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MN Inter-Fashion: Sustainable apparel for global markets

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Article - January 10, 2024

MN Inter-Fashion is not only a trader of functional textiles, it also has its own manufacturing capabilities as an OEM and ODM company, with a focus on sustainable materials.

HANAE MORI

“The cultural significance and emotional satisfaction derived from attire cannot be understated. These core tenets consistently guide us as we address environmental concerns.”

Shinichi Kihara, President of MN Inter-Fashion

Established through a merger of Nippon Steel Trading Corporation’s textile business and Mitsui Bussan I-Fashion Ltd., MN Inter-Fashion is a company that has taken strengths from both of its founding businesses to develop a wide range of solutions and products across manufacturing and retail, including high-performance garments, home linens and textiles.

“Prior to the merger, Mitsui Bussan I-Fashion occupied a median position within the textile industry. Following the merger, MN Inter-Fashion has ascended to the premier position within Japan, particularly in the domains of OEM and ODM,” says Shinichi Kihara, the company president. “Our significant scale underscores our unparalleled reliability, engendering confidence among prospective business partners. This expanded magnitude also affords us the latitude to assume greater risks, enabling enhanced investment capabilities and exploration of novel business models.”

With the fashion retail and textiles industries known for having some of the longest supply chains in the world – for which the industry has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years – the company is one that truly places value on sustainability, explains Mr. Kihara.

“It is crucial to understand the foundational priorities underpinning our garment manufacturing processes,” he says. “Foremost among these is the principle of protection. Unlike certain fauna, humans possess limited inherent protective capabilities, necessitating the protective role of clothing. Furthermore, the cultural significance and emotional satisfaction derived from attire cannot be understated. These core tenets consistently guide us as we address environmental concerns. When we develop materials, we try to develop sustainable ones such as recyclable materials that are derived from ocean waste. We also place a lot of importance on traceability, so we feel it is important to be able to track what comes from where, and where it goes. Ultimately, we value monozukuri, therefore we only produce what is necessary and fits the market.”

MN Inter-Fashion sits in a strong position within the sector in this respect, as it not only acts as a trader for functional textiles and materials, but also has its own manufacturing capabilities as an OEM and ODM company. Considering the three big industry trends of traceability, sustainability, and diversification, how does Mr. Kihara think the business model will evolve over the next few years?

“I believe that our company is in a very unique position because we oversee material production for fashion brands,” he says. “Essentially, we have a bird’s eye view of the industry, and it means we can see what should be combined and what new innovation is needed. We can analyze what combinations and collaborations might work out well and where new value can be created. In this sense, we identify with our role as a comprehensive engineering supply chain innovator. Currently, we demonstrate adeptness in addressing diverse requirements across various sectors. However, I posit that we can elevate our role, orchestrating industry-wide transformations and transitioning towards a more consultative capacity.”

One of the other major trends in the fashion retail market today is digitalization, with brands increasingly adopting e-commerce channels or digital stores. One of the impacts this is having is the relationship that consumers have with a brand. Again, MN Inter-Fashion is positioned well thanks to  its own branding business.

“Our core business is B2B but with the consumer power shift, we have now been challenged to understand the consumers more and get a better reading of what exactly they want. We have recently initiated our B2C operations. In alignment with this strategy, we have cultivated our proprietary brand and commenced its online sales,” says Mr. Kihara. 

With 11 overseas subsidiaries, the majority of which are located around Asia, including factories in Vietnam and Myanmar, international strategy also remains high on the agenda with the company focusing on global markets.

“Right now our overseas operations are focused on supplying to Japan so that is how we lay out our branches, however, we are also now looking at how we can sell overseas. With many asserting that the 21st century belongs to Asia, it is imperative for us to further our expansion efforts in this region. In the industry of apparel and clothing, having new ideas is very important, so in terms of having more exposure to those ideas we are looking at Europe, which we consider an extremely important market to strengthen our business. Of course, the U.S. is a huge market as well. There we are looking to find a reliable partner to build a strong alliance with.”

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