Lectures by Mr. Satoru Inoue, a Social Entrepreneur
Lectures by Mr. Satoru Inoue, a Social Entrepreneur
Lecture by Mr. Satoru Inoue, a Social Entrepreneur of the Fashion Industry, conducted on July 20, 2023
Mr. Inoue opened his talk by reading an excerpt from his book, mentioning the positive influence of his father’s life philosophy, his youth growing up in Denmark with his brother as an immigrant, and his journey from a graphic designer to a social entrepreneur. After becoming an accomplished designer in Copenhagen in his youth, Mr. Inoue shared that he chose to quit his job and created The Inoue Brothers… with his brother.
Both were unhappy with their lives at that moment and wanted to contribute back to society and help communities in need, deciding to do so through the power of design, the projects, and the mission of The Inoue Brothers... At first, The Inoue Brothers… was not a fashion company, only becoming one after the brothers met alpaca herders in Peru and were inspired by them.
It was at that moment that they saw that the alpaca herders, though dealing with a very valuable commodity, still lived in poor conditions. Through partnering with them, The Inoue Brothers… designed alpaca fleece sweaters, creating a business model that cut out the middlemen to make sure that the Peruvian workers could get a higher cut of profit on their production.
This kind of trade became part of the brothers’ way of business, being directly involved with their partners in the production and distribution of goods. Not only were fair and direct trade featured in their company’s mission statements, but they were also promoting sustainability and refusing money from profit-driven corporate investors.
Mr. Inoue highlighted that trust and sincerity are key in the world of business, and that design and branding should be done through empathy. To be a positive force of change is what drives The Inoue Brothers… to keep finding new communities to help (such as those affected by the Tohoku earthquake of 2011 in Japan, or Palestinian refugees), and create value through social design thinking.
Challenges of adopting a new business model. Opening the conversation to the floor for dialogue and questions from the attending students, Mr. Inoue was asked about the challenges he faced when deciding to enter the world of social entrepreneurship. While there were financial hurdles to overcome, the brothers utilized their own savings and personal time, working to make sure that The Inoue Brothers… could continue operating sustainably.
Stressing that perseverance is important, he mentioned that, if something is your passion, it will never feel like burdensome work, and that is how they were able to grow their business positively. On a more challenging question, a student asked if the workers from the communities that The Inoue Brothers… help would be able to afford their products. Mr. Inoue explained that the workers, as well as himself, are not his target market. Through selling his high-end, expensive goods to wealthy customers, The Inoue Brothers… is able to use that money to help the workers, and improve their communities’ well-being. In that sense, he believes his company is acting as a positive force, one that helps in wealth redistribution.
As a closing note, Mr. Inoue mentioned the importance of achieving the SDGs, stating that the most essential ones to tackle are fighting poverty and promoting gender equality. The social entrepreneur said that no sustainable development in the world can exist while people still struggle to attend to their basic needs, or where women are not treated equal to men. By empowering women and eradicating poverty, Mr. Inoue believes that a sustainable world can finally be within our reach. It is up to each individual to do his/her part to help.
- Your dedication in creating a brand that embraces both Japanese sensibility and Scandinavian simplicity is truly commendable. The concept of "Scandinavian design" resonates deeply with me, as it beautifully blends the best of both cultures.
- The social design and art projects you have initiated, such as the Tatreez Project, the Natural Pima Cotton Project, the Tohoku Project, and the Alpaca Project, showcase your commitment to responsible production methods and the preservation of indigenous heritage. It is heartwarming to witness your studio establishing strong bonds with various communities and supporting them through your collaborations.
- The Vicuña Project, with its focus on the finest animal fiber and ancient Incan ceremonial shearing, is indeed a testament to your pursuit of uniqueness and quality throughout the supply chain.
- I am truly inspired by your mission and vision, and I commend your efforts to create awareness of responsible production methods through quality and design. Your dedication to ethical practices sets an example for others in the industry.
Lectures by Mr. Satoru Inoue, a Social Entrepreneur, on Dec. 9 on 2020 and January 6 on 2021
Sustainability has become an important issue only because of the current environmental situation in which we are all in together. The word ‘crisis’ is probably a more fitting word for it. A crisis that we human beings have created and therefore the solution must come from us as well. As long as we keep a “buy, use and discard” mentality, it doesn’t matter how sustainable the production-methods are, it will not solve the fundamental causes of the problem.
Sustainability is a state of mind and starts with the individual, in the family and with our local community. It is a challenge rather than a sacrifice. It can be fun and life-affirming and not a burden. It must be rooted in human qualities such as empathic caring, gratitude, creativity, and courage.
True sustainability should be a win-win for both you and the planet as a whole. Youths and women must be empowered since they will play some of the most crucial roles in changing our values from a growth-related economy to a cyclical economy and from the profit-first orientation to a welfare-first worldview.
If we all change our habits just a little, it will accumulate and create a huge overall change.
- “I was deeply inspired to become a Social Entrepreneur myself.”
- “It was such a pleasure to have this golden opportunity to listen to a successful entrepreneur on how they overcame obstacles they faced throughout the journey.”
- “The session was really interesting and it gave me a real insight into the real world business.”
- “It gave me hope that there are businesses out there that genuinely work for the betterment of people and the planet.”
- “What struck me the most about what Mr. Inoue said is that it all boils down to the gratitude for being a part of life, of being a part of humanity, for living in this planet, and that our existence depends on the resources available to us in the world.”
- “Mr. Inoue shared his vision and his belief of the importance of thinking about the impact that we are creating. It is not always about profit and money, but the changes that each of us could create as an individual. I think this also correlated with Soka University’s principle of value creation. I will always remember this throughout my life and in my future job to create changes in our society.”