By KAZUYUKI KANAI/ Staff Writer
September 6, 2019 at 08:30 JST
Hats, arm covers and even shoes made from traditional Japanese "washi" paper are catching on at home and abroad, opening up a new wave of interest in the durable material.
The products are not only light, but also protect the skin from ultraviolet rays and prevent stickiness from sweat, making them an ideal choice for getting through hot summer days.
"We want to promote the merits of the traditional material," said Toshinori Itoi, a director at Sasawashi Co., which designs, manufactures and sells soft goods in Izumiotsu, Osaka Prefecture.
The products, using paper thread made by twisting thin, tape-like strips of washi paper into yarn, are characterized by being light in weight and highly moisture absorbent, in addition to filtering out 90 percent of UV rays. The company also added antibacterial and deodorant functions by blending flakes of "kumazasa" bamboo grass into the washi.
Hats and arm covers are among the most popular products, Itoi said. There has been an increasing number of days of intense sunshine and heat during the summer in Japan in recent years, and the paper-based fashion accessories have become popular mainly among women who say the products help maintain the skin's smooth feel.
The washi paper is also appealing because its functions, which come from the material itself, are retained even after being washed.
Sasawashi also receives many inquiries about its towels made with almost the same type of washi paper used for oil-blotting paper. As the towels can remove excess sebum without the use of soap, "a growing number of purchases are made by people who suffer from sensitive skin or allergies," Itoi said.
The company has been handling assorted goods made of washi paper thread for more than 10 years, with more than 100 stores nationwide dealing in its products.
The company's sales have grown to about 200 million yen ($1.88 million) a year. Its socks and slippers, boasting a smooth feel, are popular in the United States, European countries and South Korea, resulting in an increase in inquiries.
“We want to promote sales in overseas markets in a proactive manner,” Itoi added.
Hosokawa-Tex Inc., a long-established textile company based in Kamiichi, Toyama Prefecture, produced shoes made with washi paper for the first time in Japan. With the help of a shoe manufacturer in Kobe, the company went through many prototypes before launching its first product in April last year. The washi shoes caused a stir after about 4,000 pairs were sold mainly through the company's online shop.
The shoes, released under the Origamix brand, are slip-ons that can be easily worn. They are made with a fabric intertwined with a washi paper thread made from Manila hemp. Also interwoven with a polyester thread, the fabric is nearly seven times stronger in abrasion resistance than canvas cloth, according to the company.
The surface that comes in contact with the skin to make them comfortable for bare feet is 100 percent washi paper, which is highly breathable and hygroscopic, or moisture-absorbing.
Each shoe weighs about 140 grams, about half the weight of a regular slip-on shoe made with canvas cloth. They can also be washed with water.
“We have an increasing number of repeat customers, and people appreciate the charm of the product," said Managing Director Kotaro Hosokawa. “We want to market it as a material to shoe manufacturers at home and abroad.”
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