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Nagoya dye house looks abroad to keep traditional black in fashion

Chunichi Shimbun

A dye house in Nagoya that specializes in kuro montsukizome, the dyeing of black-crested formal kimono that has been practiced since the Edo Period (1603 to 1868), is working on selling stoles and T-shirts that make use of the same technology.

Yamakatsu Senko Co., based in Nishi Ward, was also featured at the world’s largest fashion fair in the United States at the end of February.

With demand for kuro montsuki (black formal kimono) dwindling, the company, established in 1919, is seeking to keep the tradition alive and to revitalize the industry by adopting contemporary fashion.

Tomoaki Nakamura, 36, the fourth-generation president, works on the dye while his brother, Takehiro Nakamura, 39, is in charge of design and sales. The company currently has a staff of 18.

Takehiro initially trained under Osamu Nakamura, their late father and former president, but the two clashed due to disagreements over management policies, and Takehiro left the company.

In 2005, when Osamu was diagnosed with cancer, Tomoaki joined the family business, feeling he should help his father.

After Osamu passed away in 2013, Tomoaki took over the business and the following year Takehiro quit his job and rejoined the company.

Nagoya , like Kyoto, used to be known as a manufacturing region of kuro montsuki. In its peak in the 1970s and ’80s, there were close to 100 dye houses in the city. However, the number has now fallen to less than 10, due to a drastic decline in demand and lack of people to run the businesses.

As the industry is struggling to remain afloat, the two brothers decided to create “something that can be worn daily and does not cost a lot of money to create,” and began selling stoles dyed in their own workshop online two years ago for ¥15,000.

The company also started to see opportunities when Mitsukoshi department store in Nagoya began selling the stoles, which come in a wide variety of patterns, for a limited period in spring and autumn, with 30 to 60 pieces sold per season.

What attracted people was the deep color tone that is unique to kuro montsuki, which is created by adding a small amount of red and blue dye to a black base. The dyeing process takes time, which produces a darker, clearer black than printed fabric.

Since the dye work is done manually, the company can accept smaller orders in a bigger variety. They were also helped by the recent trend in the fashion industry toward traditional craft works.

“I hope kuro montsuki will catch the eye of the younger generation,” said Tomoaki.

With the aim of expanding sales abroad, Takehiro obtained a subsidy from the government last autumn to visit the United States.

The fabric earned the support of a designer of a brand based in New York who said the simple black and white pattern will take off in the U.S. as well, and the two companies agreed on jointly developing products.

They featured T-shirts and stoles at a fashion fair held in the U.S. last month and received a few orders from U.S. retailers, with prospects to expand sales channels in the country.

“We want to create an environment where we can hire young people and enliven the local area,” the two brothers said.

They also plan to hold more dyeing demonstrations in Nagoya to promote their traditional techniques.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 8.