers including our company. The majority of companies joining this Cluster are material providers and developers. We are one of the few finishers. We combine our technologies to create new products and present them at exhibitions. Marui Orimono's president is the acting chairman of the Cluster. The advantage of having related companies in proximity fosters active communication. We are currently running a program with KOMATSU MATERE to make a new finished product using their material. We are trying to raise money through crowdfunding to sustain the project. Teamwork and networking are some of the strengths of the Japanese industry.

 

Your company specializes in rainwear products, and you provide a variety of products for different applications, from working purposes to the school community. One of your latest products that will be released in May 2023 is the APt PRO, professional rainwear that promotes the safety and comfort of the wearer. What are your expectations of the APt PRO product line when it is released, and what makes it superior to conventional rainwear?

Our business structure is 50% OEM for major brands like GOLDWIN and MAMMUT and 50% for our own branded products which are done on a contract basis with companies such as JR (Japan Railway) or electric companies. For smaller companies, we have a catalogue they can choose from.  However, with the change in the demographic situation, major companies like JR no longer have internal workers but rather dispatch or outsource to other companies. Overall, the orders for workwear from our company have diminished. For that reason, companies now prefer to use catalogued products. We have two major brands, APt PRO and MAEGAKI. MAEGAKI uses GORE-TEX as its main material. APt PRO Series uses multiple materials from Toray and other companies for professional use.

Recently, there was a modification due to legislation that says that people working 6.75 meters and above must wear a full-body harness, rather than simply a waist harness. The reason we are using durable fabric on that specific part is to reduce the friction of the full-body harness. As part of the safety requirement, the worker also needs to wear a helmet. Conventional raincoats often have hoods, but when you put on the hood, you cannot hear well. There was an accident involving a railway maintenance worker that could not hear the train coming from behind due to the hood. We have modified the hood, so the ear is exposed, and it is tight around the neck so that no rain or water will penetrate. We are producing more PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) products.

 

In addition to your regular line of rainwear products, MAEGAKI also has the original factory brand F/ACSION. It is a lineup of all-weather clothing with high functionality. What motivated you to start F/ACSION, and how do you plan on growing the brand?

For our OEM business, although we can make some proposals, we mainly listen to the requirements and specifications of our customers. The reason we developed the F/ACSION brand is that we want to add playfulness and show our creativity through the brand. E-commerce is a new channel for sales and gives us a direct link to our B2C customers so that we can learn and get responses back from them directly. Crowdfunding is another interesting means to conduct a project. We attended an exhibition in France for small fashion brands to gather and display their products. Our F/ACSION brand received high accreditation there. We also want to expand our e-commerce overseas, and we are currently pursuing that by researching and registering our brand in those localities.

 

Is finding local partners in global regions important for you when it comes to the expansion of the F/ACSION brand?

We have not been able to go to that extent yet. We are making progress in the registration of our brand through our factory in China, which is a market we deem attractive and has potential.

 

The F/ACSION brand utilizes unique waterproofing technology which you call ‘The Barrier Effect’, and it gives the product high water pressure resistance that can withstand heavy rain and expel moisture from inside to the outside while also having excellent water permeability. Can you tell us more about the barrier effect?

We give the utmost importance to our users' comfort. The three key elements in achieving that are breathability, waterproofing, and stretchability. This is a flexible and thin material that has three layers. The surface is woven with waterproof film inside. It is a tricot fabric. We use an adhesive to bond the three layers together. Since using too much adhesive makes the material stiff, thereby affecting its breathability, finding the right balance between the glue and the material is essential. Through our analysis, we determined that its water pressure resistance is 30,000 millimeters, and its breathability is 40,000 grams. With our current crowdfunding, we plan to develop and produce the down coat which uses barrier effect light - a new type of material.



How effective is this material at keeping the users warm during a snowstorm?

Although the jacket blocks the wind from penetrating through the fabric and retains warmth to some extent, it is not suitable for dead-cold winters. This is why we are now developing a down coat that can cater to all seasons. We often do collaborations with related industries and other unique individuals within the region like Shigesato Itoi, who is a copywriter.

 

MAEGAKI is known for high-quality products, with an annual average return rate of defective products of less than 0.1%. This has allowed you to receive orders from clothing or textile representatives in Japan and across the world. How are you able to keep the defect rate so low?

This has always been a constant challenge for us. We have factories in China and Ho Chi Minh, but we do not have Japanese staff there which is a rare case for a Japanese company. The reason is we wanted to be on the same level rather than having to manage them. Having said that, the training levels in China and Vietnam are different, so conducting thorough in-house training is important. By creating a flat business environment and not having Japan manage other factories, we are hoping to strengthen their initiative, creativity, and manufacturing capabilities.

COVID was a drawback for our business because transactions were halted. There are many things that cannot be conveyed through remote conferences, such as going to their field to give direct instructions and sharing our passion with our employees.

 

Moving forward, have you identified any other key countries or regions for expanding your business? Could you elaborate more on your international business strategy?

Due to Japan's shrinking demography, it is crucial to look at markets overseas with a growing population in order for our business to expand. Marui's president keeps saying that their yarn and fibre business is growing because of the growing population globally. Currently, 30% of our business comes from overseas which is exceptional for a company our size. We are expecting our overseas business to continue to grow.

We have a factory in mainland China. On the other hand, our Vietnamese factory is in an industrial area in Ho Chi Minh, which has a well-built infrastructure. We can let the customers come in for collaboration. We envision this base to grow. In 2020, we built a second factory in Vietnam. It stopped operation during the pandemic, but it resumed this year. We are not planning on expanding our manufacturing bases to other locations because we already have our existing factories as well as cooperating factories in Southeast Asia.

 

What is your favorite product and why?

MATSU is one of my favorite products which was the name of the wife of the feudal lord who governed this area before the 1600s. Kanazawa was known as one of the top 10 tourist destinations in Japan.  We named our products after things related to Kanazawa. Our company originated in Kanazawa, so we wanted to contribute to the local community.

 

If we come back six years from now and have this interview all over again, what goals would you like to have accomplished by then?

We have our F/ACSION brand and our new brand RAYER which was named after having multiple layers. The reason why we were able to sustain our business is because we are in a niche rainwear field. We would not have been able to survive had we done generic apparel. We have substantial experience in waterproofing technologies and we would like to contribute to society by using this technology in our new brand RAYER. MAEGAKI’s corporate mission is to contribute to humanity and society, so we hope that our new products and new brands can contribute to societal growth. We are hoping to release our new brand RAYER within this year.

The reason why we grew was because of W.L. Gore&Associates. It is a US company that licensed out the right to manufacture their material anywhere in the world. In 1989, we acquired licensing from them and thanks to them, we were able to expand our overseas operations. It has given us great credibility and the quality of our products. One of the biggest factors in our growth is due to GORE-TEX’s continuous production of advanced material that we immediately take and turn into a product. This cycle has given us the strength to move forward. Our collaboration with them is important.


Interview conducted by Karune Walker & Sasha Lauture

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