The Story of the Birth of New Products(CLARINO)

Towards a Material Loved Beyond Time

CLARINO was commercialized in 1964 as a man-made leather which recreated the structure and properties of natural leather using chemical technology. It is light, tough, flexible, and is strongly water resistant. As a result, a wide variety of applications have been developed in the market such as shoes, bags, school bags, sporting goods, jackets, sofas, and a host of other products. Although, the R&D team encountered numerous difficulties, they overcame them through much toil and repeated trial and error during development. This is the story about the origin of CLARINO and how it acquired its reputation today as a top brand name and synonym of man-made leather.

Seeking the New Product Following Vinylon

Bending durability test of man-made leather.

In 1963, Research and Development Division faced the task of developing a "post-Vinylon" material. After World War II, the success of Vinylon commercialization was commemorated as the first synthetic fiber made by the Japanese, and business operations were successful, as well. However, the success of Vinylon was not the end. The company needed something new to stay ahead in the market of the future. Thus, the management decided to symbolize the export of a Vinylon plant to China in 1963 as a demarcation for the Vinylon business, even though it was one of the core businesses of the company.

When the company proceeded to research a new business area for the next generation, there were unlimited opportunities for R&D at the time. Thus, the total number of R&D personnel was about 1,500, the ratio of the R&D budget was nearly 5% of total annual sales, and more than ten pilot plants were running concurrently.

As the textile industry was under the siege of economic recession, it hastened to find a new post-Vinylon business, and also determined that development efficiencies should be improved by concentrating various aspects of the system. Against this background, the R&D Division selected four research areas focusing on promising future potentials, namely low-pressure polyethylene, polyacetal resin, ethylene VAC, and man-made leather. Afterwards, ethylene VAC copolymerizing resin and man-made leather were selected to commercialize together with synthetic rubber added later.

Born from Failure and Playful Minds

Durability test by wearing a pair of shoes.

R&D for new fibers started around 1961. The R&D Headquarters studied copolymerization and polymer blending as one of the subjects of new fiber research, and worked to find a new technology to develop and test new high performance fibers using a mixedmelt spinning method which consists of blending two different types of polymers.

However, the R&D faced one set of difficulties after another. For example, the team tried the melt-spun method to mix nylon and polypropylene, but the result was that the experimental fiber had both merits as well as demerits of the original materials. After a few further failures, one of the R&D scientists playfully said, "Hey, why not remone one of the constituents after blending and spinning?"

This idea was borrowed from NCF(*1)already available in the market. If man-made leather could be made by coating nylon onto a woven material, the scientist thought, then what about if the nylon is eluted and coagulated from the blended-spun fiber of nylon and polypropylene. This idea was the beginning of world first man-made leather CLARINO.

Challenge the Most Difficalt Applications— Shoes

Advertisement for CLARINO boots.

The results of the experimental product developed as a result of the playful spirit, amazingly had a texture quite similar to that of natural leather. The blended fibers were shredded into fine pieces, and the resulting solution was filtered. It was then made into a non-woven fiber and the nylon part was eluted and coagulated. "We dyed it. It looked almost like real leather" a scientist on the team remembered. The structure of the test material could not be confirmed because there was no electron microscope in the lab at the time. Even so, the operation went ahead to the development stage from the study stage.

Strength was the weakest defect of the test material. The R&D team stroke to overcome this problem. They were not satisfied with the quality even if it was good enough as a test product until they could make man-made leather of suitable quality for shoes. Therefore, they sought to develop a level of strength in the material tough enough for shoes.

"We wanted to challenge the most difficult applications — because if we could solve these difficulties, we believed that it would certainly lead us to the future enhancement of the product". Furthermore, the R&D team pursued superior alternatives by making the structure itself similar to natural leather and improving its functionality to be better than natural leather, surpassing similar materials already available on the market, such as vinyl chloride leather or so-called man-made leather, the quality of which was confined to a natural-leather-like appearance.

In order to strengthen the test man-made leather, it was necessary to recreate the non-woven fabric structure in three dimensions, in which the fibers intertwined in a way similar to how they did in natural leather. The R&D team visited an equipment manufacturer in Osaka and repeatedly produced test samples so as to make strong samples. When 20 to 30 samples were made, they brought the samples to shoe shops around town. However, these samples broke easily. Day after day, the team members had to bring the broken samples back without any hope of when this would be end, and they became discouraged.

However, there was a solid principle in the individual hearts of the team members at the time during the repeated failures they endured, based on the realization that they were taking on the challenge of developing a material of good shoe quality. They believed that even if a new material successfully resulted from all, it would not be the end. They would have to demonstrate a marketable product not the material. If a client saw the product and accepted it, then that would be the genuine start of our business. Then the R&D budget and installation of production equipment will come after that.

Once the strength hurdle was overcome, next came wearing tests. When a person wore a pair of shoes made with the manmade leather, the part of the shoe between the instep and toe that bends easily cracks. The lack of bending durability of the blended fibers and the sponge-like binder caused the problem. The binder was necessary to create a three-dimensional structure for the non-woven fiber. Polyurethane was selected as a replacement, but another problem followed after this. The team had to depend on expensive imported polyurethane, because it was still scarce in Japan. Anyhow, a method was developed to make sponge-like binder by coagulating the non-woven fiber in water after the polyurethane was absorbed in it. Hence, the principle for manufacturing CLARINO was born.

When a pair of durable test shoes was delivered made of the newly developed man-made leather from the shoe maker, one of the R&D team members slept wearing them with an exuberant smile on his face.

In July 1963, a development committee was established in the Kurashiki Research Laboratory and a project team was organized to develop new products. In November 1964, test production started and a sales project was organized at the head office.

However, there were still those in the organization who opposed promoting the new material. The typical view was that the risk was too great a challenge in a new business such as manmade leather when the company literally had no experience other than being merely a fabric manufacturer. It was company President Soichiro Ohara at the time who defied the opposition. "It is beneficial for the nation to replace a natural material with an artificial one" such as rayon had come to replace silk and Vinylon had come to replace wool. Naturally it was a really high potential target for the company to develop high quality man-made leather, when the company had been successful in developing these synthetic fibers.

Like a Fanfare that Heralds the Heroic March to Success

Japan's most popular duck in the commercials
and advertisements for CLARINO.

A trade name was given to the new product when construction of the test plant was started in 1963. President Ohara, who loved classical music, once gave Vinylon the brand name CREMONA after the city in northern Italy where famous string instruments were made. Regarding a new product's name, he said that:

"I expect the new product will be like a brass instrument section in an orchestra. I hope it will blare out a fanfare to give the audience a sign of the procession of a heroic march, sounding valiantly much more than CREMONA (Vinylon)."

The product was given the trade name CLARINO, after an old type of trumpet.

It was decided to build the pilot plant on the premises of the Kurashiki Plant in 1964. Initial production capacity was ten thousand square meters of material per months. At the same time, the establishment of a mass production process was set forward with the start of operations after six month. Although numerous failures plagued the early test runs, such as only less than one meter out of 100 meters produced could be used or the substrate looked as if it were a squeezed towel rather than leather, the test samples finally came to be praised and highly regarded with such comments as "some people could not tell the difference between CLARINO and natural leather". The company then decided to build a mass production plant on the premises of the Okayama Plant with a production capacity of 150,000 square meters per month. The CLARINO manufacturing plant was completed in 1966.

Challenging High Quality

school bags made of CLARINO.

Soon after production commenced at the Okayama Plant, a new ordeal was waiting in the wings. Hundreds pairs of shoes were returned as defective every day. The reason was the appearance of "star-shaped cracks" on the shoes. The R&D team had already overcome the bending durability problem before in the test production stage, so the cause of these star-shaped cracks on the shoe surface around the instep was difficult to identify due to the use of blended material in the product. Marketing was halted and a total of 100,000 pairs of shoes were collected from the stock already distributed.

A range of tests and examinations were carried out on the bottom of valleys of the returned shoes to find the source of the problem, including studying the cracks under a microscope, bending test against material itself, non-woven fiber strength test, and evaluating the shoes for urethane deterioration, among other tests. The investigations continued and the R&D team struggled to find the cause of the cracks. Fortunately, the answer was found during a second round of wearing tests. It was discovered that there were some people who made the cracks and some who did not. In the case of wearers who made the cracks, they did it repeatedly no matter how often they switched to a new pair of shoes. Sweat was found to be the cause of the cracking. If the sweat was alkaline in nature, the urethane became deteriorated. When the deteriorated urethane came to the surface of the man-made leather, it formed starshaped cracks.

As a result of this incident, the R&D team reviewed the production techniques in terms of performance and quality of the product, not just focusing on the cracks but also examining the problem from various points of views.

Sample CLARINO. products.

After this pause for the investigations, CLARINO business grew very quickly and expansively. The technology itself won many prestigious awards from academia and science associations. Both domestic and international sales grew steadily, backed by a popular series of advertisements featuring a mascot duck.

More selections were added to the CLARINO product line up, the first being a soft-type man-made leather that was developed in 1969. This was soon followed by a suede type and nubuck-type substrate that corresponded to the respective types of natural leather, and the areas of application were thus expanded. The quality of the substrate was highly praised from the apparel industries and especially by the fashion industry. CLARINO became a material that everybody loved beyond space and time.

*1 NCF
Nylon Coated Fabric. Fiber that is coated with nylon.