The Japanese Concept of ‘Mottainai’ and Slow Fashion

For years, we’ve been obsessed with traditional and modern Japanese textiles and crafts. Japanese textiles and crafts have a deep culture of minimalism, connection, and zero waste.

The ancient term ‘Mottainai’, linked to Buddhist and Shinto philosophy, means too good to waste. This term has been rooted into the history of beautifully handcrafted Japanese objects and even its people. After reading and exploring about the Amuse Museum in Tokyo, which shows unique products and textile arts that are exclusive to the Japanese traditional culture, we realised consumers had a lot to learn from ‘Mottainai’. With fast fashion destroying the environment, the fashion industry needs to bring back a culture of connection, respect, and care for clothing and accessories, and the people and resources that make them.

Mottainai attempts to communicate the inherent value in a thing and encourages using objects fully or all the way to the end of their lifespan. “Leave no grain of rice in your bowl; if a toy breaks, repair it; and take good care of everything.” – Kevin Taylor, ABC News May 2017


One of the most important aspects of Mottainai is that it has been ingrained into children’s education in Japan, allowing them to understand the importance of it and carry it on through generations.

‘Mottainai Grandma‘ is a famous Japanese children’s book series by Mariko Shinju, teaching the importance of not being wasteful. The fact that it’s popular is testament alone that children are interested in sustainability. There are some Japanese words that cannot be translated into English and Mottainai is one of them, and it is difficult to explain even in Japanese. This is how Mariko Shinju started to think about making this picture storybook.

Recently animes have been created based on the picture book.

Do check out the link below.


The sense of respect for fellow beings and nature is observed even while just walking around the streets of a busy and bustling Tokyo. There is not a speck of litter on the floor, beautiful gardens full of trees line the city and people bow to each other. In regards to ‘Mottainai’, clothes and objects are treasured as they hold a story. In the Boro exhibit of the Amuse Museum in Tokyo, one of the most beautiful quotes about a kimono passed down through generations:

“There is life dwelling in it; the endless will and wishes of humans are delicately woven into each fibre.”

In modern-day fast fashion, it’s disgusting that consumers have very little respect for their clothing or accessories. There’s no connection to the maker, the country the item has been produced or the raw material (increasingly synthetic). Obviously, in an ever-expanding and global world, we can’t expect to personally know the maker of our t-shirt, nor can we expect it to be made entirely by a person as machines are increasingly taking over from human hands. What we can expect and demand, however, is for the brands we buy from to be transparent, respect their garment workers and the planet across the supply chain, including the end-life of a garment. This respect and responsibility should be placed on the consumer and the brand. This is already moving in the right direction with organisations such as Fashion Revolution encouraging brand transparency and worker’s rights.


The importance of simplicity in fashion was once trendy, less should be more. Sadly, our thirst for fashion is increasing and clothing production since 2000 has doubled. Clothing is getting cheaper and more disposable. In the history of ‘Mottainai’ culture in Japan, the ‘Mottainai Grandma’ teachings requires you to ask yourself: “Do I actually need this?”

During a Japanese textile talk at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney, curator Dr. Gene Sherman discussed the relevance of Japanese fashion and sustainability in the modern day. Japanese culture and designs are the original slow fashion, using natural indigo dyes and incorporating natural materials. Dr. Sherman also discussed how she kept a minimalist wardrobe of timeless and treasured pieces, ensuring no item was left unloved or discarded. How wonderful would it be if we all treasured the clothing we wore and just purchased less?

Reuse and Recycle

According to some statistics, we send about 88 percent of leather and textiles to landfill. This means that nearly all of the clothes we buy end up sitting in a dump clogging up the ground. If we understood and used the concept of ‘Mottainai’, clothing and accessories would be reused and recycled. This means, learning how to mend clothing and items that are broken such as sewing a tear or reusing materials to make something else.

“Until the end of the Taisho Era, people took their own handspun and hand-dyed hemp cloth to the tailor in town to make work trousers which the husband then wore for years and the wife kept mending no matter how threadbare they got.” – Quote from the Boro exhibit at Amuse Museum in Tokyo.

Hope this blog inspires you to adopt the mottainai philosophy in your life.

Choose Well

Make it Last

Live Sustainable

Respect, Repair, Reuse, Recycle

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