Send Out the Towels
Ikeuchi Organic is a Japanese company that makes towels like no other. Towels are not its only products, but towels are the company's core products. And what wonderful towels they are!
The company philosophy is totally organic. Certified organic: There are no chemical fertilizers or agricultural chemicals used on the farms for a minimum of three years. Fair Trade: The cotton used supports independence for farmers in disadvantaged communities in Tanzania and India. The cotton is woven into yarn locally before export, providing factory jobs with good working conditions. Much of the cotton has been sourced from the same farms for many years. Made with wind generated power: Became in 2002 Japan's first 100% wind powered factory.
The factory, too, is in Imabari, a part of Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku that is renowned for its towels. The looms used by Ikeuchi Organic are the world's finest, and the company was the first certified ISO14001 in the industry. It uses low impact dying methods, has been certified OEKO-TEX standard Class 1 (https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/manufacturers/concept/oeko_tex_standard_100/oeko_tex_standard_100.xhtml), the highest standard possible, which is deemed suitable for babies and toddlers less than 3 years of age.
A visit to their stores and a talk with their staff provides clear evidence that the company is truly committed to their philosophy. From the shop clerk to the PR Manager to the towel sommelier to the company president, every person in the company is passionate about their products, methods, and philosophy. Many companies say that they are "Human Centered." Ikeuchi Organic shows that the philosophy is more than just a slogan on the wall.
"A Towel to Enjoy Like Wine," says the material about Cotton Nouveau. I expected the towels to be pretty much the same. I was surprised by what I felt. The towels for each year of the series is unique. Although they are made of yarn of the same thickness, treated exactly the same way, woven in the same density, each year has a distinctive quality.
From 2011, the Cotton Nouveau series has been released, using cotton picked in the previous fall. Project Designer Rikki Sato provides the inspiration for the series, but the quality and taste of each year's vintage is a natural wonder. The year is woven into the fabric, so it can provide the perfect memento for a birth, marriage, or other commemoration.
Fueled by an innovative financing program, funding the farmers for their annual production before the harvest, Cotton Nouveau provides a tremendous value to every participant. The farmers win. Investors win. Producers win. And, especially, the customers win. Winning isn't everything, but it sure is sweet. Enjoy it like wine!
In addition to organic cotton, Ikeuchi Organic makes towels using Organic Bamboo rayon. Bamboo is used for several important reasons. Unlike wood forests, which take dozens of years to grow and can only be replanted productively over cycles of around half a century, bamboo forests become mature in 2-3 years.
The bamboo grown in Sichuan, China, is processed into rayon yarn in Japan. The fiber has a silky touch and, surprisingly, is nearly twice as absorbent as cotton. It also dries faster. The same absorbency enables the bamboo rayon to absorb dyes. The two-toned towels pictured above use bamboo rayon (on the left) and organic cotton (on the right). The towels is dyed at once, but the two materials absorb the dye differently, resulting in two different hues.
Ikeuchi Organic has, in addition to the Cotton Nouveau and Rima Fujita towels pictured at the top, using motifs celebrating Tibet (she loves traveling there) and the environment, many varieties of towels. There are ten main towel types, with different characteristics of texture (soft to firm), absorbency (quick drying to highly absorbent), and thickness. The choices allow for many people with different budgets. So much variety, in fact, that Mottainai (http://mottainai.info/english/), started by Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, John Masters Organics (https://johnmasters.com/), erbaviva (http://www.erbaviva.com/), Francfranc (http://www.francfranc.com/), and The Body Shop (http://www.the-body-shop.co.jp/) are among many companies that have offered collaborations with Ikeuchi Organic.
I can't say enough about how much I like Ikeuchi Organic. I want their towel blanket, mostly. But their towels, handkerchiefs, and bathrobes, too, are quite nice. Staying in one of the luxurious hotels that feature their towels - like Bijou (http://bijuu.jp/) in Kyoto - is one way of trying them out. But I think its about time we start throwing in the old towels and bring out the new ones. Or, I'll have to visit the store in Aoyama and do, as Yogi Berra (the famous NY Yankee catcher known for his humorous wisdoms) said, "The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase."
Visit them in Tokyo, Kyoto, Imabari, or online: http://www.ikeuchi.org/en/