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Business Insight

Building an Indigo Bridge

A team of young Japanese entrepreneurs are working to bring a traditional art form to the world. They've launched indigo dyeing workshops in New York, hoping that expanded interest there will help revitalize the industry in Japan.

Participants at a workshop in Brooklyn are trying their hand at a technique that's thousands of years old.

"They're awesome," one participant said. "I love the color. I love that it's a natural dye. And I love the history."

Kakuo Kaji and his partners launched the workshops last month. They want to spark interest in indigo among New York-based designers and artisans in order to increase demand for their services which includes custom orders.

"Our goal is to spread the word about what we do," said Kaji. "Especially to people involved in the worlds of fashion and interiors."

The company, Buaisou, is based in the town of Kamiita. The area is Japan's largest producer of indigo. But the industry is in decline. An old barn is being renovated into their base of operations. The dyes used in New York are made here. Kenta Watanabe is the company's co-founder.

Local artisans are showing them the ropes, which involves everything from creating indigo dyes to the actual dyeing process.

Kaji and Watanabe view the New York connection as vital to their strategy. They feel that if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

"New York is a global information hub," Watanabe said. "If more and more people there learn about Japanese indigo dyeing, things may start to change back home."

Kaji has been scanning the city for business opportunities. The owner of Atelier Courbet has placed an order for indigo-dyed decorations for a luxury hotel.

"I think there is a true appreciation of indigo as a trend," said Melanie Courbet. "I think that people are curious and excited to learn about the techniques."

Back home in Kamiita, the young entrepreneurs are also enlisting local residents in their indigo campaign. Watanabe visited an auto repair shop. He asked the owner if he could dye the workers' uniforms with indigo.

"I'm more than happy to take part in the promotion," the owner said.

"It would be great if everyone used more indigo-dyed products," Watanabe said. "Thinking about that makes me happy."

The entrepreneurs hope that by building a bridge between America's largest city and a small Japanese village they'll be able to color the world with a deep shade of blue.

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