Ms. Hiroko Samejima runs andu amet, a luxurious leather brand that uses exquisite Ethiopian sheepskin and is produced and distributed in Japan. Through APT Women, she re-discovered the value of her brand. “I want to create the next generation's luxury brand," she says. Her eyes looking at the future exuded her strength and dignity.
Look at your skills objectively, and seize the right moment for starting your business
In my 20s, I was a member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) and was sent to Ethiopia and Ghana as a designer. After that, I took a marketing job for a foreign brand before I founded my company in 2012. I was tempted to start a business right after completing the JOCV project, but I chose to work for a company first, as I thought I lacked necessary business skills. People often think that I started my company to promote international cooperation and assist developing countries, but to tell you the truth, that is not the case. I started my brand because I wanted to provide new values and show a way to happiness to Japanese people, who are constantly showered with materialistic things and information, through my products that use the best Ethiopian sheepskin. I think that is why I was able to objectively assess my skills against my goals and begin to see what I had to do at the time.
Pursuing more dynamic and free business
My values and views on business greatly changed through the APT Women's dispatch program to Silicon Valley. We are aiming to embrace social and environmental ethics in every process of our business, including material procurement. However, I was trying not to use the terms “fair trade" or “ethical" as much in Japan at the time, because people's reactions were not always enthusiastic. On the contrary, people in Silicon Valley were most interested in my company's social significance, rather than the quality of the products. I was very impressed by their philosophy, which places the mission before profits. Also, since I was a designer and an artist at heart, I often felt that I was not good enough as an entrepreneur in many aspects. However, through the program, I came to decide to take a more dynamic and free approach to my business, tapping into my strengths, rather than worrying about my shortcomings.
Take myself to different location
My favorite quote is from Jacqueline Novogratz, the CEO of Acumen, which is a non-profit organization investing in projects to fight against poverty in developing countries. “It is less risky to follow your dreams than not to. Life is about pursuing something that is bigger than you. That is the way to freedom." Actually, I had a chance to see her at a lecture meeting before I founded my company. I think it was because of her push that I could take a major step forward.
I tend to travel when I want some change, as being in different places gives me great inspiration. I have been to many African and Middle Eastern countries since I was young to see completely different cultures and nature from Japan, but after all these years, I'm beginning to see how interesting European and American are.
Making the next generation's luxury brand
Having worked as a designer inside and outside Japan, I found myself feeling growingly uncomfortable with the modern mass production and consumption model. I don't want to sell the 21st lipstick to someone who already has 20 lipsticks. I wanted to sell something that makes people truly happy and makes them want to keep for their entire lives. I think people tend to keep buying many similar things when they are not truly content with their quality, or with themselves. That is why I believe that high quality products that convey the creators' passion and stories can be “the next generation's luxury". I hope to continue to create and sell products that will make people who use them truly happy, incorporating Ethiopian nature and culture into the designs.
andu amet Ltd. CEOHiroko Samejima
Born in Tokyo. After working for a domestic manufacturer as a designer, stayed in Ethiopia and Ghana as a JOCV for about three years since 2002. After coming back to Japan, worked as a marketer for a foreign brand before founding andu amet in 2012. Opened the first physical shop in Omotesando in 2018.