At first glance, it looks like any other white t-shirt. But on closer inspection, the tee from Syncs.Earth is very different. It has a crew neckline and relatively long sleeves. It has a dense weave and feels soft and smooth. It’s about one-third lighter than cotton but blocks ultraviolet rays. It also wicks away moisture and absorbs odors. Its best trick? It’s completely biodegradable. That’s all thanks to its secret: the shirt is made from traditional Japanese washi paper.
The Miracle of Washi
Washi has been produced by hand in Japan for many centuries. It is traditionally made from raw materials including paper mulberry, the gampi and mitsumata shrubs, but hemp, wood and bark fibers are also used. Prized for its translucence, ability to diffuse light and ink absorption, washi is celebrated for its decorative and artistic applications in shoji screens and ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
What many don’t realize, however, is that washi has also long been used in clothing. From 910 CE, Japanese Buddhist monks began making paper clothing out of their paper sutras. Paper-based clothing known as kamiko later caught on with farmers, merchants and samurai. Its use peaked in the Edo period (1603–1867) when paper was used for numerous everyday items including lunch boxes, raincoats, mosquito nets and luggage. To this day, monks at Nara’s famous Todai-ji temple wear kamiko robes on special occasions.
Modern fabrics replaced kamiko long ago, and there are few kamiko artisans left in the 21st century. But modern Japanese manufacturers have rediscovered the “miracle fabric” of washi and are now making everything from jeans and undershirts to sport socks. Washi cloth is prized for its light weight, durability and self-cleaning abilities. Runners, for instance, say their washi socks will be odor-free after a few hours’ airing following a sweaty jog.
Back to Nature
Syncs.Earth co-founder Takuya Hirota also drew upon the tradition of kamiko when he began experimenting with washi to make recyclable clothing. He was also inspired by agronomist Toshimichi Yoshida, who promotes organic farming as well as waste reduction. Another important factor was the rise of fast fashion, which has contributed to an estimated 92 million tons of textiles waste generated globally every year. The fashion industry as a whole accounts for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of waste water; only 12% of material that goes into clothing gets recycled. In Japan alone, 3.2 billion articles of clothing are disposed every year, according to Hirota.
Left: A photo of one of Syncs.Earth’s T-shirts decomposing naturally Right: Naturally, all Syncs.Earth products come packaged in 100% recyclable materials
“Sustainability, after all, is not a thing, but an act,” says Hirota. “The environmental problems that are now being addressed around the world are caused by human actions including mass production and disposal and food loss. It is also creating a gap between rich and poor.”
With a background in import-export, fashion and business consulting, Hirota decided to tackle that mountain of waste, one shirt at a time. He decided to turn washi made from Philippine hemp into a business, and launched a campaign on Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake in 2020 that quickly raised nearly 1 million yen, more than double his goal.
Syncs.Earth founder Takuya Hirota
The same year, Takuya Hirota and Naoshi Sawayanagi founded Syncs.Earth as a fashion startup with a unique business proposal. Customers can either buy washi t-shirts for 14,700 yen or rent them for a one-time fee of 9,800 yen and use them until they’re ready for disposal, at which point Syncs.Earth takes them back and buries them on farmland where they decompose in about a month. Depending on use, the shirts can last five, 10 or more years before upcycling or composting. In this way, Hirota wants to encourage the creation of a sustainable, circular economy.
What Comes Around
Having manufactured about 500 shirts so far, Hirota wants to grow the business. Syncs.Earth also produces knit caps, socks, skirts, pants and other apparel including tie dye-style tees, some of which can also be rented until they’re returned for disposal. It even has a repair service in which it revives used, damaged clothing through indigo dying using nonchemical, natural materials. The startup is quickly gaining attention and followers as it pushes forward with a new way of thinking about clothing and sustainability.
“Syncs.Earth seeks to be a brand that inspires people to change their actions through fashion,” says Hirota. “And as the acts of mankind change, the environment surrounding companies will change drastically, and Syncs.Earth is a brand in that future. We recognize that we have a long way to go before we grow big, and if I were to put it in farming terms, we are in the process of cultivating the soil right now.”
You can keep up-to-date with Syncs.Earth all of their latest designs and keep in touch with future plans for the company over on their official website and social media:
Official website (https://syncs-earth.com/)
Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/syncs.earth )