Kawada Feather

The small town of Meiwa can be found on the east coast of Japan’s Kii Peninsula. As one of the final stops on the historic road to Ise Jingu, it was long home to inns, tea houses and merchants selling wares to travellers en route to the shrine. Passing through Meiwa today, the town centre soon gives way to fields of rice, while homes and industrial buildings are joined by the occasional restaurant specialising in grilled eel or Matsusaka beef. The landscape reflects the area’s agricultural heritage, with the unique geography and climate also shaping the development of another local enterprise, Kawada Feather. Processing a wide range of down in pursuit of the highest quality, the family-run company has been based in the town for more than three decades.

Kawada Feather’s story began in Tokyo in 1891, when Torakichi Kawada founded a feather purveyor named Kawada Shop. The business was later relocated to Takayama then Nagoya, where Kawada Feather was incorporated in 1963. Under the fourth-generation CEO, the company was involved in the development and manufacture of products ranging from feather dusters to ceremonial hamaya arrows and kimono shawls for coming-of-age ceremonies. By the late 1970s it had started processing raw materials for down and feather products, and within several years was producing down jackets and futons in large numbers. In the wake of this burgeoning demand, the company began to seek new horizons beyond the confines of Nagoya.

The quality of down products is influenced not only by the raw material, but the use of processing techniques that allow its natural attributes to shine. Impurities can compromise longevity and lead to odours, making the removal of dust and dander a fundamental concern. With this in mind, Kawada Feather searched for a location that would provide optimal cleaning conditions. The Meiwa area provided an abundance of ultra-soft groundwater, low in minerals and ideal for washing, while the dry winds blowing across the Ise Plain created a relatively low humidity environment. These natural assets, combined with Kawada’s expertise, led to the development of the company’s Meiwa factory and a system that can remove almost all dust and dander.

Inside the factory, the transition from raw material to refined blend begins in a vast warehouse, where deliveries arrive from Asia, Europe and around the world. Mounds of densely-packed bags, each weighing up to 40 kilograms, are marked with alpha-numeric codes denoting their origin, species and other characteristics. Entering the processing train via conveyor belt, the material proceeds through a series of customised machines that remove dust, wash, dry and sort with automated precision. Despite the sheer scale of the system, the train only processes one type of material at a time. Tailor-made programs are deployed to match the feather’s individual characteristics, whether it be Hungarian silver goose or French white duck.

Once the processing stage is complete, down samples are taken to the on-site laboratory. Working with such materials means developing a deep understanding of natural variations and how to manage them, not unlike winemaking or pottery. The in-house technicians conduct numerous assessments, analysing each sample’s composition, attributes and performance based on the company’s vast database. Once the rigorous quality control standards have been met, the material is transferred to the mixing room for the final blending process.

Destined for garments, bedding and other functional items, Kawada Feather’s downs are the culmination of generations of expertise. This extensive knowledge, combined with the natural assets of Meiwa, results in high-quality products that embody both process and place.

by Ben Davis