Our signature Handpainted Silk Collection is our signature collection for good reason. It is steeped in a rich tradition — not just the historical context of the traditional Japanese kimono, but also the experiences from our co-founders’, sisters Renee and Tiffany Tam’s, childhood traveling to Asia with their parents. Because this entire production process is so meaningful and distinctive, today we’re sharing the secrets behind this intricate hand-painted kimono robe production process in the journal!
Each of our handpainted silk kimono robes are handcrafted, and while many western cultures may prioritize perfection in that handcrafted process, that’s not the cultural aesthetic for certain eastern cultures. Wabi-sabit is an aesthetic acceptance, and even appreciation, of transiences and imperfection. The wabi-sabi aesthetic can be described as “one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature.” It can be found in many different modalities of Japanese art, and it’s one that we also hold in high regard. It’s this acceptance of variation that allows the beautiful handpainted production process to be so rich in meaning, making every single pieces as unique as you are. So today, we’re going to share how our production process was inspired by history, our founders’ childhood experiences, and our value of making each floral kimono robe as distinctive and singular as you are.
There has been much conversation in both art and fashion between the Chinese and Japanese cultures over time. As we’ve written about before, the traditional Japanese kimono has had quite the evolution over time, including influences from China — in this way, the traditional Japanese kimono started out as perhaps the most inclusive garment of all time. According to J Stor Daily, “The first ancestor of the kimono was born in the Heian period (794-1192). Straight cuts of fabric were sewn together to create a garment that fit every sort of body shape. It was easy to wear and infinitely adaptable.” It’s that adaptability that allowed the kimono to evolve into a kosode, which was worn by men and women as an outer garment. It was so common in Japan and nowhere else in the world because from “The years 1603 to 1868 [which] are known as the last era of traditional Japan[,] Japanese culture developed with almost no foreign influence during this time. And the kosode was one of the key elements of what it meant to be Japanese.” So as Japanese culture was introduced more and more to the world, the kosode and the kimono became synonymous with Japan to the rest of the world. Not only were they cultural identifiers to the rest of the world, but the details of the kosode and kimono—the style, motif, texture, material, color, and production technique—would all indicate your social position within Japanese society. According to J Stor Daily, “Each individual garment was the biodata of its wearer.”
As the traditional Japanese kimono evolved, so did the traditional techniques used to paint these symbolic pieces. During the Southern Song dynasty in China, scholarly work included the transcription of literature, using brush and ink on paper. This evolved into ink art that Zen Buddhist monks from China then introduced to Japan in the 14th century. This technique was then interpreted and shifted the art by reducing the number of brush strokes, simplifying them, and even combining these pieces of ink art with poetry to create the Sumi style of handpainting that we recognize today. There is a traditional Sumi paintbrush to create a quality of line that saturates the fabric to which it is applied.
It’s this history that sisters and co-founders and Renee and Tiffany Tam discovered when they traveled to Asia as little girls. With their parents running shops in Chinatown, the young girls often traveled with their parents as they visited Asia to source products and work with artisans in crafting goods for those Chinatown shops. That’s when the sisters were first introduced to the production process of the traditional Japanese kimono. They witnessed the Sumi paintbrush, the rich saturation of the beautiful colors into the silk kimono and were mesmerized by the artisans’ skill and technique as they created these beautiful garments.
Our founders’ family has partnered with the same family of artisans in China’s Silk Village for decades to craft these floral kimono robes. And now as Renee and Tiffany bring silk floral robes to the KIM+ONO selection, they’ve maintained that partnership to craft truly beautiful pieces of art. Once the designs are created, the technical and artistic process continues with the lead artisan, Ping, the artist behind the beautifully handpainted flowers you see on each piece. Ping starts off the weeklong process to make just one kimono pattern on our 100% silk kimono robes with a sketch. Every silk floral robe for women that we create is a completely original piece of art — every petal and detail on our handpainted kimono robes are first sketched by hand by Ping, then saturated in rich watercolors using a traditional paintbrush. It takes about seven days to make just one complete kimono robe. You can feel the heart and energy put into each piece when you wear it.
One of the most incredible parts of this handpainted silk production process is the way the technique is passed down. Apprentices work with skilled artisans to learn this timeless technique. Often the apprentices are friend or family members of the artisans, and so the opportunity to learn this long-established production process is minimal. Along with the sumi paintbrush, another element that’s specific to this process is the need for a large, open, airy space for the production equipment. The silks are spread over a large frame for the handpainting (which you can see here!) and the space has to be free from dust or any other small debris in the air to make sure nothing sets in the paint as it’s applied to the silk. It’s a long and intricate process to create these floral silk robes, but the artisans take great care and pride in these unique production techniques.
Each of our handpainted silk floral kimono robes brings with it an element of absolute distinction. Because everything is crafted by hand, there will be idiosyncratic touches (a wabi-sabi aesthetic of sorts), to every design. In the handcrafted process, there may be a drip of ink, or a slightly different hue in saturation. All of this is something we consider to be part of the silk floral robe — a signature that makes it as special and unique as you are.
We hope you’ve gained an extra insight and appreciation for the delicate production process of these beautiful floral kimono robes. Let us know — have you tried our Handpainted Silk Collection yet? We hope you fall in love with its history and heritage just as much as we have.