Hiromi Asai and the Future of Kimono

This month I’ve been getting really excited about an ambitious Kickstarter project by kimono stylist Hiromi Asai, to take authentic kimono to New York Fashion Week 2016. I’ve been trying to promote it as much as possible, by backing it and by sharing the story behind it because its wider aim is to preserve artisan kimono crafts in the face of a declining kimono trade. Authentic artisan kimono differ from mass produced or vintage kimono because they are produced by hand by highly skilled craftspeople, so it is a living practice based in traditional craft skills.

To combat a downward trend in the kimono industry the Ministry of Trade and Economy in Japan has established a study group to investigate the decline in kimono wear and production. Some of the issues faced seem to be that kimono is difficult to put on correctly without a good deal of knowledge; there are not many events to wear kimono to; artisan kimono production techniques are incredibly highly skilled and laborious, which makes kimono expensive.

Some of the solutions offered to these problems have been to invent easy to wear kimono, which come in two pieces and also METI are considering instigating a ‘wear a kimono to work day‘.

There is a renewal of interest in kimono amongst a younger generation, perhaps as a result of a rise in kimono subcultures like Kimono Hime , which has revived interest in vintage kimono, worn in a way that subverts traditional conventions of kitsuke (kimono dressing). But the focus of this renewed interest has been more on vintage kimonos, and machine made designs, perhaps because of the price tag of handmade artisan pieces.

For this reason Asai’s project is particularly important because so far there has not been a project or enterprise which tackles the issue of how to keep the craft of artisan kimono making alive. She has teamed up with Kimono Artisan Kyoto (a group of professional kimono artisans) to take their hand crafted kimono to NYFW16, where she will style their creations. By financing this project via crowdfunding on an international platform, she aims to create a new model for funding this highly skilled and time consuming art. Thus giving kimono artists an opportunity to display their work at the forefront of the fashion world.

To give you an idea of the intricacy of some of the artisan crafts involved in kimono making, here are some clips of some different techniques used

Nijishin-Ori – woven textiles from the Nijishin district, often  used for making obi: 

Shibori – an intricate type of ‘tie dye’ used to decorate kimono, obi and most commonly, obiage (a silk scarf worn at the top of the obi)

Yuzen dying – a resist dye technique – 

The real crisis in kimono lies with these artisan crafts, many of which are practiced only by an ageing population of highly skilled craftspeople. The wider purpose of Asai’s Kickstarter is to ensure that these beautiful crafts are passed on to another generation of artisans. If she can find enough backers to raise the $50,000 dollars needed to take a handcrafted collection to NYFW she hopes that this will revive kimono production at an artisan level in two ways. Firstly that it will create a a new route to funding and income for craftspeople, who may be able to crowdfund future projects if the profile of kimono can be raised enough. Secondly, she hopes that kimono will be recognised as a universal formalwear.

The Kickstarter campaign is now 90% funded, with only 8 days left to raise the final $5000 needed. This means that any donations made now will really decide whether or not the project happens. I urge everyone to support Hiromi’s project and raise the profile of kimono worldwide, bringing much needed revenue to the artisan kimono industry! 

* NB Hiromi’s project has, interestingly, coincided with a protest at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Protesters wanted to raise awareness of the West’s history of appropriation and stereotyping of kimono wearers. This article gives some responses by those trying to promote the kimono industry from within Japan. I don’t aim to intervene in this debate other than to point out that in funding Hiromi you are funding Japanese artists to promote and make a livelihood from their craft.

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