Hiroko Chino hopes that her business can incorporate the authentic character and sensibilities of the Japanese people into its practice.
After graduating from university with a degree in theology, Hiroko planned to return to the UK to study fashion merchandising, but her mother intervened and asked her to stay in Japan. She scrambled to find a job, decided to pursue finance and worked at a securities company for several years. Around the same time, she founded Lou Lou Co. Ltd. as a Kyoto sole proprietorship because she knew she wanted something more fulfilling than a standard career in finance.
Changing careers can be difficult and risky in Japan, but nonetheless after six years she sacrificed salary, stability and professional status at respected companies to pursue her dreams of running her own company.
Lou Lou Co. is a consultancy that provides clients with a variety of event planning, management, public relations, space and product design, and manufacturing services. The company works across sectors, including the advertising, restaurant, real estate and hospitality industries—doing its best to incorporate the UN Sustainable Development Goals in every project. Hiroko begins with an idea for a sustainable product, works with diverse and local manufacturing businesses using recycled or sustainable products, and promotes the products by also telling the backstory of their creation.
In essence, Hiroko is a problem solver.
Her business breaks conventions and incorporates ideas of fair trade and sustainability into every step of the way. She achieves this by prioritizing equal opportunities and wages for working women in a way that not all domestic companies in Japan do. She has remained a sole proprietorship so that she can create specialized teams for projects and be able to pay her contractors more because they bring the exact skills needed to a project, yet also spread the work around to other small, woman-owned businesses.
“Women have unique strengths such as seriousness, tenacity and delicate consideration, not only as managers but also as team members” explains Hiroko. “I believe they play important roles on any team.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Hiroko notes that the number of companies with issues has increased, and with it, the need for specialized consultants. “The time has come when small companies are selected over large, established firms to provide needed solutions due to greater efficiency and scope of attention,” Hiroko asserts.
At the very start of the pandemic, Hiroko hoped that Lou Lou Co. would not only support the economy and culture of Japan, but also the world as it faced an unprecedented challenge. However, when faced with the reality that she couldn’t achieve this on her own, Hiroko decided that she needed to join a network to help her work through issues she had never faced before.
In 2020 Hiroko became a certified women-owned business in the WEConnect International network to grow her business—not in terms of company size, but impact.
And grow Lou Lou Co. has.
WEConnect International connected Hiroko with a project to aid a Japanese factory in the creation and distribution of protective clothing for healthcare professionals. After this initial opportunity to aid the medical field at the beginning of the pandemic, Lou Lou Co. has maintained its task and is currently developing medical uniforms with a company in Sri Lanka.
Working throughout the pandemic has taught Hiroko to prioritize collaborative human resources over international boundaries and physical locations. “We must challenge and improve our fields,” she explains. “Now we realize that connecting in-person isn’t always guaranteed, therefore we must connect on deeper levels to meet common goals of improving the world.”
WEConnect International also introduced Lou Lou Co. to EY Japan, and she has been working with the multinational on many projects, including how best to use the latest recycled materials in specific goods such as handkerchiefs from plastic bottles. She created a special stationery from recycled cardstock that used the front of the card for the corporate message and on the back explained the backstory of the product to spread the word.
It is the small yet important touches on every product Hiroko designs, produces and promotes that makes her business special and important. She doesn’t stop at simply using recycled materials; she does her research to include relevant humanist perspectives and ensure that the materials she uses do not contribute additional waste or harm to the environment. She steps back and looks at the entire life cycle of a product and identifies the best way to produce it while staying true to the UN SDG goals.
For her efforts, Hiroko has won several Japanese awards in the past two years, including the Kyoto Female Entrepreneur Award and the Kyoto Culture Venture Competition Award.
“I hope that women feel empowered to create their own companies; even if small, they will be long-lasting,” she reflects on the ever-growing WEConnect International network, “and that we can become business partners and learn together.”