Ito Bindery is a bookbindery of long standing. Utilizing their book binding techniques nurtured through the years of cutting thickly stacked paper without a millimeter of error, the company has developed high-quality memo blocks and drawing pads. The backing, created by recycled cardboard gives the pads stability, has a unique design which is the height of simplicity. The craft pads using craft paper that doesn’t whiten has a distinctive texture which is close to the pulp it is made from. These memo pads and drawing pads are loved in Europe, as well as by people who are interested in fashionable lifestyle items.
Bookbinding and memo Pad manufacturing
Maison & Objet is the world’s largest and most prominent international interior design trade fair, displaying furniture, interior decoration, and sundries. Held in Paris, France twice a year, the event attracts over 3000 manufacturers to run booths, and over 85,000 visitors at each show. Purchases by buyers around the globe cause millions of dollars to move during the event. Due to the strict reviewing process by the host that determines eligibility of entry, holding a booth alone is considered highly prestigious.
The Challenge of a Japanese small factory
In the event held in January of 2013, many buyers gathered at a booth with a sign that read: “If you wish to jot down your inspiration.” On display were two stationary items: the Drawing Pad, and the High-Quality Memo block. The booth belonged to a small neighborhood small factory of nine employees, from the old downtown of Tokyo, Japan.
Do Family Businesses Have a Future?
In making books, magazines, and catalogues, there exists the essential process of bookbinding, which is the process in which the individual pages our bound in proper order, creating the form of the book. However, it is not a well-known fact that this is a specialized profession, where craftsmen work exclusively on bookbinding.
Established in 1957 and based in the Sumida-ward of the old downtown area of Tokyo, Ito Bindery is a business with expertise in binding commercial printed matters such as catalogs and manuals. The publishing depression has destabilized the printing industry, and Masaki Ito (39,) the third generation executive director of the company, shows concern for the future of his family business.
“Initially, I didn’t have the intention of entering such a plain and unglamorous field” says Mr. Ito. He spent his childhood listening to the sounds of the bookbinding machines, and the commitment to the family business deprived him of precious playtime. The neighborhood was filled with other small workshops, and men in their work clothes dominated the streets. He dreamed of a future where he would work wearing a suit. Distancing himself from his family business, Ito was obsessed with his high school jazz band, and he went on to spending most of his time with his band throughout college. Latin percussion was his instrument of choice. Night after night he would play in stylish clubs, and even landed a few bit parts in movies. Life was good. Life was fun.
In 1996, Ito graduated from college. Avoiding involvement in the family business, he took a job at a mid-level printing company. As a salesman, he was able to realize his fantasy of commuting in a suit. Night times were spent with friends enjoying drinks at hip and trendy bars. Each day was filled with stimulation. However, in five years, he realized that even suits were mere work clothes. Even during meetings with clients, he found that what was truly on his mind was bookbinding. His roots were ingrained in his being, and realizing this, Ito set aside his suit, and returned home to the family business. He was 27.
Ito’s first five years at the bindery were spent in the workshop. Caught up in the intense labor day after day, he was under the impression that this profession was immune to economic shifts. When he became an executive at 32, he began to see the bigger picture of management. This new perspective gave Ito a sense of unease that he didn’t feel in the workshop; the numbers weren’t looking good, and orders were diminishing. He felt first hand, the effect the Internet had on printing. “What will happen to our business?” These haunting thoughts kept him up at night.
Bookbinding is a complete subcontract business, only requiring the faithful observation of given specifications. This was a business that depended directly on the clients’ financial state. Escaping this situation would require new original products that would actively propel the company into the market. Driven by his desire to create a product of self-expression that would be marketed directly to the consumer, Ito started making moves around 2008.
Designing Original Products
At a management seminar, Ito learned the concept of having all employees contribute to company reform. Putting this idea into action, he started calling brainstorming sessions and focusing on new project development. This was something that was totally new and foreign to the employees. At first they wouldn’t even bother bringing writing materials. Without any input from the employees, these study groups didn’t seem productive. However, Ito soldiered on with enthusiasm, and soon new ideas were starting to sprout.Once, a craftsman brought in a prototype of a geta (Japanese clogs) made of paper, which had the potential to become an accessory.
Through the coordination of the Sumida-Ward Office, Tomoharu Matsuda (then 48,) a planner assisting local business, visited the bindery towards the end of the year. When Ito presented Mr.Matsuda with the geta idea, Mr. Matsuda’s reaction was to cut the idea down, urging the company to restart their brainstorming process from scratch. Mr. Matsuda then explained that without a clear story of who is making the product for whom, and for what purpose, products end up being mere manifestations of self-satisfaction. It is no easy task to create an original product. Under the new direction of Mr. Matsuda, Ito, along with the rest of the company, went back to square one.
Mr. Matsuda’s concept was to create a product that was “easy to make and easy to use.” Ito Bindery was already equipped with the book binding technology to cut and bind paper. The question was how to take advantage of this equipment in creating a product that was both simple, yet stylish. Ito remembered a time when his bindery would reuse the scraps to make memo pads to pass out in the neighborhood. Was this not part of the culture of the company? Around June of 2009, Ito Bindery introduced their Drawing Pad and High-Quality Memo block.
The Drawing Pad features recycled corrugated cardboard as a base, and the pages are perforated enabling cutting off at the standard sizes (A6, A5, A4, B4, A3). This product is especially suited for on-site usage by architects or designers who are particular about their equipment. The High-Quality Memo block also uses recycled corrugated cardboard combined with the sheets of paper with glue. The design seen from the sides is particularly beautiful, and since it remains an eye-catching item in large spaces, the memo block would serve well in places like the front desk of hotels. Both items are culminations of the Ito Bindery way; from the selection of materials, to the finishing touches, each item is carefully crafted by bookbinding artisans. Products that would help its users express dynamically through writing and drawing: This was the moment when Ito’s goals were finally realized.
Both products went on the market in November of 2009. The next year, the products won the “2010 Good Design Award,” the most prestigious design award in Japan. Over 30 stores nationwide started to sell these products, and dealings began with major Japanese brands. Avenues were starting open.
In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art in New York started carrying the products. In the 2012 Maison & Objet, the products were showcased in the collective Japanese booth run by the Japan External Trade Organization, and in 2013 Ito Bindery returned to exhibit at their own booth. Following positive responses at the fair, the company has started to distribute in France and the rest of Europe, and Asia.
Although Ito Bindery is starting to gain momentum, Ito says: “We have a lot more growing to do as a business.” The main business of bookbinding still remains in harsh conditions, and the new business is a process of overcoming obstacles one at a time, step by step. The company’s future is never certain, and this is a source of concern. However, Ito now has a new found vision which is both positive and hopeful: A vision of an Ito Bindery that continues to develop new original products, and is successful in the world arena.
Ito Bindery Co., Ltd.
Business Description : Bookbinding
Address : 2-16-9 Honjo Sumida, Tokyo, 130-0004 Japan
Representative : Toshio Ito
Established : 1957
Number of Employees : 10