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Fashion designer Saleem d’Aronville

JUDIT KAWAGUCHI

Saleem d’Aronville is a British fashion designer based in Tokyo. In 2003, he launched Orihica, a brand he developed for Aoki Holdings Inc., one of Japan’s top fashion retailers. As its creative director, Saleem built Orihica into a major label with 65 stores around the country. The brand’s beautifully tailored suits and shirts, made unique with fine detailing, are a hit with business people looking for a stylish fit without digging too deep into their pockets.

Honesty will get you anywhere — even to the top! I have loved clothes ever since I was a child. After I graduated university in fashion design, I got a job in London at a retail store with 16 shops. After a few months, the owner asked 12 of us what would we like the most if we had all the money in the world. Some mentioned holidays, buying cars, etc. But I said I would want to buy his company and sit where he was. At the end of the meeting he told me to stay behind. All the others were thinking that this was the end for me — but at that point he made me creative director and gave me the highest salary in the company! I was just 22.

The minute we say “we know it all,” we’re dead. It’s not life if it’s that boring.

Once one’s reputation is gone, there’s not much left. The public all over the world saw how bad the press reports were about the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and the tsunami. Even good press lost credibility because they inaccurately reported the nuclear disaster. They were as bad as the tabloids! Now I consider The Guardian newspaper on the same level as the Sun or the National Enquirer, except the tabloids are a lot more entertaining.

If you don’t think about yourself, others will always remember you. No matter how tough business is, there’s no reason to get tough with others. Always be nice and polite, it gets things done faster and makes everyone happy.

If one has to be in a disaster, the safest place on earth is definitely Japan! If some horrible event or disaster happens, the Japanese will do the best job to fix it. They are methodical, orderly and detail-oriented, not to mention that they turn into heroes to save others. I’m sure that Tepco is handling the nuclear power-plant problem better than any other company would elsewhere.

Don’t think like a foreigner in Japan, think like a Japanese. In the beginning, the foreign media scared me with their stories. But the more I checked the Japanese media, the more I realized that seeing the situation from the inside was better than peeking in from the outside. Many people respect the Japanese media more now than before.

There’s nothing you can do with fate. You can never be too careful, but there’s not much you can do when a 37-meter tsunami comes along.

I figured out early on that doing business in Japan was my dream. In the 1980s all my British colleagues focused on developing their businesses in Europe, but I liked Japan and started exporting clothes to Tokyo. The Japanese were clean, honest, polite and disciplined, and with them, you always got paid in full, ahead of time. I loved it here. I still do.

Experience comes with age and enthusiasm comes with youth. If we find a balance between the two, we’re set.

We foreigners have benefited from Japan and Japanese culture for ages — now we must give back. European designers have been coming to Japan to get ideas, and they’ve been interpreting them into their designs and businesses. They’ve taken a lot, but so far, I’ve not seen examples of giving back. Now is the time!

Not every copy is a copy — sometimes it is the original. Westerners have been copying Japan for ages and those ideas turn into hits because foreigners are much better at marketing and PR than the Japanese. Sadly, when the original finally gets in the market place, the Japanese are called copiers. Just the opposite is true.

Japanese art is incredibly beautiful but hugely undervalued. Hokusai’s artwork should be as expensive as Van Gogh’s, but it’s not even close.

Japanese lack the commercialism of the West. Japanese don’t know how to convert their ideas for each market and they lack international knowledge. So, unless the Japanese government supports the Japanese industry to do better abroad, China will take over. But if we’re lucky, we could be the 51st state of the U.S.

Japan has the best talent and should be up on the world stage much more. The quality of fashion education in Japan is number one in the world. Here, students produce their own collections. Their skill and talent is amazing, but they can’t get jobs once they graduate. Big Japanese labels hire foreign designers — I’m one of them. Japanese can’t get work abroad either because Japanese fashion colleges are not accredited by Japan’s ministry of education, so their resumes look inferior to foreign university diplomas. They are not.

It’s hard work to get work done — except in Japan. Once I experienced living in Japan, I knew I couldn’t live anywhere else. Services are the best here so life is easy with no stress.

I live and will die in Japan, so I want to help Japan. I felt that way even before the horrible quakes and tsunami, but now I feel it even more. Do more!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan.” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com Twitter: judittokyo