YAMMA is a brand established by the designer, Nana Yamasaki in Tokyo, 2008.
She used to be a student of contemporary art and stage design including costumes, but when she became a mother, in order to secure some time to spend with her child using her skills, she came up with an idea to start up a fashion brand of her own.
There was a reason for her starting at first with art and stage design and not with fashion designing, despite her love for fashion.
There were so many things around the fashion industry that she just could not bear: the endless chase after the trend, the shock of seeing something you bought at regular price being sold at a bargain price, or the sadness of seeing things no one bought left on the shelf.
She felt a bit intimidated entering the world of fashion at first, but soon she realized, “maybe I should think of a way so that those things I cannot bear won’t happen, a way to make things in unconventional method.” She came up with an idea to start an industrial revolution in the fashion world.
How could we produce goods with the least amount of waste possible while keeping the efficiency?
When she contemplated on this issue, what came to her mind was her mother.
He mother was a dressmaker. When she was a child, there was a professional spec sewing machine at home, with which her mother was always sewing someone’s dress.
Naturally, she grew up in the clothes her mother had sewn for her.
The memory had led her to hit upon the idea of commissioning the production not to some random factory, but to grandmas with sewing skills; to someone like her mother who lives in the neighborhood.
She first went to the municipal office. They had a department dedicated to taking care of the local elders. She told them that she wanted to commission sewing work to those grandmas with the skill, and had them put out recruitment ad.
To her surprise, total of thirty grandmas answered to that ad.
That was in 2007. Her company was not yet established, and in order to see if it was really possible to work with those grandmas, she started a trial run.
As it turns out, the army of grandmas was reduced down to ten of them in six months.
Many of the grandmas from this generation have had the experience of taking vocational training when they were schoolgirls. Combining benefit and self-interest, they had been continuing to practice the dressmaking. However, even though they had the skill, it was hard for most of them to work for her company.
“I thought this would make it better…” “No, no. I need you to do it as instructed!” “I just didn’t have time to do it…”
“Then don’t take it on yourself to begin with!” That was how the group went down to ten people, but still, she thought there was a good chance she could pull it off.
In January 2008, when she felt confident to start the business with the chosen grandmas, she established her company, “YAMMA SANGYO,” with its flagship brand, named “YAMMA.”
The word “SANGYO” means “industry” in English. The reason why she had put the word in her company name was because she wanted to keep her first inspiration: to start an industrial revolution.
So, Nana Yamasaki and the grandmas started YAMMA SANGYO together.>
Soon after the start, grandmas told Yamasaki that the product did not have to be all the same color. Although she was aiming to distinguish her products from any ordinary factory-made ones, she naturally thought that it would make things easier if she produced batches with the same color. She was placing orders just as any ordinary apparel maker would, limiting colors to just a few. 30 of this design in white, another 30 in black and 20 in gray, and so forth. Then a new opinion came from the grandmas, insisting that “sewing the same color all the time is boring!”
Of course, everyone in the team later ends up regretting this suggestion.
“Wow! Are you really willing to sew with different colors of thread? Isn’t it a lot of trouble to switch threads?” Yamazaki would ask, and they answer not to worry.
“If that’s possible, why not we stop randomly choose the colors on our side but make it a made-to-order option and have the customers directly pick the colors they like from various selections!”
And so, YAMMA’s pronominal “special ordering session”-style dressmaking began, in 2009.
Started out with three stores in the Kyushu area, where Yamasaki’s parents lived, today the ordering sessions are held in approximately 40 locations nationwide.
Merits of the “made-to-order” dressmaking are reduction of waste, which allows the reduction of the cost, and the flexibility that allowed customers to make the shape they like in colors they like.
The demerit, on the other hand, is that it required a long, long waiting period.
After twelve years of operation, the demerit has never been optimized, but rather as a result of increase in demand the work became even harder, requiring even more time now since weaving of the fabric doesn’t start until receiving orders.
YAMMA’s clothes get to the customer approximately six months after placing the order. For that reason, Yamasaki takes into account and makes sure that the design of her products would be universal, something that can be worn for a long time and comfortably, regardless of the wearer’s age, and something that never goes out of style.
One of the first goals, reducing of waste, has been achieved, all thanks to the understanding and patience of customers.
Prior to shipping, all YAMMA clothes are sent to the studio in Tokyo, where each of them is hand-washed and sun-dried by the staff as a part of quality inspection. At the end of every month, products are delivered to various places in Japan.
Only the so-called “B-grade” products, which had problems such as mis-weaved, damaged or unevenly dyed spots on the fabric, are left behind.
Those B-grade products are also eventually sold at proper prices as “imperfect products,” in sample sales or other events held several times a year.
Since its start in 2008, YAMMA has successfully gained understanding, increased the numbers of customer and grown smoothly.
Then, an incident occurred in 2014.
YAMMA’s dressmaking has always employed a traditional textile woven in Fukushima, known as “Aizu-Momen (Aizu Cotton).”
It started in the second year of their operation when one of the fans of YAMMA had suggested, “since it is sewn by the Japanese, why not use Japanese textile.” Yamasaki, who has valued the works of grandmas, thought that it would be a good idea to make things with a type of textile that is more durable and, if possible, has some significant meaning. She lost no time in going to check out the “cotton textile that has been used for farm working clothes.”
That fabric was “Aizu Momen.”
It was love at first sight for Yamasaki. In the spring of 2010, she immediately started dressmaking using Aizu Momen.
Almost exactly a year later, the Great East Japan earthquake hit.
By then, merchandise made with Aizu Momen had already become the representative product of YAMMA. Customers were saying, “I will come back for those Aizu Moment products,” or “I saw my friend wearing the clothes made with Aizu Momen and I want it, too.” By changing the traditional fabric from something somewhat inaccessible to a familiar piece of clothing, the needs for it started to increase steadily.
Fortunately, the city of Aizuwakamatsu, where the factory for Aizu Momen was, was located in the deepest inland of Fukushima, and suffered very little damage from the earthquake. The surrounding high mountains such as Mt. Bandai also protected the city from the effects of radiation.
Although Fukushima attracted much and mostly negative attention from the disaster, support from various quarters were offered to revitalize the Aizu region, where people stayed in good spirit and the city in relatively good shape.
Special procurement demand for the earthquake damage recovery has brought in a boom to Aizu Wakamatsu.
Then the tragedy hit. The president of the Harayama Textile Factory, the largest producer of Aizu Momen, had suddenly died from overwork.
Only at the young age of forty-four, just when he and Yamasaki were planning together to expand the enterprise and to advance into overseas markets, teh president Kosuke Harayama passed away.
“Just do as you please, Yamasaki-san, we'll be sure to make and deliver.”
Those were the last words the president said to Yamasaki, when they met for the last time.
Following the earthquake, Harayama Textile Factory was doing their best in delivering the textile to YAMMA, even after all of their stock that used to be piled up were gone.
And in December 2014, Kosuke, the young president who just succeeded the family business, left us too early.
Old in age and bereaved of their son, there was nothing his family could do but to close down the business a few weeks later.
Yamasaki stepped in there by herself, trying to see if there was any way she could convince them to continue their business.
After having many talks with the main members of the family owned Harayama Textile Factory, Yamasaki and the cousin of the former president eventually came to establish a company named HARAPPA to take over the factory’s business in March 2015.
Six months later, with the approval and wishes of the employees, Yamasaki, along with her daughter, left for New York according to the plan.
It was the beginning of “YAMMA SANGYO INC. in US.”
The rest of the story will be too long to post here, so please ask Yamasaki directly when you find her.
2008 YAMMA SANGYO starts
2014 YAMMA SANGYO Inc. established
yamma sangyo inc (U.S. corporate) established
2015 HARAPPA Co., Ltd. Established
Nana Yamasaki moves to New York with her daughter
“Things we can do together; between you, us and them.”
YAMMA aspires to support decency in manufacturing by stepping in between the makers and users.
“Long-cherished things become long-cherished experience.”
Long story short, what Yamasaki aims to create as a designer can be defined simply as “things that can be used for a long time.”
Of course, there is naturally the matter of aesthetics: it should be beautiful when worn. However, it is equally important for her to achieve the long-lasting validity both design- and material-wise.
When you use something for a long period of time, cherishing and taking care of it, it eventually becomes something you can be proud of about yourself. Yamasaki used to own a button-down shirt, which she wore for over twenty years. She wore her favorite shirt until its collar was about to fall off at the end.
It always pricks your conscience when we throw away usable things simply because they got old. On the other hand, continuation, --doing or using something for a long period of time, does give us a sense of self-confidence.
Hence, Yamasaki came to think that things that can be used for long time will ultimately become the fact in the lives of the users, that they were able to and had used it for that long period of time. She therefore aims to create pieces of clothing that are durable enough to support such life events.