Our AAPI Heritage and Chinatown Roots: A Q&A with Co-Founders and Sisters Renee and Tiffany Tam

We love the month of May because we get to celebrate all things AAPI heritage! If you’ve been following along with our KIM+ONO story for some time, then you know that our co-founders’ AAPI heritage is woven into each and every kimono robe we make. From the time sisters Renee and Tiffany Tam were young children at their parents’ kimono store in Chinatown, to the present day designs of their modern kimono robes, their heritage has informed the evolution of KIM+ONO at every step of the journey.


So today, to celebrate, we’re celebrating the heritage behind these floral kimono robes with a Q&A with Renee and Tiffany. Read on and keep checking in all May-long as we celebrate the rich AAPI heritage that we love so much!

 
KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Augie Chang
 
Why did you decide to make floral kimono robes?

KIM+ONO was a seed of an idea since childhood. As children, we traveled together with our parents whenever they worked with manufacturers in Asia, so we would tour artisan villages and see the production process firsthand. We were specifically moved by the artistic process of the traditional Japanese kimono —  the nature of the production process made a huge impact on us. Renee had Old Shanghai Online up and running for about a decade when Tiffany was simultaneously connecting with a younger audience through her own curated online boutique. The sisters started talking about connecting the family business to a younger audience and bringing the traditional Japanese kimono they loved as girls to the brand through a modern kimono robe.

 
Why did you open your store in Chinatown, San Francisco?

Chinatown has always been a second home to us. Our parents’ stores are along Grant Avenue and we’ve grown up in the neighborhood from young girls. During our rebrand and launch of KIM+ONO, a family friend presented us with an opportunity. A space down the block from my parents was becoming available, and our family friend thought we might be interested. With the idea of the rebrand coinciding with an opportunity to open a physical brick and mortar kimono store, it felt like a cohesive vision for our brand. We completed the rebrand and opened the store on Grant Avenue in Chinatown, SF in the spring of 2018!

 
What is the most exciting thing about having a store in Chinatown? 

Chinatown is the place that supported our family over decades. It’s the place we grew up in and love deeply, so it's very meaningful to bring something new to this community and to be a part of it. We also love to meet our customers (whether locals or traveling from abroad), to hear their stories and to connect with them in person. It’s the variety of connections that we make through heritage rich pieces like modern kimono robes that is most exciting to us.

 KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Augie Chang
 
How do you see your role in maintaining traditions in Chinatown? 

During one of our most favorite holidays of the year (Lunar New Year), we love to decorate the store with cherry blossoms, lucky red envelopes, and auspicious fruits. As our culture celebrates this meaningful holiday, visitors can get a glimpse of how we celebrate our heritage and traditions. Folks will wander into our kimono store and be immersed in the family heritage that has been passed down to us from generation to generation, all while finding the perfect floral kimono robe that will hopefully be passed down through generations of their own families.

 
How do you see your role in bringing growth/freshness to Chinatown? 

We’re hoping to set an example and inspire other AAPI entrepreneurs that they can have a thriving business here in Chinatown. It is a beautiful community that encompasses old and new traditions. Our modern kimono robes are inspired by traditional Japanese kimono and family heritage, and bringing all of that through a modern lense is really exciting.

 
What is the most inspiring change you've seen happen in Chinatown in the past couple of years? 

It’s been really wonderful to see the younger generation of AAPI use their voices to make a stand and own that they are proud to be Asian. We are so proud of our heritage, and seeing other folks come together to preserve and celebrate our AAPI culture has been beautiful. 

KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Augie Chang
 
How do your designs bridge the gap between old and new? 

We are still honoring the traditional hand painted technique process for our silk hand painted floral kimono robe collection. Many folks don’t realize how obscure the production process truly is because there are only certain artisans who have learned this from generation to generation. The handpainting production process is an art that requires skilled artisans that are unique to this craft, and we hope to preserve it. With this traditional technique and inspired by Asian vintage art, we combine it with the modern day color palette and silhouette in every modern kimono robe.

 
What is important to you about maintaining AAPI traditions? 

Traditions are a part of our identity, culture, heritage, and our story. It is woven into every aspect of our life, and we continue to be proud of it. 

 KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Augie Chang
 
What is important about change and growth? 

Embracing our heritage and being inspired by traditional pieces like the traditional Japanese kimono have definitely been the foundation of our story. But it's also extremely important to be open minded and embrace challenges (Hello Covid!) when they come up, so that we can continue to learn and grow. We’ve tried to learn from the past as we’ve opened our kimono store, while also being open to whatever new opportunities and ideas present themselves. Staying open to inspiration and building on tradition in our own way keeps us on our toes, so that we become better at what we do, and who we are, in all aspects of life. 

Read more about the history and AAPI heritage woven into every modern kimono robe all throughout our journal. And if you’re enjoying your piece, tag us on social with #swaythisway and @kimandono_, we love to see how our pieces are part of your everyday!

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