For this month’s Spotlight on Women in Business, showcasing the achievements of women entrepreneurs around the world, The Wisteria Group interviewed Tamae Takatsu, founder of Fukuichi, a company dedicated to promoting the concept of fair trade products in Japan, and of Love&Sense, a fair trade shop. Using her business skills to help others, Ms. Takatsu launched a business venture (the East Loop project) in response to the devastating March 2011 Japan earthquake to create job opportunities for victims of that earthquake. Ms. Takatsu also is a principal of the Innovation Curator School in Kyoto, Japan.
1. You have a wide variety of business experience – from being a successful businesswoman at a trading company, to creating your own marketing company, to running a fair trade shop. How did you go from business in general to committing yourself to fair trade?
I ran my marketing company myself. I developed goods which are useful to customers and proposed focusing the sales floor on items that hadn’t gotten much attention despite being wonderful, high-quality items. But by the late 1990s, the Japanese economy was suffering: we were struggling with deflation and wages were dropping, among other things. As a result, we were only able to sell inexpensive goods as our clients increasingly demanded such products.
If you get involved in product development, as I did, you see how much it really costs to manufacture a product. I was convinced that producing goods at such a low cost must be negatively affecting workers. Our way of life comes at the expense of developing countries and the exploitation of their people. I did not want to be complicit in such an unjust system, and so I decided to work in fair trade and to propose a new vision of consumerism.
2. Tell us about your fair trade shop, Love & Sense.
I created Love & Sense as part of my mission to make it possible for more people to act in ways that lead to a sustainable society. We wanted fair trade products to be sold normally and routinely in commercial department stores. To achieve this, though, it isn’t enough to appeal to the public conscience; unless you get the support for fair trade of actual customers and business, owners of department stores won’t take action. So I created Love & Sense to prove the commercial viability of fair trade. After a lot of trial and error with our pop-up shops, we finally established a permanent shop in Hankyu’s flagship store in the heart of Osaka, the most popular and high-quality department store in the Kansai region. And then we were able to get a yearly pop-up shop on the wonderfully spacious first floor of the famous Takashimaya department store in the Nihonbashi section of Tokyo.
As we achieved these concrete results, we were able to integrate this into our conversations and people are now more interested in our fair trade project. Of course, in order to continue achieving results, it is necessary to continue developing products. It goes without saying that we dedicate our energy there as well.
3. How do you engage with the people in developing countries who are making your products?
I travel to the actual site where the goods are to be made and together with local, mainly NGO partners we develop the goods. To the best of our ability we use local materials, draw on skills that the local people have, and endeavor not to put too much of a burden on them during the production phase. We aim to respect the traditions and skills of the local people who are our partners, and we strive to do business with them on an ongoing basis. This last point is important because by continuously working with them, their lives will be stable, and the workers as well as their community will become more prosperous.
4. In addition to your efforts in developing countries, after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake you founded the “East Loop” project to create jobs for the victims. Why do you think it is important to create jobs?
I once heard a Zen monk say that the four aspects of human happiness are:
- To be loved
- To earn praise
- To be useful
- To be needed
A job is not just about receiving compensation; it is also about earning the customer’s praise, being helpful to others, and, by working on a team, being needed by your colleagues. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, most of the victims lost their will to live. They were stuck in the depths of despair. I thought it was indispensable to create jobs so that through their own efforts, their own strength, they would find the will to live again.
While I was planning the East Loop business, local people would yell at me things like, “why are you making the victims work!?” But I saw with my own eyes how the women in the affected area became energized by participating in the East Loop knitting project. It was a touching experience for me. As a result, over 200 women in the area found a reason for living through the East Loop project.
5. What advice do you have for young women who are considering their future career and dreams?
The world is now changing with tremendous speed. What was once seen as common sense is today being overturned, globalization is moving forward, and everything is becoming borderless. Given this, it is impossible for you to chart out a career and build it exactly as planned. Of course, it will be necessary to acquire skills and a variety of experiences. However, it is important to reflect on what you want to do and what kind of a life you want to pursue. And you will want to consider how this fits with your current situation and look at your life from a broad perspective. While there is no set path to reach your goal, I think it is really valuable to have female colleagues and mentors because they will want to share their experience and what they have accomplished with as many women as possible. Through our own experience and that of other women, we sharpen our senses and we discover larger clues for how to live.