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Respectfully Reconsidered: The Kimono - Good Morrow Co

Respectfully Reconsidered: The Kimono

A singular text message completely altered what I believed was a respectful worldview of fashion. This text came from a friend and customer and Japanese immigrant to Hawaii. I have known her for YEARS.

Coming on the heels of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, candid discussions about radical inclusion, representation, and seeking to learn from the diverse voices in our community, the text came in and challenged my willingness to practice what I preach.

I thought I was being respectful, I have had these discussions in the past, I'm a biracial black American, surely I understand! But I didn't. And so began the deep dive into the use of the word "kimono" in fashion, candid discussions with Japanese friends and family, and the decision to change the name of several Good Morrow Co garments to stop using the word.

The article that was respectfully sent my way was My Kimono is Not Your Couture. I strongly recommend reading it, sitting with it, and considering the history there. It sums up the history of the kimono, the painful association for Japanese Americans, and why claiming it as influence isn't even accurate. Kimonos are ceremonially significant garments for the Japanese people, heirlooms passed down through the generations, and tragically left behind or burned when Japanese Americans were incarcerated in interment camps during WWII. Equally tragic, and appalling as an Army spouse, is that part of the reason kimonos grew in popularity in the US is because US GI's at war in Japan would send kimonos back home to mistresses and girlfriends, they became popular in boudoirs of these women, so far devoid from their cultural significance for Japanese women. 

My Aunt and I
Enter my naivety and pride. I asked my Japanese aunt YEARS ago whether the "kimonos" I sell were considered cultural appropriation. She immigrated to the US in the 60's, married a black man when that was taboo on a million different levels, but I value her opinion more than most in this world. She said it was fine, that what I was selling wasn't really a traditional kimono anyways. I have spent the majority of my life surrounded by Asian culture. My Seattle grade school education did not shy away from the atrocities done by Americans to the Japanese people. I thought it was cultural influence along the lines of bangles, block printing, tweeds and tartan plaids. I was wrong. And by only listening to a singular voice on the subject, I never questioned whether or not it was appropriate to use the word "kimono" for the pieces I was selling.

3 weeks ago I would have said that kimono was more of a type of garment, not a specific garment. It's not. (Apparently the garments I sell are actually closer to Japanese Haori anyways.) I would have NEVER sold a true Japanese styled kimono, in the same way I wouldn't sell a Native American headdress, or an Indian sari. I would have firmly placed those in the cultural appropriation category. They are not my cultures to profit from. I learned on my 37th birthday that creating our own version and calling it by the same name is also a form of cultural appropriation. There is a point where being "inspired by" is actually just misrepresenting the culture and doing harm. This is exactly what I was doing. I had not even considered the impact of calling these garments "kimonos" would have on Japanese Americans, especially with their history on American soil.

And here we are, acknowledging that fashion like art will always take influence from somewhere. That we should respect the source of that influence, and consider if it's doing harm. I realized in my research, that I was not comfortable using the word "kimono" to describe our layering pieces. That what I sell isn't even a kimono anyways, as those are ceremonial garments of Japanese heritage, intricate in their usage, and comprised of several pieces, not just an open front jacket. So we move forward having learned a LOT, and I am so thankful for my friend's kindness and boldness to bring this to my attention, so that we can hopefully be another voice within fashion causing us to reconsider our history and influence, and make respectful changes to move forward.

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