Tokyo-based photographer Irwin Wong’s work for cosmetics company SK-II documents the stories of female small business owners. The multimedia project is part of a web-based experience in which viewers can explore a virtual street with interactive elements that showcase the vendors and their stories.
The images and videos were developed as part of SK-II’s #CHANGEDESTINY program, a fund the company set up to support women business owners that have been adversely affected by the pandemic. The cosmetics company partnered with Shibuya City and MEETALK to donate $1 for each video view to support women-owned small businesses.
Irwin was hired for the project by the brand’s production company, Mr. Positive. While he had worked with the production company in the past, this was his first time working with Singapore-based company SK-II. The client had a vision of how the project would come together, and Irwin worked closely with the production company to navigate the logistics and bring their ideas to life.
We had great communication with the client in Singapore so we had a clear idea of what we were aiming to create. The logistics took a bit of planning as parking a lighting truck in the narrow streets of Tokyo is always a challenge.
The shoot took place in Tokyo over three days during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was important that proper precautions were taken and that they kept the crew small to ensure the safety of the team and talent.
Irwin and the team photographed and filmed two women a day during those three days, each in their own shop or studio. Each story is unique and centers around their passion for their careers or individual artistry.
The films shed light on women like Mai Odajima, a 30-year-old Kimono shop owner, and Ai Hashimoto, a second-generation florist who had to change how they did things during the pandemic to keep their business afloat. For example, Mai prepared rental and photography packages for people to use her kimonos for keepsake photos due to canceled ceremonies and graduations.
Irwin specializes in documentary work, and his approach to capturing the stories included getting to know each woman through an on-camera interview while also photographing portraits and authentic imagery of them working on their businesses.
We shot two locations a day over 3 days, lighting for the hero shot first and then moving into a setup for motion. Afterward, we shot documentary-style photos of themselves at work.
Irwin enjoyed working with the team from Mr. Positive and getting to know the women he interviewed for the project during the shoot. His past experience with the crew, along with the clear creative direction, made it a smooth and enjoyable experience.
Watching small business owners do their thing and talk about their passion is always a treat. I learned about some great independent businesses in Tokyo!
Irwin’s images and the video clips he directed for SK-II shed light on the incredible women behind some of Tokyo’s independent shops. By highlighting these women, the brand aims to support the city’s independent businesses and utilize their resources to generate increased exposure for their shops. Through the individual profiles, each woman was given a platform to tell their story, and the hope is that they can continue to pursue their passions.