In 2003, Eriko Yamaguchi (pictured below), then a development studies undergraduate and intern at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, searched the web for “Asia” and “poorest”. The first result that appeared was Bangladesh. That led to a two-week trip to Bangladesh, enrolment into the graduate school of BRAC University in Dhaka, then the launch of Motherhouse in 2004, the label Yamaguchi started in a mission to help a Third World country.
With Motherhouse, Yamaguchi aims to use the skills of the Bangladeshis to make good quality and desirable products. For her employees in Bangladesh, who manufacture leather bags for her brand, she pays up to twice the average local wage, and offers benefits like medical check-ups, lunches, meals for working overtime, and company trips.
Motherhouse now has 21 stores across Japan, and six in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But when Yamaguchi first started, she faced some hiccups - her workers were unable to produce the bags to her standards. She tried to build trust by personally working alongside them in the factory almost daily - and still does, 15 years later - and inspired them with the brand's long-term vision. The quality of their work later improved when Yamaguchi was able to convey her passion and philosophy to the workers.
Today, Motherhouse offers more products – jewellery from Sri Lanka and Indonesia, stoles from Nepal, and apparel from India. The brand uses materials and techniques sourced from each country it manufactures in. "We always try to spotlight their original materials and techniques because we believe every country and everyone has its own potential and we'd like to demonstrate it through our company," says Yamaguchi.
The brand first pop-up store here at Takashimaya ran till Feb 17. Its permanent store will open at Jewel Changi Airport in March, selling bags, jewellery and stoles.
A version of this story first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Her World.