SAPPORO - Beautifully frilled dresses, fantastic balloon skirts, and much more.
These Lolita clothes are displayed in abundance at a company office on the second floor of an old red brick building in central Sapporo.
"This is the epitome of the 'kawaii' that women dream of," said Yuko Ota, who cofounded the company, while applying makeup for a female customer. The woman visited the company office to try out Lolita fashion. Ota says this fashion style attracts customers across a wide age range, from teens to those in their 50s.
Ota, 60, established the company, Kitaloli, that manufactures and sells Lolita dresses, with Asako Mitsuhashi, a fashion marketing specialist, in August 2013. Three graduates of a fashion school where Ota had taught are now involved with producing the clothes at the company.
Born in Sapporo, Ota was employed by a cosmetic company after she graduated from high school, and worked in Kyoto. Then she moved back home and got married at age 21.
When she was 38, she became determined to work in the beauty industry again.
She received training in New York and made other efforts to improve the makeup skills she had initially acquired while working for the cosmetic company. Later, Ota began her new career as a makeup artist and started giving lectures at vocational schools and a high school.
Meeting Mitsuhashi became a turning point in Ota's life. Mitsuhashi, also 60, taught at the same vocational school as Ota did. Around 2008, when the nation was suffering from a recession, many of their students could not find work. Given such circumstances, the two found they shared a mutual ambition to create a business where their former students could work, utilizing their own expertise.
Lolita fashion was a solution the fashion expert and beauty specialist discovered after a serious search.
Around that time, at a vocational school, at least one student every year would choose Lolita fashion as their theme for the graduation exam. Also, many events related to the fashion style had been held in Japan and abroad as an example of the "Cool Japan" phenomenon. However, some Lolita fashion lovers could not enjoy such style of dress as much as they wished, as their families did not understand their taste in fashion, according to Ota.
The two wanted to create an environment where Lolita fashion lovers could become confident with the fashion style as an example of cool culture originating in Japan. So they set up Sapporo Lolita Club, an event planning group, in April 2012.
The club held an event where people could try Lolita clothes in an underground pedestrian walkway in Sapporo in February. "We expected five people or so to come at most. But more than 40 people attended the event, and that surprised us," recalled Ota.
Today, the group has about 280 members. About 80 per cent of them are from Hokkaido and some members live abroad, including in France and Taiwan.
When Ota and Mitsuhashi established Kitaloli, it was not easy for them to gather together the funds to start the company.
They still struggle to sell their products as major companies have greater market presence. Ota quit working as a lecturer in March.
Now she is devoted to running the company and trying to achieve their dream of joining hands with former students to create an environment where they can work together.