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Mima Osawa, 27, grew up splitting her time between New Zealand and Japan. After a chance encounter with a textile shop in Nagano Prefecture that specialized in selling deadstock fabric, Osawa was inspired to start Mono Handmade, a specialty clothing line that upcycles fabric, to do her part in making the fashion industry more sustainable.

Sense of style: Mima Osawa creates garments with an eco-conscious approach for her clothing line, Mono Handmade.
Sense of style: Mima Osawa creates garments with an eco-conscious approach for her clothing line, Mono Handmade.

1. Where did you grow up? I was born in Japan and grew up in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Surrounded by nature (and sheep, of course), we had a lot of freedom and didn’t need much to be happy.

Just as you imagine New Zealand to be, it’s the most beautiful place. I’d immerse myself in nature by going camping with family, and soaking in the sun at the shore with friends. My backyard was my escape.

2. What brought you to Japan? Being raised in a culturally diverse family with Japanese, Maori and European backgrounds — the other half of my family is in Japan. Going back and forth between New Zealand and Japan has always been a routine for me.

3. When did you have your “fast-fashion awakening”? During a visit to my grandma’s hometown in Nagano Prefecture, I walked into a textile store only to discover that the collection of fabrics it provided was all excess discarded from other larger producers in the fashion industry. It was shocking to see the endless piles, all of which were in perfect condition, just sitting there collecting dust.

From then on, I started to research the impact of the fashion industry (on our planet), only to be more shocked by the data and statistics.

4. Did that inspire you to start Mono Handmade? Yes, 100%. If I’d never set foot in that store, I wouldn’t have been as aware of the industry as I should be. It’s also thanks to my mom, who has impeccable skill in making clothes; her love for sewing must have rubbed off on me. Consequently, the choice was simple for me to take sustainability into my own hands and to create pieces with an eco-conscious approach.

5. Is there a story behind the brand name? “Mono” means “one.” Each Mono piece is handmade, making it unique. No two handmade items are ever the same.

6. How would you describe “deadstock” to someone unfamiliar with the term? “Deadstock” is the leftover inventory that is unused or discarded. In the fashion industry, the key causes of deadstock can range from fabrics or clothing having small imperfections to companies overestimating their orders.

7. What does the fashion industry need to do to become more ethical? We need to design new ways of producing and consuming fashion that excite and inspire without causing irreversible damage to people and the environment. This involves considering key factors like ethical labor, sustainable fabrics, a zero-waste philosophy and so on. It’s crucial to build more awareness so we each have a better understanding of what we can do to help and contribute positively.

8. Where does Mono Handmade source its fabrics? Currently, all fabrics are sourced in Nagano Prefecture. I live close enough to be able to handpick each textile, selecting materials of high quality. With the suppliers having the same goal of repurposing and giving these fabrics a second chance, rather than going to waste, my relationship with suppliers has developed organically and naturally.

9. How do you ensure the deadstock fabric you source is high quality? One of the first things to understand about ensuring fabric quality is knowing that different types of fabrics have different characteristics — so the standards apply differently for each. A few key areas I look at include fiber weave and color. High-quality fabrics feature fibers that are closely and tightly woven together, so I avoid any fabrics with obvious gaps or loosely packed yarns that indicate weakness of fiber quality. I also ensure evenness in the tone of colors throughout the surface of the fabric, avoiding any streaks.

Light feeling: Model Brennan Alexa shows off some of the garments available from Mono Handmade. | KENNA REED
Light feeling: Model Brennan Alexa shows off some of the garments available from Mono Handmade. | KENNA REED

10. Who designs the pieces? I design all Mono pieces. In a nutshell, the process involves (a series of) steps from brainstorming ideas with rough sketches to structuring the shapes — the stage of sampling the designs — to finally testing durability, strength, comfort and so on.

11. Do you have plans to scale up the brand in the future? Building this brand has been a natural process for me and I would hope to scale it up by doing my part in this industry. I’ll continue to play my part by creating sustainable pieces while creating more awareness about the impacts of this industry — and we’ll see where that takes us!

12. Is there a big style difference between New Zealand and Japan? In my opinion, yes. Japan has an incredibly lively fashion scene, and I love that people are very expressive through their fashion. At the same time, they’re faced with the danger of fast fashion, trends are very quick to come in and out.

The scene in New Zealand is different. People are less expressive through what they wear, but have more awareness of sustainability. There are many small startups, including fashion businesses that focus on making positive impacts, which is something I truly respect and admire.

13. How do you define “timeless fashion”? Timeless fashion is when a design has survived decades and the fast pace of the fashion world. In today’s fashion industry, what was four seasons has been turned into 51, so designs typically go out of style as fast as they come in. Timeless fashion, on the other hand, neither follows these trends nor loses its value or allure.

14. Do you think COVID-19 has changed clothing trends? I think COVID-19 upended fashion trends for the better. It has been a call to the fashion industry to slow down, move away from mass production and take positive action. Besides, consumers are stocking up on comfortable loungewear to work from home and are shopping less.

15. What’s the best thing people can do to prolong the life of their clothes? Garment care. Every garment will eventually wear out after repeated washes, but note that not all clothes have to be washed after every wear.

Also, depending on the material, some are designed to be washed by hand. If you must use a machine then use low heat and put delicate fabrics in a laundry bag to reduce tearing.

16. What’s one item everyone should have in their wardrobe? Linen clothes. I love an item where the more you wear it, the better it gets. Linen gets softer, silkier and forms a beautiful and natural wrinkle after every wash. It’s also a natural fiber with low environmental impact, giving you peace of mind.

17. Do you collect anything? I have a collection of fabric offcuts. While I try to upcycle deadstock fabrics for all Mono pieces, inevitably smaller offcuts will still be left after production. Instead of throwing them away, I keep the smaller pieces for smaller clothing items like pockets and hair scrunchies.

18. You have to “KonMari” your wardrobe and can keep three pieces. What are they? My classic, simple white T-shirt — one that I can reach for in a hurry. It’s a minimal piece that anchors statement pieces like printed or colored pants. Then, a high-quality, cozy coat that will stand the test of time. It proves a joy to pull out of the wardrobe every winter. Finally, a button-down shirt that was handmade by my mom. It’s something I’ve always valued, knowing the time and thought she put into it.

19. Is there anything you miss about New Zealand when you’re in Japan? Besides friends and family, I miss the Kiwi life — anything from eating fish and chips at the beach on a summer evening to having a perfect flat white — New Zealand has amazing coffee.

20. What’s your favorite word or phrase in any language, and why? My favorite Kiwi phrase — “She’ll be right” — which simply means that everything will be OK. It’s a popular expression used in New Zealand to emphasize an optimistic attitude to life. I love the simplicity of this phrase; it helps me to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For more information on the clothes Mima Osawa makes, visit monohandmade.com.

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