When you walk into our kimono store, in the heart of Chinatown, you’ll be greeted by three inspirations. First, you’ll see our mirror, and as you look into it, you might notice the decal that gives you the instruction to “Love Yourself”. Then, you might drift over to our big, comfy couch where you can relax, take a deep breath, and just rest for a moment. And at that point, you may be warmly greeted by our friendly team who are each ready to help you find a flower kimono robe to fall in love with. These touches aren’t by accident, but they were created and developed to offer you a sense of overall wellbeing in our space. When you enter our kimono robe store, we want you to feel just as at home as we do. It may look like “just a store” from the outside, but it’s a space built on family, friendship, and the belief that you deserve to be well, lovely. So today in the journal, we’re sharing a bit more about the history and mission of our kimono store, right in the heart of San Francisco.
Your kimono robe was made by two sisters with one dream. Inspired by vintage Asian art, their family history, and the beauty of botanicals, each and every petal and design is created by co-founders and sisters Renee and Tiffany Tam. Inextricable from each kimono fabric is their story: the highs and lows, and everything in between. The Tam sisters have been learning from their parents’ business acumen their entire lives. Renee and Tiffany watched as their parents ran multiple storefronts in Chinatown, they traveled with their parents to Asia to visit with artisans and vendors, and they interacted with the loyal customers their parents’ San Francisco shops invited in. Chinatown, in other words, became the sisters’ second home. They spent so much time in the community, that their family’s four walls expanded to include neighbors, friends, and other community members as much as their own biological family. For KIM+ONO, Chinatown isn’t a “hotspot” location — it’s an intentional location that means family, belonging, home, comfort, and pride. Chinatown is home for the Tam sisters, and their kimono store has always intended to give you that same feeling of being welcomed home.
Renee and Tiffany’s parents worked incredibly hard to build three emporiums in San Francisco’s historic Chinatown neighborhood over multiple decades. Renee, KIM+ONO’s CEO, recalls, “Our parents would work twelve hours daily to support the family. When my parents first opened their business in 1980, my mom was pregnant with Tiffany and she worked every day until labor. My grandma and uncle would take care of me while my parents were at work.” It takes a special effort to bring multiple stores to life while also raising a young family and carving your path. Their parents did it with the help of family. Tiffany adds, “Our parents had a store in Chinatown on Broadway St. and I recall my grandpa working there with my parents, while my grandma took care of me as a child. Family helping each other out was a huge deal.” For working class folks, it took everything their parents had to create their business and storefronts. Tiffany says, “I also remember my parents coming home for dinner, and many nights my dad would go back out to work to close the shops [after dinner]. We didn’t get to spend a ton of time with my parents, since they had to work so much.” Renee and Tiffany watched their parents build their family business with drive, focus, and imagination, and used those same qualities to stitch their own story as the KIM+ONO kimono store was born.
Evolving the family business into something that resonated and felt authentic to the Tam sisters took time and a lot of trial and error. From about 2003-2004, Renee and her husband Chris decided to take business online. Together, they operated and processed orders out of their apartment in the evenings and on weekends. Eventually in 2004, they launched the first iteration of KIM+ONO, which was then called Old Shanghai Online. There were only four people working on the business at that point — employees who are still with KIM+ONO today — demonstrating just how important community is for our team, led by the Tam sisters. Over the years, Renee decided to streamline the brand to women’s kimono robes at the same time that Tiffany envisioned bringing the online shop to a more modernized visual and creative direction. As fate usually has it, once the sisters set out to create KIM+ONO with a small team of ten in 2017, opportunities started to arise. Tiffany recalls, “A family friend reached out to let me know one of her retail spaces was available and asked if I was interested. We were in the midst of the rebrand and thought this was the perfect opportunity to launch our first brick and mortar. With my parent’s support of allowing me to quit managing their stores to follow my dreams, Renee’s trust and support, and with a few bumps along the road, the KIM+ONO brick and mortar kimono store launched in April 2018.”
The vision of the Grant Ave kimono store has always been to create a space where you can walk in and take a deep breath. The feelings of your shoulders dropping, your breath deepening, and your mind moving a little slower are all feelings we want to inspire while you’re visiting us. And part of creating that inspiration is to imbue everything in our space with intention. From the mirror to the couch to the items we choose for the kimono store — handcrafted goods by skilled artisans stock our shelves. The Tam sisters have a profound respect for the creation of handmade goods, as our own flower kimono robe handpainting process takes 7 days from start to finish. So when they thought of the products they wanted to bring into the store, they knew the principles of handcrafted, timeless techniques extended far beyond just their women’s kimono robes, but to everything you discover in our store.
Each and every detail of the store is meant to bring a smile to your face and a softness to your heart. Tiffany explains, “As this company is growing, these questions come to mind: What can we do to have a bigger impact in our community, on today’s society, to make this world a better place?” You are our inspiration and making a difference in your life is what we strive to do. Tiffany adds, “If we can make you feel good about yourself with what we do, then that hits me right in the heart. That is our mission.”