MICHIYO INABA WANTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD PT. 2

Michiyo Inaba began appearing on local news channels as early as 1997, and would continue to appear periodically in the years that followed. While she was originally asked to simply explain her runway collections, Michiyo’s talks expanded into scarf design, digital integration into the modern world, and the reinvigoration of Japan’s silk industry. Simultaneously, Michiyo also began serving on lecture panels, which offered her another avenue for explaining her vision to enthusiastic listeners. Her first major invitation came from her alma mater, Vantan Design Institute in Shibuya, where she participated as a judge for several student design contests, and was subsequently invited back to teach a course of her own in 2002. She was invited to a number of other institutions after this, including Nakahata Elementary School and Takizawa Gakuen Chiba Vocational School. Michiyo made appearances at a handful of small panels in the following years, but by the 2010s she had aspirations of involving herself with the larger commerce industry in Japan. She was invited to an event held by the Yokohama Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2011 and 2012, which was created to bring together young, innovative businesses and thinkers to talk about how to “energize” the industries of Yokohama.     

Michiyo Inaba moved into costume design as early as 1999 with small TV commercial credits, but took on greater responsibility when she was hired to design costumes at the Yokohama Carnival in 2002. She revamped her carnival designs in 2003, and later in the year created the marching band’s outfits for Japan Aviation Academy, the largest of its kind in the country. Michiyo’s affinity to emerging Japanese musicians during this period was strong. She had featured the visual kei band TAIZO in AW99/00 FEELER and again in AW00/01 MELT, but now was more interested in bringing her designs to the artist than the artists to her runway. For the next eight years Michiyo’s custom work was worn by a range of Japanese musicians, from classical violinists to R&B vocalists. 

Michiyo’s uniform design is just as prolific. Her interest in controlling the healthy spread of technology discussed in the part one of this article led her to NTT DATA, a relatively massive corporation for Japan that serves global clients in IT innovation and, as of 2019, garnered a net income of ~$21.4 billion USD. Of course, this wasn’t the case when they hired Michiyo in 2004 to design their SS and AW uniforms, but NTT DATA boasts 31 years of substantial expansion. Just as Michiyo Inaba’s reach extends as the years go on, her collaborators and clients expand as well, proving that Michiyo has a shrewd eye for recognizing potential growth and success. This makes sense looking back at observations and predictions she made at the turn of the century, regarding the negatives of unbridled technology consumption (which I discussed in part one of this article pair). In 2007, Marriott-owned luxury hotel chain Sheraton chose Michiyo to design the uniforms for the entire staff at their Yokohama Bay location, one of the most prominent locations for visiting business-people to patron, positioning Michiyo to have her designs represent Japan’s professionalism and luxury to visiting foreigners. The following year, Michiyo returned to Japan Aviation Academy and designed the entire male wardrobe. 

It’s clear that Michiyo Inaba is trying to use her skill set to not only bolster Japan’s image, but invigorate their economy. Her runway shows began during a period of readjustment, and she wants to make sure that this pause on Japan’s growth won’t happen again. Silk is a major interest of Michiyo’s, which is easily justifiable through surface-level research. During the early twentieth century Japan was the largest producer of natural silk on the planet, as both the European and Chinese silk industries faltered. At its most successful, silk made up over a third of Japan’s total exports. During World War Two, countries began realizing the benefits of synthetic fibers: mainly, their strength, practicality, and low price point. Much of the world turned away from importing and exporting with Japan during this time, and when embargoes lifted years later, Japan’s silk industry was decimated. Since the beginning of her career, Michiyo has been working on revitalizing the industry by experimenting with synthetic or lab-grown silks. As mentioned in my previous article, her first venture was the collaboration with Komatsu Textile Industry Cooperative for YURAGI in SS01, during which garments were made using their water-washable silk. Twelve years later, having departed the runway, Michiyo created one of her most ambitious and longest running projects: the Japan Silk Protecting and Raising Association. This project aims to shed light on the various possibilities silk offers as a fabric, commodity, and food ingredient. 

Michiyo truly stepped out of her comfort zone when she launched Cocoon Project, a reaction to her desire for bringing domestic ingredients and food back to the rapidly commercializing Japan. In 2009, Cocoon Project collaborated with chef Yoshi Sonseki on seafood dishes that included silk powder. It served as an experiment to gauge the interest of consumers, and upon receiving positive reactions, Michiyo Inaba brought her ideas of domestic ingredients mixed with silk to create traditional Japanese cuisine to a number of other cafes, and eventually, the Argentinian and Australian Embassies. Michiyo was able to show foreign representatives that Japan’s relationship with silk was not limited to just clothing, but could reinvigorate traditional meals.

In October of 2020 Michiyo Inaba was appointed to the directors board of the Tokyo Fashion Designers Council, joining the ranks of an organization founded by Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Mitsuhiro Matsuda, Hanae Mori, Kansai Yamamoto, and Yohji Yamamoto. The organization represents the top individuals of the field, and Michiyo Inaba is more than deserving of a place among them. Her runway collections–which, for some designers, would be their crowning achievements–were only jumping off points for a dynamic and fulfilling career, one that is far from over.