At the heart of KIM+ONO is family. Our co-founders are also sisters, and Renee and Tiffany Tam have woven that love of family and tradition into each and every design. The Tam sisters grew up watching their parents work hard in Chinatown, as they ran a business, raised a family, and instilled a work ethic into their daughters that brought KIM+ONO to life decades later. Renee and Tiffany’s vision for KIM+ONO isn’t just influenced by their immediate family, but by their family’s Asian heritage as well. And this month, we are celebrating that Asian heritage with a deeper look into our founders’ family history, their families’ Chinese and Japanese cultures, and how each and every modern kimono robe celebrates the heritage of which they are so proud.
As women of color who are not immune to the conflation and appropriation of their cultures, Renee and Tiffany Tam have been thoughtful and intentional in how they’ve woven their own cultures into these new modern day pieces. We do not “replicate” traditional Japanese kimono; instead, our kimono robes are inspired and influenced by the rich kimono history behind these traditional garments. The sisters had moving experiences with these pieces as little girls, and the beauty and symbolism of the traditional Japanese kimono stayed with them as adults when they took over their family business and started designing their modern kimono robes, plus size kimono robes, and pieces in the kimono style for the modern woman.
Conflating cultures can be erasure at best and dehumanizing at worst. When folks point out that Chinese and Japanese cultures are not the same, they are pointing to a problematic theme that happens a lot when folks speak about “Asian culture” in general: the reduction of those cultures down to just one. The truth is much more complicated and nuanced than that! Every Asian culture is of course separate and distinct — geography and proximity alone does not make for a cultural wash. What is also true is that because of the geography and proximity, the foundation and origin of certain pieces of each culture will inevitably influence and inspire the other. There is such a thing as a Chinese kimono although it’s not the same as a traditional Japanese kimono. And as our founders’ families are made up of both Chinese and Japanese cultures, it’s with deep reverence and respect for their full Asian heritage, that they bring forth qualities and celebrations of that heritage into each and every modern design. So today in the journal, we’re going to illustrate how the history of both Chinese and Japanese traditions have influenced our modern kimono robes and celebrate how both cultures have helped to shape our founders’ artistic visions.
While the kimono is the traditional garment of Japan, and the hanfu of China, there have certainly been influences passed back and forth between cultures and kimono history is no different. The first kimono-like garment seen in Japanese culture was first a traditional Chinese garment introduced to Japan during the Kofun period. It was during this period that Chinese envoys would travel to Japan. This, coupled with immigration between the two countries, led to an adoption of Chinese dress in the Japanese court society. During the Heian period, Japanese envoys were no longer sent to China and it was at this time that Japanese culture became much more insulated from Chinese sartorial influence and what we now recognize as the traditional Japanese kimono began taking shape. 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.
As Japanese culture became more isolated than it had previously been, there were still traces of Chinese influence in how the garment evolved as it became distinctly Japanese. Interestingly, the basic shape of the kimono has remained the same over centuries even though it has been used in a variety of ways. The later Heian period gave Japan the hitoe (an unlined robe worn as underwear), which actually became an outerwear garment for both women and men, the name changing to kosode.
The kosode evolved into an ankle-length garment with small, rounded sleeves that were sewn to the body of the garment. It was during this period that men and women alike would drape a kosode around their shoulders and use the obi (the sash) to gently hold the kosode in place. As Japan created a distinctive shape and design, Chinese cultural influence still wove its way into the pieces. According to Jstor Daily, “Fabric quality, choice of pattern, thread, paint, wood-block print, and color were essential criteria for presenting the rank, age, gender, and refinement of the person wrapped in it. And refinement was of particular importance. Use of kanji (Chinese characters) and scenes from Chinese and Japanese classical literature showed literary prowess.”
While kimono history shows a long evolution of the garment, certain influences can still be felt today in our modern kimono robe designs. These modern kimono robes do not replicate traditional kimono, but do carry influences from kimono history. Both traditional Japanese kimono and Chinese kimono utilized the fabric of silk in their pieces, which we incorporate into our modern designs. Our silks are our signature material, with the handpainted process of beautiful botanical scenes directly influenced by the gorgeous scenes and depictions from vintage Asian art. The cut of our modern kimono robe sleeves, the traditional T-shaped design of the robe, the unlined nature of most of our styles, and the techniques used to create the pieces themselves stem from the rich history behind the traditional kimono, which has been passed down from generation to generation.
What’s even more interesting is how the evolution of our modern kimono robes parallels a similar evolution that happened during the 12th century. It was during this time that the warrior class in Japan came to power. Samurai, who were wearing kosode at the time, began to bring the kosode out of its casual use and into a more official capacity. With that transition, the design of the kosode began evolving to use more decorative dying, as it was more displayed in daily wear. The kosode went from at-home wear to in-the-world wear. The same feeling can be said of our modern kimono robe designs. While we encourage you to wear yours in the bathroom while getting ready, or before your wedding day as you’re getting your hair and make up done, we equally encourage you to wear it loosely draped with the sash tied lightly around it, over jeans and a tee! There are so many ways to wear it, and the versatility that has always been true of the hanfu, kosode, and kimono, is also true of these modern kimono robes.
Our founders’ family history has influenced each part of these beautiful modern kimono robe designs. Whether the painting techniques, silk production techniques, how to wear the pieces, the shape of the pieces, or the cut of the sleeves, we have been inspired by the rich cultural history of the traditional Japanese kimono, and celebrate the influences of the Chinese kimono as well. We hope you’ll join us this month as we celebrate our Asian heritage, in all its nuance, depth, and beauty.