The Great East Japan Earthquake: The Power of Design – Creating product value from welfare facilities in Northeastern Japan

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, AAR has provided renovation assistance to some 80 welfare facilities which were damaged from the tsunami and earthquake so that persons with disabilities and the elderly would not be left behind in the wave of reconstruction. Although the wages for people working at such facilities were already as low as some 12,000JPY per month before the Earthquake, it has got even lower after the Earthquake, due to the sharp decrease in demand from companies selling their products. In order to address this situation, AAR, in cooperation with the global consulting firm Accenture, has engaged in activities since October 2012 which aim to provide fresh jobs to persons with disabilities working at these welfare facilities and also make their wages higher than the pre-Earthquake level. Ayana KISHIDA from Sendai Office reports.
19,286 people visited Interior Lifestyle Tokyo. Many came to the equalto product booth. (November 7, 2013)

"equalto" - a new brand emerged from welfare facilities

From January to February 2013, AAR and Accenture together called for entries of appealing product designs which welfare facilities are able to produce and are also cosy for the users (“Art Craft Design Award"). From the 382 entries from people all over Japan who wished to support the work of persons with disabilities in the Northeastern area, five were selected after assessment by prominent designers. Four welfare facilities in Miyagi Prefecture and Fukushima Prefecture were chosen as the bases for commercialization of these products. Although these facilities have so far produced accessories, T-shirts, woodwork, and leatherwork, as for producing these 5 products, we requested corporation from h concept Ltd which took part in the design assessment process. Through consultations with h concept, which plans, designs and sells various unique miscellaneous goods, on the appropriate manufacturing process and utilizing their know-how, AAR has succeeded in developing a working environment suitable for making new products at the welfare facilities. It has also improved manufacturing process in such a way that persons with disabilities can easily deal with a large amount of order inflows.
Mr. Akira MOURI, who is staff of social welfare corporation Madoka, is supporting the production of Braille T-shirts (Upper Right) and Red-Lined T-shirts (Lower Right). He told us that “Even one T-shirt involves many people through its manufacturing processes. Making T-shirts is a high wage job, so we would like to have more orders".

Ryokusenkai Pal Izumi, a social welfare corporation in Miyagi Prefecture, came to produce hand-stitched accessories (See photo below). Their job instructor Ms. Miki MIZUOCHI told us enthusiastically that “AAR staff came to visit us many times and adjusted the schedule in accordance with our progresses. We were able to incorporate a business approach to our own manufacturing process. Learning about distribution system was very inspiring." Nine months after the Award, five products were created under the stylish brand named “equalto", with h concept being their sales counterparts.

Ryokusenkai Pal Izumi, a social welfare corporation in Miyagi Prefecture, produces accessories according to each individual sewer's creativity. "I wake up in the morning, then think of how I would stitch today" a user of the corporation said.

Encouraged by visitors' reaction

These products were exhibited at Interior Lifestyle Tokyo, where manufactures had an opportunity to negotiate a deal directly with potential sellers, including department stores and retailers. It was held at the Tokyo Big Sight on November 6 – 8, 2013. Staff from the welfare facilities explained their products, and were delightfully surprised at how well-received their products were. Ms. Nobuko SEYA is a Director of “Ganbaro Kai Dandelion", an NPO located in Fukushima Prefecture which placed pen stands made from leather at the exhibit. She told us with confidence that “Before, we only made what we wanted to make. Now, (cooperating with AAR and other companies) we make what consumers want to buy".

Ganbaro Dandelion, an NPO in Fukushima Prefecture, where the users produce pen stands using leather (Lower Right). “Currently it takes 3-4 days to make ten of them. I want to double the speed as I get used to it," one of the users said.

"Ichijuen", a social welfare cooperation which is located in Miyagi Prefecture, received orders of 400 coin banks by the end of January. Its Director, Mr. Yoshihisa MUNAKATA was determined and said “We are pretty busy, but would definitely deliver the products on time so that we could have next orders". The continuous orders will bring jobs for persons with disabilities working at welfare facilities and consequently raise their wages to a large extent. Your support for equalto is greatly appreciated.

“When displayed in the exhibit, they looked so marvelous that I couldn't believe they were the same things I had always seen in our studio" said Director Yoshihisa MUNAKATA of Ichijuen, a social welfare corporation in Miyagi Prefecture, producing coin banks made from woods and papers (Right).

Website of "equalto"

Reported by: Ayana KISHIDA, Representative of Sendai Office
Ms. KISHIDA had worked at Sendai Office since July 2012 and was engaged in projects of supporting the areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. “Every disaster victim has his or her own needs and is at the different stage of reconstruction. I will try to provide necessary support that satisfy each person's need, by having careful conversation with them." Originally from Yamagata Prefecture.