Celebrating Asian Culture When You’re Not Asian

We are always thrilled when anyone finds our kimono robes and is drawn to their nod to heritage and history. While we do not “replicate” traditional kimono, our kimono robes are inspired and influenced by the rich history behind these traditional garments and our founders’ families’ Chinese and Japanese heritage. These pieces are a natural extension of our co-founders’ own life story and aesthetic, so one thing we have often been asked is — is it cultural appropriation for anyone other than people with Japanese heritage to wear these modern silk robes? We absolutely understand this question because an important element in our mission of inclusivity has to do with representing the culture and history of the traditional Japanese kimono. So our take is this: there’s a difference between appropriation and appreciation. And there is a long-standing context in which to frame the difference in the history of the traditional Japanese kimono itself:


Handpainted Silk Crane Kimono Robe
 
Early Kimono Fashion Influences from China and Japan

While the kimono is the traditional garment of Japan, and the hanfu of China, there have certainly been influences and inspirations passed back and forth between cultures. While both cultures, Chinese and Japanese, remain distinctive of one another, they would borrow and build off of each other to create new and unique garments particular to each culture. For example, in the Japanese Heian Period, according to Culture Trip, clothing that was similar to what we’d note as a modern day kimono “was often worn with the Chinese-influenced hakama (a type of long skirt with or without a division to separate the legs, similar to trousers), or a type of apron known as mo. Later, it became fashionable to wear the kimono style garment without the hakama. This meant the wearer needed a new way to hold the robe closed; and so the obi, the wide sash worn around the waist, was born.” While the kimono is a Japanese garment, the cultural conversation between both China and Japan influenced how the garment changed over time to become the modern kimono we see and know today. 

Cherry Blossom & Crane Kimono Wrap
Photo by Rudney Novaes
 
A Garment of the People “On the Street, Not On a Pedestal”

All over the world, the kimono has been having a resurgence in fashion for some time. Quimonos in Portugal, Spain, and Europe are celebrated and worn as pieces of a modern wardrobe. In fact, quimonos are so popular that there are whole Facebook groups dedicated to loving and celebrating these pieces. “Kumiko Ishioka,” according to BBC.com, “has a Facebook page on which kimono wearers from all over the world can connect to share their enthusiasm.” She tells BBC.com, “We can look at people who enjoy kimono freely, classically or traditionally, as they like,” she says. BBC comments: “Those elements, together with a new, edgy breed of kimono designer have succeeded in putting the kimono back where it belongs – on the street, not on a pedestal.” We believe celebrating the rich history of the traditional garment is part of falling in love with it. While costuming can come across as offensive and appropriative, wearing these modern kimono robes and enjoying the history and heritage of the garment, in our opinion, is not. In fact, it brings us great joy to see folks like Gwen Stefani including her bridal kimono robe at her family wedding affair and bringing that heritage to her special day.

The Difference Between Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation

The founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University, Dr. Neal Lester, has a similar take to us. He defined cultural appropriation to USA TODAY as "stealing something from a culture that is not one's own and reaping the benefits or profits from it”, saying that appropriation "reduces something to a kind of performance."

In comparison, the cultural exchange program Greeheart.org notes that cultural appreciation "is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.” 

Plus Size Washable Silk Peony & Butterfly Kimono Robe
Photo by Maria Del Rio

However you add your own kimono robe into your life, we are thrilled each and every time you do! And we are so grateful to Gwen Stefani for including our bridal kimono robe for her Hollywood wedding. We’re wishing her and Blake Shelton the best as they set off on this new journey together, and make new traditions to pass down for generations to come.

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