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Fukushima entrepreneur work on reviving Aoki cotton industry

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2017-01-27 16:00:00 – Fukushima

Among the various types of Aizu cotton, only material from the Aoki district of Aizubange called Aoki cotton known for its vertically striped pattern, once enjoyed great popularity for its quality. Aizu cotton is thick and durable and repeated washing makes it feel soft.

Demand for Aoki cotton took a downturn, though, amid changing lifestyles after World War II and all production plants in the town of Aizubange were closed some 30 years ago.

Young entrepreneur Takuro Yazu set up a company in Aizubange to work on reviving Aoki cotton in October 2011, reluctant to allow local craftsmanship to fade into history.

His company, IIE Co., last year successfully revived Aoki cotton for the first time in 30 years, using refurbished century-old looms. At an abandoned factory in Aizubange, Yazu found more than 10 neglected old-style looms. The devices were developed about 100 years ago by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyoda Motor Corp. group. Yazu acquired 10 of the looms that looked usable.

Currently, there are only two textile manufacturers in the neighboring city of Aizuwakamatsu make Aizu cotton.

But Aizu cotton, including Aoki cotton, started attracting renewed popularity after costumes made of the thread featured in NHK’s 2013 taiga yearlong television drama “Yae no Sakura.”

Takashi Chiba, a 38-year-old employee of IIE, visited cotton manufacturers in Yamagata and other prefectures to learn their repair methods. Four of the 10 decrepit looms were successfully repaired.

After learning how to use the looms under the tutelage of a woman in her 80s from Aizubange who was once a cotton weaver, workers at IIE managed to make a stole and other items as trial products.

Using Aoki cotton, IIE has produced envelopes to hold congratulatory gifts of money. They can also be used as handkerchiefs.

The products were put on sale at an event held in Tokyo by leading department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. and Beams Co., a specialist retailer of clothing and sundry items, from late December to early January.

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