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MUJI Revives An Ancient Technique For Repurposing Wool

Without native sheep in Japan, 19th-century artisans reworked vintage wool into new thread. Now, MUJI is using it for its new collection.

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"There's an expression, Mottai-nai!, in Japanese, which we say to remind ourselves not to let anything go to waste," says Japanese textile artist Reiko Sudo. A longtime collaborator with Japanese houseware brand MUJI, Sudo has applied the mottai-nai philosophy to fabric in advising the brand’s RE-MUJI products, a series of limited-edition collections made from recycled materials. This week, Reiko and MUJI launched a new recycled textile series that revives a process Japanese artisans have employed for 100-odd years to restore vintage wool for new pieces.

The 13-piece collection includes sweaters, bags, accessories, and pillows repurposed from wool scraps and discarded wool garments. Sudo worked closely with artisans from Aichi, the historic wool prefecture of Japan, who washed, and stripped old wool into pieces and reworked them into thread with the help of machines, before weaving it into new textiles.

The process is shown in detail in the video below:

Sudo, who also founded and directs the sustainable Japanese textile company Nuno, leads a project at MUJI called Found Muji Japanese Textiles to rediscover the various local artisanal weaving and dyeing techniques throughout Japan. The technique used for this collection in particular has roots in 19th-century Japan, when artisans wanted to create wool garments despite the country's lack of native sheep. Artisans collected old wool pieces from other countries, divided them into colors, and with the help of machines repurposed them into wool threads.

For the Muji collection, Sudo says, it took nearly four years to accumulate over 200 pounds of each color of wool needed to create the collection. "By its very nature, reclaimed wool is in limited production," she says, when asked if it's possible to scale the process up. The new limited edition collection is simple and elegant, fitting MUJI's trademark minimalist design ethos.

The 13-piece Reclaimed Wool Collection ranges from $20 to $59. It is on sale at MUJI's Fifth Avenue flagship store and will be available online soon.

[All Photos: courtesy Muji]

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