HERALBONY's Mission: Changing Society with the Art of Artists with Disabilities (Part 2)
It is society that is putting up the barriers
After succeeding with the sale of the neckties, the brothers officially started HERALBONY Co., Ltd. in 2018. The word "HERALBONY" was often written by their brother in one of his notebooks. Their brother, who is four years older than the twins, is a person with intellectual disability. Their brother has detailed daily routines and preferences, but to the brothers that grew up with him, this was the dear brother they had always known. "However, we felt a gap between how we saw our brother and how those around us saw him. Some people say it is sad to have a disability, but I felt there was more of a barrier with society, which had fitted people with disabilities with such an image." (Takaya)
The HERALBONY artists each have their own way of creating their works. One artist focuses for months or years on a single work, repeatedly drawing colorful squares, only to suddenly quit. Another artist works by fitting hidden characters into the shape and color of a painting. Yet another artist fills the canvas with dreamy colors reminiscent of a flower garden or an underwater world. Persons with intellectual disabilities tend to repeat their own rules and routines, but this can lead to delicate artistic touches and bold artistic works.
When HERALBONY teamed up with TOMORROWLAND to make handkerchiefs, they purposely sold the products without revealing that the designs were drawn by persons with disabilities. "They sold amazingly. However, no matter how much time passed, you couldn't look up which artists made them. It was only natural because this was the plan. However, we realized that this wasn't in line with our intentions. Society won't change unless people are made aware." (Takaya).
Since they began sharing the works of art with the world, the brothers now receive more thank you messages from family and facility staff. The mother of one artist said, "When my child would make strange voices or act differently from everyone else, people would give us cold looks. Someone even said that I had failed as a parent. I thought so too. However, now that my child is seen as an artist, the way others see us has changed. For the first time, I can believe that I did not fail as a parent."
They also receive more fan letters and thank-you notes from purchasers of HERALBONY artworks and products. "A story is born between a HERALBONY work and its purchaser. They are energized. They realize something. Stories like this are born one by one," says Fumito.
Creating a movement that changes society through art
HERALBONY's business approach is to never consider itself as doing philanthropic work. Their purpose is to create a society where persons with disabilities can live and interact without estrangement, so they only release works that people will genuinely see as good. The company's mission to "Release Your Distinctiveness" is a powerful one. It seeks to break down the barriers of prejudice and accepted practice that exist in society. The art created by persons with disabilities, with its rich sensibilities, innumerable individualities, and staggering talents, can change how people feel.
"I think the term 'disability' is not that suitable. Maybe it is time for another word or concept. A disability does not arise from the person's consciousness. It is created by those around the person and society at large. I want to realize a society where your name comes before the label of 'disability.' Instead of disability meaning a lack of something, it should simply refer to a difference. One day, I hope that there will be a HERALBONY product or artwork in each home, and we will be recognized as a revolution in thinking that changed how people with disabilities are seen." (Takaya).
It is also true that the Tokyo metropolis functions as a place that, through art, allows for the "dissemination" of awareness concerning these obstacles and social issues. "From the perspective of a location for disseminating new art, when we opened for a limited time from June to July of 2021 in COREDO Nihonbashi, nearly half of the visitors did not know about HERALBONY. Oftentimes, it felt like people came in for the designs, and then learned about the artists with disabilities for the first time after speaking with staff. They would appreciate the brand values of the story and daily interactions with art and make a purchase. This indicates that they are sympathetic to "diversity," and understand that their actions are also an investment in this idea." (Fumito)
In the future, they plan to grow as a business
Selling artwork is not their end goal. "We don't want to end things halfway. Our goal is to change the image people have of disabilities. As for the numbers, we want sales to benefit the creators' incomes and change their lives for the better. We are still only partway to our dream. To make it happen, we need to expand our scale. We have raised funds for impact investment from the Social Impact Investment Foundation (SIIF). Going forward, we will likely increase the number of stores and expand our business."(Takaya).
What encouraged them was the words from an investor. "In the end, the investor's criterion was whether the managers looked like they were enjoying the business." That also overlaps with the company's cultural code: "The main character is always yourself." Get excited and try new things. For this to happen, employees must be excited too.
The brothers describe themselves as a "welfare experiment unit." This expresses their willingness to repeatedly take on new challenges and face failures. "Until now, welfare was something where failure was not allowed. Things had to be certain. However, to break down barriers, we need to try new things, fail, and expand our possibilities." (Fumito)
"Going forward, as a lifestyle brand, we want to develop a world-view where HERALBONY art can be found on wallpaper, curtains, furniture, and so on. In 2022, we are also planning to design a hotel. Guests can stay in rooms featuring the works of artists they like, and the artists will be paid for this. We want to be more and more active going forward." (Takaya)
There are endless offers from companies looking to collaborate on something new. We look forward to HERALBONY's future of creating exciting things and gently breaking down existing stereotypes.