Back view of Japanese ladies wearing full Kimono attire.Racism and Ignorance - Let's learn from each other

It has taken me a while to write this post, as Cultural Appropriation is a big, complex social issue. One that has long existed and only recently come to attention because of a mass shooting in Atlanta resulting in the deaths of eight people, six of those being Asian women.

For the purpose of this post, I will be discussing the kimono. A topic that is prominent within the sewing community, and that I, myself have been ignorant to, subject to the results of cultural appropriation, and for which I am truly sorry for.

There are many sewing patterns out there that are named as 'Kimono' or that use 'kimono' as a vague descriptive term for loose sleeves, or to simply describe a robe. Here, not only are we profiting from others, but we have severely stripped the value and history of the 'Kimono', and in doing so, are taking away its significance to the Japanese culture - a sacred garment.
Recently you may have seen many sewing pattern brands that have renamed or changed many of their patterns accordingly. One of which is Helen's Closet, who had named one of her patterns the "Suki Robe", and referred to it as a Kimono. She acknowledges this in her blog: "I did not realize that using a Japanese word to name this dressing robe pattern plays into harmful stereotypes that perpetuate the fetishization of Asian women.
My admiration for this traditional garment was based primarily on aesthetics. I saw something beautiful and I wanted to reflect its beauty in my own design – to “appropriate it” as my own."

Helen greatly explains her thoughts and lessons on the matter, understanding that we all have so much more to learn: "Cultural appropriation dehumanizes people from that culture by taking their language, traditions, and cultural practices out of a meaningful context. While designers like myself may think we are paying homage, being ‘inspired’, or respectfully ‘borrowing’ from other cultures, our actions contribute to the long history of dominant colonial cultures stealing from and oppressing others. This behaviour can unwittingly perpetuate hateful stereotypes and the kinds of violence that continues unabated today."

Quite often, it is argued that Asians should be grateful for cultural appropriation, as it is taken to mean that they are being appreciated. However, when it is only being used for profit, it is no longer appreciation, it is exploitation and power, which leads to damaging social consequences.
It is also heard of that white people need to "save" the "dying" tradition of the kimono. This is white supremacy. Kimono is an art form which is continuously celebrated and admired throughout Japan today. As Emi Ito says, what we really need is "white people dismantling white supremacy."

An extreme case of cultural appropriation occurred in 2019 when Kim Kardashian West launched an underwear line named 'Kimono Intimates'. The line had nothing to do with a kimono. Kimono is not even underwear. The only relation being that the word kimono has her name within it. (Insert major eye roll here). She even tried to trademark the entire brand: "Kimono Body", "Kimono Intimates" and "Kimono World"! With absolutely no respect to the kimono or its culture, it is needless to say there was uproar in Japan and across the world over the fashion line, to which Kim eventually changed to "SolutionWear".

Oppression comes about from a continued history of events, it is much about whether we enable this, or whether we make change. We must commit to continuously learning and improving. Open discussions such as these are much needed in today's society where we can take stock, learn, and grow with respect of what we've learnt from each other. Let's continue to do so.

An in-depth read into Cultural Appropriation is this wonderfully written Open Letter by Emi Ito, a Japanese-American sustainable fashion activist-influencer: "An Open Letter to White Makers & Designers who are inspired by the kimono and Japanese culture."

Another great article Emi has written is "My Kimono is not your couture".

Emi's instagram handle is little_kotos_closet where you can follow, and learn more about the slow fashion movement and racial injustices.

This is not a sponsored or affiliated post. We are not responsible for any external links mentioned.

Photograph courtesy of Satoshi Hirayama @ Pexels

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