The thinnest yarn-dyed silk fabric ever made. There is no better word to describe Kawamata’s fairy feather silk, from its production down to the final product, other than “special” – special raw materials, special technology, a special bond between those involved in its development, and a very special product guaranteed to make anyone who wears it feel special. Whew! That’s a lot of special right there!
Deemed the world’s most luxurious, most comfortable textile, silk is like no other. It’s smooth, it’s fluid; warm during winter and cool during summer. It’s hypoallergenic and won’t irritate sensitive skin. It also doesn’t crease easily nor lose its shape and has the most beautiful sheen.
Silk is a protein fiber secreted by certain insect larvae to form their cocoons. One of the world’s oldest textiles, it was first produced in China in 3630BC for the exclusive use of the emperors. In 300 CE, sericulture, or the cultivation of silk, spread to Japan with Kawamata in Fukushima Prefecture as one of its main players.
Legend has it that it was Otehime, the empress consort of Emperor Sushun (r. 587–92), who introduced sericulture in Kawamata. The silk developed and manufactured in Kawamata came to be known as “tate-kinu” and eventually became the region’s foremost product. A mid-seventeenth century document indicated that the town of Kawamata was known as early as the 1880s for its silk and was exporting silk internationally via Yokohama. As a matter of fact, almost half of the world famous Yokohama scarves, which at one point held an 80% share in the world market, were made from silk manufactured in Kawamata.
In 2009, with some prodding from renowned wedding dress designer Yumi Katsura, Saiei-Orimono Co., Ltd., one of the biggest producers of silk in Kawamata, started developing the fairy feather silk, the thinnest yarn-dyed silk fabric in the world. Katsura wanted a fabric that she can use to make a lightweight wedding dress so that brides can dance lightly in comfort.
According to Saiei-Orimono President Saito Yasuyuki, the name fairy feather was inspired by “the image of a feathery curtain of heat haze in the air, thin enough to blow away in a gentle breeze.”
To achieve the company’s vision, the sanmisan silkworm cocoon was chosen as the main raw material, a special kind of cocoon produced after only three molts as opposed to the usual four thereby producing fibers so fine it’s only one-sixth of the diameter of a strand of hair.
The threads produced are then wefted in alternating colors, creating a beautiful iridescent sheen that looks like it came straight out of a fairytale.
The technology that made the development of this textile possible has garnered several awards, including the Prime Minister’s Prize at the 2012 Monozukuri Nippon Grand Awards, an award presented by the prime minister himself to those who have developed cutting-edge technologies and products that are either the first of their kind or the number one in the world.
Despite the significant drop in the demand for Kawamata silk due to cheaper versions from other countries being created and, in part, because of the Tohoku disaster in 2011, the town of Kawamata hopes that this new world-class technology could boost the Japanese silk industry.
President Saito credits the creation of this one-of-a-kind textile to the special bond they’ve formed with everyone involved in the process.
“We could not have completed Fairy Feather without the generous assistance of the company dyeing the thread, the company that twists the thread, and the company that refines the cloth. Since the disaster we have all gotten used to hearing the word kizuna, the social bonds that tie us together. I believe that this fabric is truly a grand culmination of kizuna,” Saito explains eagerly in an interview with Nippon.com.
Good news for Kawamata is that at a trade show in Milan, Italy, in February, Kawamata’s fairy feather silk caught the attention of the globally renowned luxury brand Hermes, founded in 1837 and known for its high-quality handmade products.
After getting favorable results with the sample piece made with the fairy feather silk sent by Saiei-Orimono, a representative of the luxury brand visited the silk manufacturer’s headquarters in Kawamata in March and by the second week of April, Hermes has already ordered enough fairy feather silk to produce about 1,000 to 2,000 scarves.
Recently, an official agreement was drawn between the French luxury and Saiei-Orimono Co. to use its fairy feather silk as raw material to make Hermes’ carré scarves, one of Hermes’ most popular products which constitute approximately 12% of Hermes’ sales and was worn by famous personalities like Grace Kelly and Queen Elizabeth II.
With the attention that the fairy feather silk has been getting in the international market, industry leaders can’t help but have high hopes for Kawamata’s staple product.
An official person in charge of the prefecture’s product development and other strategies also hopes that getting utilized by a prestigious brand, Kawamata’s fairy feather silk will gain global recognition and eliminate any destructive misinformation about the products of Fukushima Prefecture.
The fairy feather silk carré scarves are expected to hit Hermes outlets all over the world in January 2018. Don’t forget to go and check them out!