Marui, L’Oreal putting their strengths to use in Tohoku



As the grip of winter takes hold in areas ravaged by the March 11 quake and tsunami, two fashion and beauty firms are lending their support and appear to be warming the hearts of people who have lost everything and are now living in temporary housing.

In the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki, where more than 3,900 people were killed or presumed lost in the calamity, a clothing donation event and the opening of a cafe with an accent on French culture have generated a lively atmosphere.

Marui Group Co., the Tokyo-based major retail firm that operates department stores in eastern and western Japan, has been holding a series of events in the Tohoku region to offer local people both new and secondhand clothing donated by its customers.

Nihon L’Oreal K.K., the Japan unit of the world’s largest cosmetics maker, L’Oreal S.A. of France, meanwhile opened the cafe Hana-So in late November to allow members of the community to gather and relax. The company also occasionally provides beauty services there, including makeup application and hand massages.

On a Sunday in December, 700 people flocked to a community center serving the city’s temporary housing complexes to seek out warm winter clothing at the Marui event, which was set up to resemble a bargain sale.

In the project dubbed “Power of Fashion,” they were able to choose from 10,000 items selected from some 580,000 pieces of clothing, underwear, bags and winter gear, including scarves, gloves and knitted caps donated by more than 53,000 Marui customers.

After picking out 10 items of clothing, including a coat, temporary housing dweller Yoshiyuki Takahashi, 70, said, “this kind of event is very helpful since it is getting colder and colder.”

A 48-year-old woman who came to the center with her 3-year-old grandson was also appreciative.

“We need as many winter clothing items as possible since everything was swept away by the tsunami. It would cost a lot if we bought all the items we get today,” she said.

Other participants said the event was worthwhile because a local shopping center that has resumed operations can’t fulfill their strong demand for clothing.

To provide a pleasurable shopping experience, Marui employees who volunteered to come to Ishinomaki offered advice on which items to select and used tape measures to make sure of the fit. A tent served as a fitting room and mirrors were plentiful.

Among those who made donations, a 50-year-old woman who used a suitcase to bring 15 items to Marui’s store in Shinjuku, Tokyo, from Yokohama said she wanted to offer the clothing because she hasn’t been satisfied with just sending monetary donations to the disaster area.

“I like the way this event is held as people can feel as if they went shopping. Compared with just sending cardboard boxes full of unsorted clothes, it will make a difference,” said the woman, who did not want to be named.

Another donor, a 51-year-old woman, said she sorted out items she will no longer wear in updating her wardrobe for the new season and wanted to have the clothing reused.

Donors received a ¥200 Marui discount coupon per donated item and store officials passed along the donors’ hand-written messages to the recipients. Their thank-you notes in reply are being displayed on Marui’s website and at the donation collection venues.

Marui spokeswoman Kaori Kutsuna said the company decided to organize the donation event because it had carried out similar projects in the past to promote reuse and recycling of clothes.

“At first, we just collected monetary donations at our stores, but we came up with the idea to take advantage of our own strong points,” Kutsuna said, referring to the company’s expertise in handling fashion items and organizing sales events.

Marui’s website says the company may hold similar donation drives soon.

Nihon L’Oreal, which contributed ¥100 million to disaster victims through the Japanese Red Cross Society, was also not content with merely sending relief money to the devastated area.

Klaus Fassbender, president of the Japan unit, said the cosmetics company wanted to develop “a sustainable project, something that contributes in the long run.”

The firm also “wanted to do something quickly” beyond a one-shot payment, because it takes time for donations through the Red Cross to be spent on a big project such as the construction of new hospitals, he said.

The idea of the community cafe was chosen because it would be “part of our communication culture.”

“Each of the subsidiaries of L’Oreal has a cafe and the cafe has the purpose for people to meet, to connect, to exchange beyond their functions. We thought . . . we could contribute to rebuilding part of the community” destroyed by the disaster in Ishinomaki, the president said.

In addition to managing the cafe, the firm has dispatched a bus functioning as a “mobile beauty salon” to the Tohoku region under a project called “Hairdressers for Hope,” which began in October. In the bus, local hairdressers, themselves affected by the disaster, offer haircuts and hair-coloring with the aim of serving 15,000 people in a year.

Fassbender said that as a beauty company, L’Oreal can offer unique services in times of disaster.

“You believe that by expressing your beauty through using our products, it makes you look good and feel better. When you are in a disaster area, the little things you can have, like a haircut and even like a touchup on your face . . . immediately bring back dignity and the normality to the people. That is our contribution,” Fassbender said.