Our AAPI Small Business and Its Evolution in Chinatown

As May comes to a close, and with it the celebration of AAPI heritage, we want to reflect on the very special place in our hearts: Chinatown, San Francisco. For co-founders and sisters Renee and Tiffany Tam, Chinatown has been the epitome of home. Growing up in San Francisco, Chinatown is where their parents opened up their storefronts. This connection to the community through commerce has been part of the Tam family legacy throughout the years. And when the time came for the sisters, a new generation of business owners, to create KIM+ONO and open their own kimono store on Grant Ave, one of Chinatown’s most bustling fareways, the location was much more than just a good idea — it was part of their shared history and family heritage.

So today in the journal, we’re talking about how the Tam sisters brought their women’s kimono robes, plus size kimono robes, and even men’s kimono robes to the street in Chinatown where they grew up. And where they launched their own kimono store, bringing their modern take of the traditional Japanese kimono to silk robes for women in a contemporary way. Here’s a Q&A with Tiffany and Renee Tam on how they built their kimono store in the heart of Chinatown:

Handpainted Silk Cherry Blossom Kimono Robe
How exactly did KIM+ONO come about?

We were always around our parents’s shops on Grant Avenue in Chinatown, San Francisco. Chinatown has been a second home to us all of our lives. Our father taught us so much about business, relationships, and working with artisans. In fact, our parents brought us to Asia when we were young, and we saw the traditional handcrafted production process of traditional Japanese kimono. This made a huge impact on us as little girls. It’s something we carried forward with us into adulthood. Renee saw the potential to take our parents’ Chinatown storefronts into the eCommerce space in about 2005. She focused on women’s kimono robes and knew she would eventually expand to carry plus size kimono robes and men’s kimono robes. After about ten years of hard work, we were chatting about Tiffany’s online business, a curated boutique reaching a younger audience. Tiffany wanted to bring that younger audience to our online shop at the time (then called Old Shanghai Online). It was the right time for a rebrand because we had been doing well and consistently growing our online kimono store. At the same time, an opportunity for a storefront opened up on our beloved Grant Ave. All of it seemed to fall serendipitously into place. So we rebranded to KIM+ONO, opened our brick and mortar kimono store, launched our plus size kimono robe collection, and basically created the brand that you see today during that time. 

KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Andrea Posadas
Tell us the story of how the kimono store on Grant Ave came about.

Renee and I were discussing the potential of the rebrand, and simultaneously, I had also been working in Chinatown at our parents' shop Canton Bazaar. That was the moment that a family friend presented us with an opportunity. A different space down the block from my parents was becoming available, and our family friend thought we might be interested. Since our parents' shops have been in Chinatown our whole lives, Chinatown has always been a second home to us. With the idea of the rebrand and the opportunity for a storefront in our own community, it all seemed like perfect timing. We completed the rebrand and opened the store on Grant Avenue in Chinatown, SF in the spring of 2018!

KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Augie Chang
What has it meant to bring your family heritage and legacy to a new kimono store in Chinatown?

This street and this neighborhood have been such an integral part of our lives since childhood. We used to help out in our parents' shops, or play by their feet as they worked. I remember our mother being pregnant with Tiffany while working in their store. We have quite literally grown up on Grant Avenue so it has always felt like home. To be able to bring something new to the community that has supported us our whole lives has been a dream come true. Our modern kimono robes, inspired by traditional Japanese kimono, were a chance to marry our perspective and aesthetics with our AAPI heritage, within our AAPI community. That’s something so special that can’t be overstated. And without skipping a beat, the community in Chinatown has been so welcoming to us. It really is a special place and we're so grateful to be a small part of it.

KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Augie Chang
Who comes into your kimono store on Grant Ave?

Our clientele are incredible. Most folks, about 80%, who come in are tourists and the other 20% are locals. Growing up, working in my parents' stores, it seemed mostly tourists were coming in, but now there are definitely more locals stopping in, which feels so wonderful. We always wanted our kimono store to be a wellness hub for our community, as well as a destination for tourists.. It's incredible to meet people from all over the world who are visiting San Francisco while at the same time connecting with the people who make this place home.

KIM+ONO Kimono Store
Photo by Augie Chang
What has changed about the neighborhood since you were girls?

Chinatown has always been an incredible place full of AAPI heritage and tradition. Since our childhood, Chinatown has certainly preserved that tradition, and recently we’ve also seen an influx of younger generations of AAPI entrepreneurs and AAPI small businesses bringing a freshness and vitality to it. It's a mix of old and new that is singular and beautiful about this neighborhood. It’s been so wonderful to connect during Walkway Weekends, with the Chinatown Merchants Association, and other local groups, just by virtue of our store being located on Grant Ave. We feel even more connected to our AAPI community with each passing day, and we’re so grateful to be here.

Read more about the history of KIM+ONO and the Tam sisters’ AAPI heritage in the last few blog posts celebrating AAPI Heritage Month! And check out our kimono store hours here, stop by, and visit us when you’re in town. We’d love to have you!

Business Heritage San Francisco Women's Kimono

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