Introducing Kazuyo Saka
On a sunny day in Tokyo, I visited Kazuyo Saka's high-end women's fashion store called Kana. A warm, sociable, social-media friendly Japanese entrepreneur, Kazuyo struck me as a woman I could truly look up to as an inspirational role model.
Kazuyo's Journey in the Fashion World
Kazuyo always had a profound love for fashion, and quickly began working for a small design company right after finishing school, similar to entrepreneur Yukiko Yamamoto. While there, she developed a keen sense of discovering high-quality and inexpensive raw materials, and finessed her design skills.
Over time, Kazuyo noticed a pattern — women in their late 30's and 40's were frequently complaining about the lack of appealing and fashionable clothes to wear. Not only did these women desire clothes that would cover up their additional weight and still make them look sleek, but they also had extra money to spend. Plus, Kazuyo had the desire to create beautiful clothes that she too, would love to wear.
Launching Kazuyo's Store
With an ideal target market and the desire to create truly unique clothes, Kazuyo launched her business in 2002 — an アトリエ, or storefront with a studio in the back, called Sa Kana Ltd.
Situated near Shirokane, Tokyo, Kazuyo gathered her own savings and received a generous loan from her husbands' parents to get her business up and running. She neither received any government or institutional money, nor did she waste any time in paying off her loans as fast as possible. At the time, the government was not even providing any money to first time founders, so had fewer financing options.
Armed with enough finances to get started and a deep passion for beautiful clothing, Kazuyo placed her child in daycare, and began working diligently to make her business both successful and adored by her customers.
Positive Attitude to Persevere No Matter What
Even when she hit rough patches, or had too many things to juggle, Kazuyo steadfastly stuck to her chosen path, never giving up amidst multiple obstacles. By sticking wholeheartedly to her chosen path, Kazuyo never gave up even when her husband complained, and never let go of her dream to create a sustainable business, doing what she truly loved to do.
While the couple is happily married, they had rocky times due to her strong will to keep going no matter what. Through sticking to her principles and maintaining her independence, even amidst societal and family pressure to give up, Kazuyo achieved her dream and remains an inspirational role models for other young Japanese women.
Advantages of Being a Woman
As a woman, Kazuyo felt that she had the ability to empathize with the women around her, allowing her to find a niche market and tailor her designs to exceed her target markets' expectations. Plus, she always felt that women are more observant of everything around them, allowing them to perceive unobserved needs before any one else. And I agree!
Women's intuition and an ability to observe everything around them, truly helps them succeed in their chosen career path, if they tap into and recognize it as a positive characteristic.
A recent study by the Harvard Business Review, demonstrates the positive economic impact of an increased number of women in management positions.
In Japan, only “2.5% of Japanese C-suite executives were women.” Most importantly, the study of 22,000 international firms “found that going from having no women in corporate leadership (the CEO, the board, and other C-suite positions) to a 30% female share is associated with ... a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm.”
If Japanese society and firms were to fully acknowledge and understand this fact even though it's a brand new study, then more Japanese women would be permitted to enter into leadership tracks right after graduating from college, and wouldn't be expected to get married, put off advancing their career to take care of the household, etc. Then they would have more opportunities to succeed in the corporate world and create more entrepreneurships, thereby accelerating the Japanese economy.
By creating a successful design business, Kazuyo has set herself apart from the majority of Japanese women.
How She Set Herself Apart from the Rest
Instead of just building a sustainable business, Kazuyo sought to create original designs, sell her creations at high-end department stores, and be blessed with fantastic staff members. With these goals in mind, Kazuyo worked exceptionally hard to make her wishes come true, selling only unique clothes that were sold in select stores around the country.
In her line of business, it is critical to create original designs. In such an environment, it also becomes necessary to rely heavily on one's staff. Thus, Kazuyo worked diligently to attract and hire the right people who were similar to her — sweet, affable, and hardworking.
With her staff, Kazuyo overcame her largest challenge to date — getting selected to sell her designs at high-end department stores such as Takashimaya. Through an introduction by a friend of a staff member and the hard work of everyone prior to the official meeting, Kazuyo won the deal!
For those who have a desire to start a business, but are battling with naysayers, Kazuyo provided sage advice. Instead of succumbing to pressure from the outside world to get married by the age of 25, work full-time as a housewife, or over-worrying about ruining the family's reputation with a failed business, focus on accomplishing the mission at hand — your business!
Kazuyo's words of encouragement were:
“If you want to start a business, and you have zeal and passion for the line of work, then work whole-heartedly on accomplishing your business plan. Then, use all of your persuasive powers to win over all of the naysayers.”
Nothing else matters until you succeed!
But growing up in Japan, comes with its own set of challenges. In Japan, if the entrepreneurship fails, it’d be difficult for both genders to secure another job. Plus, it causes negative ripple effects for the immediate and even extended family.
For Japanese women, starting a business has even more obstacles obstructing the path.
As ~57% of Japanese women do not work, and there is immense social and familial pressure to get married by the age of 25, have children, and then work as a full-time housewife, it’s difficult to step outside of this tiny box of opportunities. After all, who wants to disobey their family?
Women who do end up working after getting married and having children, tend to qualify only for part-time, dead-end roles. For example, my cousin has 3 children and works part-time at a nail salon to earn more money for the family. But, she also has the support of her parents who can pick up her children after school. And even if she were to work full-time, she’d still be responsible for ~90% of the household work.
As a result, many Japanese women choose not to start a business. So for those brave Japanese women, who do actually start a business, there is paramount pressure to succeed. And they do their very best to make sure that the business is successful.
What are Kazuyo's future plans? Easy. Her goal is to continue until her last dying breath, creating designs that her customers adore!
Armed with fantastic staff, 20+ years of experience in the design world, an observant mind that discovered an unmet need for an ideal target market, and extremely adept at the art of persuasion, Kazuyo excelled at a time when the majority of Japanese women were stay-at-home housewives.
With a never-give-up attitude and strong determination to succeed, ignoring all naysayers, and working exceedingly hard until she convinced everyone around her, Kazuyo established a prosperous business that she will continue into perpetuity. As such, she is a magnificent role model for both me and other Japanese women.
Sounds like something we can all work towards. After all, life is short. Why waste it doing something that you don’t want to do?
If you have a business idea that you are passionate about pursuing, then go for it! Life is meant to be enjoyed and without any regrets.