February 18, 2022

Luxe cosmetics maker seeks coprosperity with stakeholders

Yuiko Taiya for Photomate

Albion Co. was established with the ambition of becoming the world’s best premium cosmetics manufacturer in the mid-20th century, when the idea of “luxury items” had yet to take root in Japan. The company is exclusively focused on making high quality products and has a solid fan base mainly in Japan. Incorporating the philosophy of coexistence and coprosperity with stakeholders, including employees, business partners, consumers and local communities, into the core of corporate activities, from materials sourcing, manufacturing and distribution to social contribution — that is the Albion way.

Shoichi Kobayashi, president and chief executive officer of Albion Co., at The Japan Times’ offices | Yuiko Taiya for Photomate

“We prefer not to set criteria for costs. We use materials, however expensive they may be, as long as customers can feel the effect (of our products) on their skin,” said Albion President and Chief Executive Officer Shoichi Kobayashi, explaining what the company particularly cares about as “Japan’s only cosmetics manufacturer exclusively specialized in premium products.”

Albion began developing production materials in-house in an effort to enhance the competitiveness of its products. The company created a 120,000-sq.-meter in-house farm where 50 to 60 types of plants are organically grown at the foot of the Shirakami Sanchi mountains, a World Heritage Site. It has since developed production materials from 10 types of plant grown on the farm. Albion has also succeeded in commercializing a unique technology to extract ingredients and has put effort into conducting plant biotechnology research.

A school building donated to Madagascar  Albion co.

Albion has systematically incorporated the interest in coexistence and coprosperity it has held since its foundation into efforts to help achieve the U.N. sustainable development goals. Examples of this are seen in its development of plastics derived from natural sources to reduce the use of petroleum-based plastics in containers for cosmetics, efforts to collect and recycle used containers and endeavors to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at its plants. Albion also strives to maintain a working environment comfortable for employees. For example, it has nurseries under outsourced operation at offices in Tokyo’s Ginza district and Fukuoka, aiming to allow parents the option of working while rearing children. The company evaluates staff members based on talent rather than gender, an effort Kobayashi says has brought a positive impact on the entire company. Women now represent 40% of positions at the levels of executive officer and higher, he said.

Albion operates an in-house research lab in Sri Lanka, where a wealth of native plants grow. There it works with a local university on a joint project to study plants and the beneficial ingredients they contain. Returning the fruit of research to the local community is one the facility’s top priorities. Albion has continued to donate backpacks and school supplies for children in Madagascar since 2013. In 2016, it donated elementary and senior high school buildings as part of its 60th foundation anniversary program. Kobayashi says he wishes to build a plant in Madagascar to help increase local employment.

Kobayashi says he has “absolute confidence” in Albion’s products, for which the company is involved in the entire process from growing plants and manufacturing products to their sales. The company’s strategy of intentionally tolerating fixed costs pressures its margins, but Kobayashi believes it will lead to sustainability-minded management over the long term and, eventually, help increase its competitiveness. The “Albion way,” to which Kobayashi attaches importance, supports a virtuous cycle in which the company generates reasonable profit by selling premium cosmetics and making investments for the future.

Naonori Kimura
Industrial Growth platform, Inc. (IGPI) Partner

Unity of inner knowledge and action: Coexistence with the environment and co-creation with suppliers and employees have been embedded in Albion’s corporate philosophy since its foundation.

This is a company that has practiced sustainability-oriented management over many years, without itself realizing it. President Shoichi Kobayashi has said, “You wouldn’t last long if your thinking is, ‘It’s OK if we are OK,’” and many people might think this observation is obvious. However, you face clashes of different interests in operating a business, and it is not easy to find the best solution from the perspective of multiple stakeholders without prioritizing only your company.

I think the company is really wonderful in that its corporate DNA is to practice this.

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