1. Hataraku tote bags
    © METROPOLITAN EXPRESSWAY COMPANY LIMITED
  2. Nozomi Project
    Photo: Nozomi Project
  3. Plasticity
    Photo: Plasticity
  4. Ichie Ichie
    Photo: Ichie Ichie
  5. I was a Kimono
    Photo: I was a Kimono

Best sustainable fashion shops and brands in Tokyo

Tokyo is getting into the sustainable fashion trend with creative upcycling, and these brands are leading the charge

Written by
Kaila Imada
,
Tabea Greuner
&
Miroku Hina
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Tokyo truly has a vibrant and diverse shopping landscape, where you’ll find international luxury brands and domestic designer labels all mixed in with a plethora of vintage and consignment shops.

In recent years however, fashion waste has become a serious issue, especially with the heaps of disposable clothing and accessories coming out of the fast fashion industry. Although this global problem is a tough one to tackle overnight, a select group of brands and shops in Tokyo are heading in the right direction by focussing their attention on upcycling.

Here’s proof that being eco-conscious doesn’t have to be drab. These Japanese brands are giving a second life to broken or unsold products that would otherwise have gone to waste. From vintage kimono and clothing to smashed pottery and used plastic umbrellas, see how these unwanted items have all been upcycled and repurposed to make beautiful, inventive new products.

RECOMMENDED: Read our guide on how to go out safely in Tokyo

For the eco-warriors

Nozomi Project
Photo: Nozomi Project

Nozomi Project

Sue Takamoto launched the Nozomi Project to provide nozomi (hope) to Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture, an area devastated by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Local women craft necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other fashion accessories from broken pottery left in the wake of the disaster and sell them via an English-language online shop. The matching necklace and earring sets (from ¥5,300) make great gift options. However, we love the simple and timeless Misa cuff bracelets (¥5,000), featuring a little piece of pottery encased in a gold, silver or copper frame. Each product line is named after somebody important to the team, from family and friends to the local heroes who lost their lives during the natural disaster.

Plasticity
Photo: Plasticity

Plasticity

Cheap, transparent umbrellas are everywhere in Japan, but sadly, too many of them – about 80 million every year – end up in the bin. By upcycling discarded plastic umbrellas into cool, practical bags, sustainable fashion brand Plasticity aims to freshen up your look while tackling Japan’s plastic waste problem. The bags’ distinctive design is achieved by pressing together multiple layers of used umbrella canopies. These durable, lightweight and waterproof bags are available online in three different sizes: a mini sacoche shoulder bag (¥8,000) as well as small (¥10,000) and large (¥13,000) totes.

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Hataraku tote bags
© METROPOLITAN EXPRESSWAY COMPANY LIMITED

Hataraku tote bags

Even Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway Company is getting into upcycling with its Circulation Shutoko programme. One of its first products is the Hataraku Tote, a bag made from recycled tarpaulin street banners once used as road work notices and safety signs. Each of these durable, flexible and waterproof bags boasts a unique pattern of large numbers and bold kanji characters. Tote bags are ¥5,990, while the convertible backpack-tote will set you back ¥9,990. The bags are available online and at Rootote Gallery: Daikanyama Roo Street.

Ichie Ichie
Photo: Ichie Ichie

Ichie Ichie

Ichie Ichie deals in dainty bags and cases crafted from used obi – the thick sash that’s wrapped and worn over the waist of a kimono. At the online shop, you’ll find a range of handmade accessories; there are clutches and cosmetics pouches, plus bags in all shapes and sizes, from convenient cross-body styles to totes. The small hanko cases are especially popular. They’re usually used to hold the traditional Japanese seal for signing documents, but you could also use a hanko case to keep small jewellery or loose coins. Shop the collection online.

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Megumi Project Onagawa
Photo: Megumi Project Onagawa

Megumi Project Onagawa

The coastal town of Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture was badly hit by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Megumi Project Onagawa gives local women a source of income, hiring them to upcycle vintage kimono and obi (sashes for traditional Japanese dresses) donated from all over Japan into fashionable accessories. Shop for a large variety of shawls (from ¥3,800) and bags (from ¥4,800), or check out decorative items like pillow cases (from ¥5,000) and table runners (from ¥2,500). There are also beautiful journals with covers made from kimono fabric (from ¥2,300). Gifts from Japan don’t get much more authentic than this, and every purchase from the online shop contributes to the town’s recovery.

Comme ca Commune
Photo: Comme ca Commune

Comme ca Commune

Popular Japanese menswear brand Comme ca Commune has a new polyester shoulder bag made from recycled plastic bottles. Durable, lightweight and eco-friendly, the bag comes in three colours – beige, black and olive green – and retails for ¥4,599. It’s just the right size to carry your smartphone, wallet, keys and earbuds, and the water-repellent zipper will keep all your items safe and dry. You can find Comme ca Commune apparel online or at Shibuya Marui.

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  • Shopping
  • Shibuya

The kimono is a beautiful part of Japanese culture and heritage and it’s still a common fashion item worn to this day. Many kimono are kept in tip-top shape, but it’s inevitable that these things can get damaged or worn down with time.

Founded by Cristina Morini Sumi, who has a passion for antiques and Japanese culture, I Was a Kimono upcycles used kimono into gorgeous fashion accessories and home decorations. Think Christmas baubles draped with beautiful fabrics as well as earrings and necklaces fashioned from kimono-covered beads.

The kimono are sourced from various antique markets around Tokyo and are reinvented into new, modern forms in hopes of giving a new lease of life to items that were clearly originally created with much care. Recently, the brand has also been fashioning face masks made of vintage kimono, which have become a hit.

  • Shopping
  • Setagaya

This homeware and lifestyle store in Setagaya offers a mix of mid-century modernist furniture, tableware, fashion and even repurposed goods. Items in the store are sourced from across Japan – each has a label detailing its prefecture of origin, along with the date it was first made. We particularly love the range of satchels and From Lifestock tote bags made from deadstock fabric. There are jewellery and shoe boxes covered in the same upcycled fabrics, too – they’re so stylish you won’t want to hide them in the cupboard.

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Newsed
  • Shopping
  • Charity shops
  • Shinjuku

Remnants of materials used at factories, ‘dead stock’ products and other leftovers are all brought back to life through various projects thought up by the folks behind Newsed, a self-styled upcycling brand that takes regular old recycling to the next level. These prophets of sustainability not only resell old finds – instead, they add to them, taking things headed for the dumpster and turning them into brand- new fashion items.

Newsed’s funky, colourful and extremely popular badges and earrings are made of leftover acrylic materials from accessory factories, while the stylish bow ties give seatbelts sourced from a car facility a second chance. There are also seat cushions fashioned from unused airbags, key fobs crafted from advertising tarpaulin, and card holders created from leather scraps.

The brand’s online shop carries a plentiful selection of items, some of which you can also find at fashion dealers and museum shops across Japan.

Modeco
  • Shopping
  • Bags and luggage

Based in Nagoya, Modeco is an upcycling brand that makes good use of materials generally considered worthless. In the skillful hands of Modeco’s designers, industrial waste gets turned into high fashion. Modeco's most popular item is the unisex Tommy fireman bag, crafted individually out of old firefighting uniforms that still carry the marks of battles against the flames.

Another hit is the Flooring Bag, in which old laminate flooring has been converted into a beautifully shaped, practical carrier bag. Its faux-wood appearance and elegant design make it a versatile option for both formal and casual situations. While Modeco products are sold in shops throughout Japan, buying through the online store is even more convenient. 

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Pass the Baton Marunouchi
  • Shopping
  • Vintage shops
  • Marunouchi

Pioneering Tokyo recycle shop Pass the Baton’s Marunouchi branch, located inside the Brick Square complex, specialises in pre-owned and ‘dead stock’ products that have been slightly upgraded. Provided by individuals or scoured from the shelves of some forgotten warehouse, the items are fixed up lovingly before being put on display in the chic space, where glass walls let the high-quality wares do all the talking.

As Pass the Baton’s philosophy is all about making connections, every item comes with a tag that not only describes the previous owner, but also includes a little story associated with that very shirt, purse or necklace. Sellers can choose to contribute their proceeds to charity – a nice touch in keeping with the shop’s socially conscious ethos.

Bonum
  • Shopping
  • Fashion
  • Omotesando

Taking upcycling to the next level, Bonum’s fashion offerings comprise vintage and upcycled clothing. Shirts and jackets are taken apart and reconfigured into completely new tops. Denim jeans, which is a Bonum speciality, are reimagined into everything from handbags to jackets and so much more. The items here are completely unique but you can still tell that they have that classic, timeless style to them and can be worn for years to come. The bonus about it all? Everything feels completely lived-in and comfortable, so no breaking-in necessary.

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Yeah Right!!
Photo: Yeah Right!!

Yeah Right!!

Fashion label Yeah Right was founded in 2005 by designers Keita Kawamura and Michiko Imura, who set out to make unique garments from vintage clothing. Its offbeat sportswear created from repurposed fabrics even made an appearance at Tokyo Fashion Week in 2019. The brand sources its vintage materials from roughly a dozen secondhand dealers, then turns the old clothes into streetwear and accessories including hats and patchy tote bags – all of which are available at the main boutique Samva in Daikanyama or online. Keep an eye out for the eclectic cushions made from old rugs, too.

More great Tokyo shops

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