Hailing from traditional Japan, Kao Kanamori has lived a life that’s far from traditional.

With her bleach blonde highlights and dressed in brightly-colored outfits from THEATRE PRODUCTS, a clothing company she co-founded, the 45-year-old sticks out wherever she goes in Japan, where many often feel the pressure to dress their age.

Kanamori has been an influential woman entrepreneur in the country since the 1990s, when Japanese society wasn’t especially accepting or supportive of unconventional career paths, especially those taken by women.

Kanamori at the Loftwork offices in Japan

At just 45 years old, Kanamori has played music in the streets, worked in a publishing house, co-founded the wildly successful clothing brand THEATRE PRODUCTS and NPO Drifters International, a company to help nurture young talent in Japan, and organized countless fashion and art exhibitions, all with the goal of creating open opportunities in Japan’s art scene and making it – and in particular, her love of theatre – accessible to any and everyone.

Now, Kanamori is bringing her unique vision and entrepreneurial spirit to the global design firm Loftwork, where she serves as the director of AWRD, a service connecting young talents to a global audience.

Oppositional And Entrepreneurial Attitudes: Inspirations From London Student Days

Kanamori first came into contact with the fashion industry as a college student at Central St. Martins in London when young British artists such as Damien Hirst and Julian Opie, known for their oppositional and entrepreneurial attitudes, were at the forefront of the art scene.

Her time at CSM led to her realization that “while artists are often the great critics of society, they are also often on the edges of society, misunderstood and vulnerable,” she said. And she knew then that she wanted to become the person to connect them with the rest of the world.

Upon returning to Japan, she began working in a publishing house while doing street art with a team of composers and musicians, playing the accordion and saxophone with them in the streets. Her intentions were not so much about playing the instruments and having fun, but rather to create in the streets, she said; she was trying to create opportunities for young talent to be recognized by and in the public, something that was not physically confined within the walls of galleries or museums, that anyone could see and enjoy.

All The World’s A Stage And All Our Bodies And Clothing Merely Players: Founding THEATRE PRODUCTS

It was around this time that she met Japanese designers Akira Takeuchi and Tayuka Nakanishi, with whom she would co-found the clothing brand THEATRE PRODUCTS. THEATRE PRODUCTS was established in the middle of an exhibition in 2001. Kanamori still finds it funny how everything happened. “The two designers told me they wanted to host an exhibition where they could also announce the creation of a company. Then somehow, an actual company was established. Everyone was stupid and young,” she said, laughing.

Founders of THEATRE PRODUCTS: (Left) Akira Takeuchi , (Middle) Kao Kanamori, and (Righ) Tayuka Nakanishi featured in the book "Tokyo Addict” by KISHIN SHINOYAMA

She said that running the company for 17 years was difficult, and she learned things she never expected to learn.

“It is difficult to employ people, manufacture products, and continue to run a business while preserving creativity,” she said. “But I could live off that one percent of a moment when it felt like creativity could change society a bit, even when the other 99 percent of the time was for something else. That was all right.”

Although Kanamori had never thought she would enter a career in fashion, CSM had taught her that wearing things was also a way of expression, of the body, and in many ways, it was the perfect combination of everything she had wanted to do.

The concept of THEATRE PRODUCTS is that where there is fashion, the world can be theatre. As the press officer and producer, Kanamori ran the company and shared the designers’ vision with the rest of the world, making their work – and by extension, theatre – public and open to any and everyone. The brand treats the body as a medium of expression and uses form, color and material, and the body as a medium of expression, to create different types of atmospheres.

In 2004, THEATRE PRODUCTS opened its first store in Shibuya, Tokyo, as well as a showroom in Roppongi. It has become fashion destination in Omotesando and Shinjuku, and in major cities such as Osaka and Nagoya. The brand has been featured in VOGUE and also collaborated with UNIQLO in 2006 and with the “Star Wars” movie in 2015.

THEATRE PRODUCTS treats the body as a medium of expression

Diversity And Openness: Bringing Creatives Together With Drifters International

While working at THEATRE PRODUCTS, Kanamori also started the non-profit events organization NPO Drifters International with architect Teppei Fujiwara and theatrical producer Akane Nakamura to promote and connect young talent as well as host local events. NPO hosts events that brings together creators from different backgrounds and fields such as architecture, performance, fashion, and art, to create a single, diverse cultural scene. The company’s goals are best embodied in its annual summer school, where architecture, theatre, and fashion students work together to create a single stage play over the span of three months, creating art not limited to the confines of a specialty nor for a small and select audience.

Kanamori in her neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan

Besides diversity of opinions, Kanamori also saw the importance for diversity in representation, hosting a fashion show involving the elderly and people with disabilities at NPO. The “All Light / Right Fashion Show” took place in 2017 and featured people with disabilities, people in wheelchairs, and elderly people from Okayama as the runway models of the show.

Models in wheelchairs take part in the All Light / All Right fashion show in Okayama

Kanamori was also involved in several major art projects in the creative community in Japan, including the Carry-in-Project by AKUMANOSHIRUSHI, a performance art piece by Noriyuki Kiguchi where people carry an enormous structure into a small space, and in doing so, create theatre.

A large structure occupies a small space as part of the “Carry-In-Project”

Shaping the next generation of creative communities with AWRD

In 2018, she joined Loftwork as the director of the in-house service platform- AWRD because she saw the possibility of creating a place where she could introduce and connect new talent on a global stage.

Kanamori wearing a T-shirt made by a handicapped artist at the Loftwork offices in Japan

Kanamori has always been interested in unknown talent because she believes there is more value in introducing what’s new and unknown rather than promoting something that has already known and valued, which is why the Discovery Channel Award is one of her favorite projects she’s worked on at AWRD.

The goal of competition, which was created by AWRD for Discovery Channel Japan, was to highlight some of the best videos about interesting human beings on earth, and filmmakers from all over Japan submitted their videos for consideration by an expert jury panel from AWRD’s extensive global network. The winners’ works were then shown on TV on Discovery Channel Japan.

Working with her team on concept design, calls for entry, and the awards ceremony, Kanamori felt that the awards provided up and coming filmmakers with a platform to showcase their work, as well as helped Discovery Channel Japan to unearth new talent and creative content.

As the director of AWRD, Kanamori gets to realize her goal of connecting artists and creators with the rest of the world on a daily basis. The platform provides its global community of more than 25,000 young talent with access to resources and opportunities to exhibit their work, and organizations have launched and hosted more than 45,000 projects and events like hackathons and awards via the platform.

Besides adding a new feature that will expand the AWRD platform as early as this summer, she’s also working on a top secret project leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She says she can’t say much yet, but revealed that it will combine theatre and the Olympics to raise awareness around the issue of diversity, which is a hot topic of discussion in Japan. And the goal? To create the opportunity of change.

About Loftwork

Loftwork Inc. is a global creative firm, which designs websites, services, communication and spaces through the collaboration. We are located in Taiwan, Hong kong, Tokyo and Kyoto . We also operate owned media and space. Digital craft cafe “FabCafe” , and co-working space “MTRL (Material)” , and the online platform “AWRD”. We are able to provide a wide variety of creatives with creator communities worldwide. Through the design process, we create good impact to society.

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