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Jun 25, 2011
MEMO FROM TOKYO
Factory junk gets new lease of life
Group of factory bosses pool their waste materials to produce new products
By Kwan Weng Kin, Japan Correspondent
Mr Tsudoi Kodaka (above) contributed used spindles from his knit fabric factory to form the base of a kaleidoscope. The other parts comprise buttons from a sweater maker and discarded metal and plastic bits from other group members.
THE colourful kaleidoscopes at an exhibition showed what beautiful things waste materials - used spindles, buttons, metallic and plastic scraps - can produce.
More than that, they showed what an enterprising group of factory owners can achieve when they pool their ideas and resources together.
The companies that they run are among some 2,500 small factories located in Tokyo's Sumida ward.
Traditionally, these factories are sub-contractors that churn out items ranging from screws and metal rings used in cars, to sweaters and leather bags - all at the behest of suppliers.
Mr Tsudoi Kodaka, 39, a member of the group, runs a knit fabric factory with just four employees.
Typically, factories such as Mr Kodaka's have no idea where their products end up as they are just part of a long chain of suppliers.
'The material for collars that we make is sent to another company for assembly into shirts. If I were to come across one of these shirt collars on the street, I wouldn't know that it came from my factory,' said Mr Kodaka.
Something else that these small factories have in common is the huge amount of waste material they produce every day.
Mr Kenji Sato, 40, another group member, runs a five-man company that works with plastic foam products.
'For several years, I had been wondering how I could turn the mountain of scrap in my backyard into new items. When I started talking about this last year, I discovered that Kodaka-san shared my thoughts,' he said.
Last August, six factory owners, including Mr Kodaka and Mr Sato, got together and decided to launch a project to turn waste materials from their shop floors into 'raw' materials for making products.
The kaleidoscope idea came from a designer acquaintance who happened to stop by Mr Kodaka's factory.
The designer, who knew someone who produces hand-made kaleidoscopes, suggested using the empty spindles lying around in Mr Kodaka's factory as the base for the toys.
The spindles are normally thrown away after the thread that they hold, used for weaving fabric, is used up.
As for other parts of the kaleidoscope, the buttons were from a sweater maker, while the metal and plastic bits were discards from other group members.
Mr Kodaka had tried once before to turn fabric scraps in his factory into saleable products, but failed.
'Working alone has its limitations. If you are a fabric maker like me, all you can come up with is making clothes,' he said.
This is why he feels upbeat about the project, which enables members to tap one another's experience and skills.
The group even managed to rope in product design professionals to work with them on a voluntary basis.
'Many creative designers, attracted by cheap rents, have set up shop in the Sumida area in recent years and it was fortunate that we came to know some of them,' said Mr Kodaka.
One of them is Mr Daisuke Mita, 38, who acts as creative adviser to the group.
Mr Mita believes that the project has a good chance of succeeding.
'If it is waste material from just one company, it is difficult to create a good product. Being able to use materials from a host of companies increases the probability of coming up with something no one had thought of before,' said Mr Mita, who works as a town planner by day.
The group admits that progress has been slow.
Apart from the kaleidoscopes, which are hand-made and sold as kits at 1,500 yen (S$23) each, the group has come up with only one other product so far - a simple stomach warmer made from knitted fabric.
The kaleidoscopes are currently available only at workshops organised by the group to show children how to make the toys. The stomach warmers are available through the Internet.
Incidentally, the group sent 600 pieces of the stomach warmers to an evacuation centre in northern Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The earthquake, which pummelled large parts of north-eastern Japan, also took its toll on many small factories in Sumida ward, forcing the group to halt its project temporarily.
For instance, factories that turned out parts for cars saw their orders dry up because the quake knocked out many car-making plants and severely disrupted the supply chain.
The exhibition featuring the kaleidoscopes is a sign that work on the project is finally picking up again.
The group plans to incorporate the project next month in order to commercialise its products.
Another good sign is that more factory owners have come on board in the past few months.
The designs for the kaleidoscope and the stomach warmer will be spruced up with professional help before they are commercially launched.
Future products include leather holders for train passes and handle covers for bags.
To Mr Kodaka, the project is a valuable learning experience.
'We all know how to make things to other people's specifications,' he said. 'But none of us really knows how to design and make our own stuff and to market it ourselves.'
Hopefully, the waste-material project will one day enable businessmen like Mr Kodaka and Mr Sato to free themselves from the vagaries of sub-contracting.
色 レッド ネイビー イエロー
サイズ XS Ｓ Ｍ Ｌ XL
atelier Fiore ～アトリエ・フィオーレ～
サイズ 幅３３cm Ｘ 丈４５cm
品質 綿８０％ 麻１８％ ポリウレタン２％