From the fashion industry to forestry
Until last year, Okabe was a Tokyo-based stylist active in advertising and fashion media; he now works as a forester in Iwaizumicho, deep in the mountains of Iwate. Here’s what he has to say about his unexpected career change.
“The year before last, I went on a solo trip to an island in Canada called Cortes, where hippies liked to congregate. They wear other people’s cast-offs, and above all don’t waste things. Seeing that gave me something of a breakthrough, I think. At that time, I was really into the outdoors and went from one new activity to another and kept thinking that I needed to buy a kayak, a paddle, and some new gear. It was part of my job I guess, but I was feeling a hazy by this cycle of introducing new products and having people consume them, so I decided that I didn’t want to accrue any more stuff. I was inspired by the lifestyle of these hippies, and when I came back to Japan, I decided that it would be better to live in the mountains in the heart of nature.”
Through his hobby of fishing in streams, Okabe was also beginning to sense the environment of the mountains and rivers had become neglected. He felt that this was due in part to the increase in abandoned man-made forests following the decline of the forestry industry during the period of rapid economic growth. This motivated him to seek work in the forestry industry in his hometown of Iwate.
“The aging of forestry workers is advancing at an alarming rate, and I hoped that I might be able to help stem that tide. I like to use my connections in the fashion industry to provide wood to woodworkers with new ideas, and to set the stage for making attractive products. I also want to change people’s perceptions of forestry. I’ve been designing sturdy, good-looking outdoor work clothes since I was in Tokyo, and I’m all for rethinking the forestry industry from the aspect of fashion, in the hope that as many young people as possible will become interested in this sector.”
Born in Iwate Prefecture. After working as a stylist in Tokyo, moved to Iwaizumi. While studying forestry, he also focuses on producing and selling his own workwear brand, “HARVESTA! HABICOL”. Another recent hobby he has picked up is stone masonry.