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  • Lara Franco

Interview with Ayumi Nishigawa – Tackling Social Issues with Fashion

Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ayumi Nishigawa, CEO of coxco and representative of the non-profit organization DEAR ME. Ms.Nishigawa addresses social issues such as poverty and environmental issues through fashion and explores ways to counteract them. In this interview, we delve into her experiences with running her own company and her thoughts while doing her part to create a more sustainable society through fashion.

Q: I heard that once you graduated from university, you worked in a corporate. What were your thoughts on leaving your stable lifestyle behind and taking on the risk of starting your own company?

I enjoyed my previous job, so it was pretty sad to leave. But ever since I was a student, I always wanted to work with fashion and tackle social issues through it, so it made sense for me to quit after two years of working in a corporate. Starting my own business did come with concerns, but I figured that not taking the risk is the biggest risk, so I decided to just do it.

Q: You have stated that your goal is to contribute to solving our current social issues through fashion. Why have you chosen fashion as your medium?

I’ve always loved fashion ever since I was little. It was to the point that I wasn’t interested in anything else, and it was actually quite worrying. But as I got older, I really felt as if fashion helped me become optimistic about my life and my future. As I got deeper into the fashion industry, I saw that there were many social issues related to fashion, so when I was about twenty years old, I thought to myself, “Fashion helped me, so now I want to help society through fashion.”

Q: When you see the words ‘fashion’ and ‘social issues’ together, the topics that come to mind and are extensively discussed are the following: fast fashion, the exploitation of workers, and hard labor. When considering a sustainable future for fashion, it seems like fast fashion is harmful and does not fit the bill. On the other hand, it is true that fast fashion has made enjoying fashion more accessible for everyone. Do you have an opinion on this matter?

People often think of fast fashion as the devil, but I don’t think that’s the core problem of it. The fact that fast fashion is so widely accessible across the globe means that we, as a society, have created a need for it, and its results are poor working conditions and societal disparities. Instead of pointing fingers and finding people to blame, I think it’d be best if people learned to ask themselves, “What kind of choices can I make to help solve these issues?”

Q: There are a number of activists, including you, who have been able to spread the concept of “sustainability” to a huge number of people. However, it seems like “sustainability” has been reduced to a trend. Do you have any thoughts on this?

It’s really important that people are getting familiar with these terms and concepts. However, I believe it’s my role and the role of the people in the same line of work as me to not let these terms become a trend and to make sure that we’re getting the true meaning of “sustainability” across. That’s why I’m careful to not throw around words like “sustainability” and “SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals)” around so lightly. I find it worrying when words start trending and take on wrong meanings, which is why it’s so important for us to study the terms and concepts properly and be mindful of their delivery.

Q: What are some difficulties you have experienced while running a sustainable company?

The main difficulty is that Japan’s fashion industry hasn’t adopted many sustainable practices yet. When we try to do things here in Japan that is done conventionally overseas, we often run into the issue of lack of up-to-date technology and skills to achieve the same results. Fabrics and materials that are deemed sustainable have been popping up here and there, but it’s nothing compared to what is available overseas. As a company that produces clothing, that’s our biggest hurdle.

Q: Have you experienced any struggles mentally while running a sustainable company?

I haven’t experienced any while running a sustainable company, per se, but I can say that there are plenty of struggles that come with owning a business. It’s not like a corporate company where different people take on certain roles; I call all the shots and there is no one to fall back on, so sometimes that pressure can really take a toll on me mentally. But more than anything, I’m grateful for the life I live now as part of the “tackling social issues with fashion” movement, as I’ve been passionate about it since my twenties.

Q: Lastly, do you have any practices that help you cope with the various pressures of being a CEO?

I always acknowledge and validate myself. I’m the kind of person who likes to look at the people around me and on the street and appreciate that they are all working so hard, so I always try to do the same and give myself a gold star when I can. I’m also the only one running the company, so it gets quite physically draining to set up pop-up stores, stand in the stores, and other business-related duties. To cope with this, I make sure to rest properly; when I get in the bath, I tell my body, “Thank you for always working so hard”. I think it’s because of this that I’m able to stay pretty healthy and sound emotionally and physically.

Ms. Ayumi and her company coxco “media in the form of fashion” work to convey various social issues through clothing. She provides people with the option of environmental- and future-conscious consumerism.

Ms. Ayumi also runs the non-profit organisaiton DEAR ME, striving to create a sustainable society through “Better Fashion” for a “Better Future”.

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Translated by Ariel Tjeuw

Edited by Emiru Okada

Graphic by Emily Mogami

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