Misaki Tanaka is the founder of SOLIT Japan, a clothing brand that strives to be ‘all-inclusive’ — meaning that no one is left behind. Part of the company’s mission is to create a society in which the needs of a diverse range of people are met, while also taking into consideration the diversity of human needs and the global environment, including animals and plants. A comprehensive, circular company that strives to contribute to society not only through exploring alternative means of consumption, but also production.
By Shibaura House
Inspired by What Design Can Do’s No Waste Challenge, which took place in 2021, Misaki participated in an event called ‘The Design the World Needs’ held at Shibaura House in October 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. Having followed the activities of WDCD for over a year, she was impressed by the way its various challenges inspire innovation among designers and entrepreneurs from around the world, and how the organisation highlights innovative ideas in order to promote a more sustainable and circular future.
As founder and principal designer at SOLIT, Misaki has received a range of awards celebrating her work. She has been featured on Japanese national TV, and in 2022, she received the Design Hero designation from the famous Italian A’ Design Award & Competition. In the same year she also ranked third in the category Social Brand Design in the international Brand Design Rankings, receiving the Outstanding Achievement award for her work in creating inclusive fashion with an eye for sustainable production practices, and was the recipient of the prestigious iF Gold Award for her continued efforts in the field of social design.
Top: SOLIT clothes displayed in Tokushima, Japan. Bottom: SOLIT design solutions for easy fits and fastenings.
CLOTHES WITHOUT GUILT
Misaki’s personal mission is to make sure everyone has something to wear that is both fashionable and free of guilty conscience: ‘We have 5 sustainability guidelines at SOLIT. The first is that we only produce goods that are ordered, so we don’t create unnecessary waste.’ With more than 1,600 customisable design options in their range, each piece of SOLIT clothing can be adjusted to a client’s individual tastes and physical characteristics.
Clients are even taken along in the production of the clothing they order from the planning stage. In doing so, Misaki wants to solve the problem of over-production: ‘We deliver what is needed, in the amount needed, to the people who need it.’
The second part of the production process is also their second company guideline: producing custom-fit clothes. ‘Because we produce clothes in this way, we are able to extend the shelf-life of anything we produce.’ In doing so, SOLIT tries to avoid the most ecologically devastating effect of the fast fashion industry — short-term use clothing: ‘Once you’ve stopped using something, we recycle or repurpose our materials and try to create new value. That is our third company guideline.’
Misaki at Shibaura House, explaining SOLIT’s five sustainability guidelines.
Speaking to Misaki, you get a sense that everything SOLIT does is based on a deep respect for social as well as environmental wellbeing. They are committed to the idea that creating sustainable clothes does not end with the product itself, but must include those who are involved in the production process: ‘We also consider human rights in the production cycle. In order to become a socially equitable brand, you have to consider the effects that every step of the production process has on each individual involved. This is why our fourth guideline specifically mentions the protection of human rights.’
Misaki does not rely too much on the currents of fashion, or the latest trends. She nevertheless realises the importance of aesthetics when it comes to clothing designed for social needs: ‘In the end, a product needs to be attractive as well as sustainable. It cannot be one or the other, people should want it. That is why we try to make clothes that are genderless and timeless. Whatever we make for you, is yours alone. That is the beauty of our clothes.’
A CIRCULAR FUTURE IS MADE TOGETHER
Inspired by WDCD’s current Make it Circular Challenge, and by her participation in the events organised in Tokyo, Misaki has been contemplating further on the meaning of circular design: ‘I feel like I do have a bit of a different approach to how I see circular design through my own work, and how it is often presented by others. When I was first confronted with the idea, I felt that it was mostly about creating things that are produced without creating waste. I think that it is more than that. Circular thinking should include the needs of a diverse group of people, animals, and plants. Creating that, together, is what I think circular design should be.’
The SOLIT Aurora Tee and All Inclusive bag.
Besides working on their own collection, SOLIT also offers consulting services for other companies. Understanding that, in the end, economic interests are what dictate how sustainable design takes shape: ‘My aim is to realise a global economy where people, goods, and money circulate through the cooperation of companies, organisations, and local governments, and to sustainably expand such a society. To realise this future, I cannot work alone. We cannot work alone. That is why I continue to look for people who will stand up together with us, and help create a brighter future.’
Misaki is optimistic that the Make it Circular Challenge will inspire designers around the globe precisely this way: ‘It is a great opportunity to highlight your own work on the global stage,’ she notes. ‘Circular design is a concerted effort, so we need to work together to make it happen.’
Top image: Campaign imagery for SOLIT. All images by SOLIT Japan.