Sweet Grandma’s Kimono Ages Productively
TOKUSHIMA – Rumi Oono is operating “Memory Business” by incorporating old kimonos into pieces of furniture, costumes, casual dresses and small items in Tokushima Prefecture. With her products, parts of an antique kimono with a lot of memories of your grandmas can appear in furniture that you use every day. Grandma passed away and her kimonos are being kept at the bottom of a closet. What should you do? Keep them forever without using them, or sell them off? The fabric is too old to wear today, but you would feel sad to sell it to a recycling outlet. To respond to the question, Rumi started this business two years ago to turn sweet memories into things to keep around you.
In recent years, wearing a kimono became a fad in Japan. It is not unusual to see a young woman wearing a kimono in the middle of Tokyo. However, until several years ago when the kimono regained its popularity, few people paid attention to this traditional Japanese clothing. The kimono was a regular outfit until around the 1950s. If you are above 50 years old, you will remember your grandmother wearing a traditional Japanese kappogi apron over her kimono and cooking in the kitchen. But a radical shift to Western outfits happened after that.
Young women as well as their mothers and grandmothers started to wear a skirt and shirt or a one-piece dress on a daily basis. And in the 1980s, the bubble economy came to the Japanese market. The kimono was no longer casual clothing but was worn only at a special occasion, such as a wedding or a coming-of-age ceremony. At that time, high-end kimonos priced at more than 1 million JPY (about 9,000 USD) sold like hotcakes. After the 1990s, when the bubble economy burst, the demand for kimonos declined significantly. From then, until about five years ago, the kimono had to bear an inconspicuous and moderate position for about 20 years.
Today, the kimono is worn by both men and women, young and old, when they go out for fun even if it’s not an important ceremony. The demand for kimonos is booming rapidly, and so is the demand for kimono recycling businesses. A huge amount of old kimonos are available at weekend flea markets.
If your grandma’s kimono is still in the closet, a recycling business would welcome the kimono in this period of revitalized antique kimono market. However, are you willing to sell your grandma’s kimono, which has a lot of memories for you? Rumi was so sad to sell hers that she came up with an idea to incorporate the memorable kimono into daily items. She used to work in kimono industry for five years and thus has knowledge in kimono, and she is also an active interior coordinator. She wondered if she might be able to fuse interior design with old Grandma’s kimono left intact in the closet. She wanted to make a beautiful, useful item for her room that would allow her to feel Grandma’s sweetness. Rumi’s memory business drives from there. “If I use a part of Grandma’s kimono for furniture, a table center and an accessory case I use every day, I thought I could always embrace Grandma’s memory,” Rumi said.
An accessory box covered with Aizome indigo dyeing is her recommended product. A part of Aizome-dye kimono fabric is used on the top part of the box. Tokushima Prefecture is well-known for traditional Aizome dyeing and she wanted to reflect local taste in the product. Rumi said, “I aimed to design a box in which you can put Grandma’s rings or your necklaces. The box can be placed anywhere in your room.” She added that having the box made it seem as if her grandma were there and watching over her. It’s paradoxical to say that the kimono becomes more productive as it ages. The repurposed kimono item is giving power to people.
If you provide the fabric, Rumi will consult, design and produce a customized product for you. It could be your late husband’s shirt or your grandfather’s jacket. You will have a hand-made one-of-a-kind item made that incorporates your beloved one’s memories. Rumi will plan after thoroughly hearing your story to reflect the fabric owner’s memory and that person’s way of living.
Also, if you hope to produce a special outfit for yourself by using a recycled Japanese kimono, Rumi can work magic. She can turn a kimono into a dance costume, for example. She organizes a belly dance team consisting of 40 people and has produced many costumes that incorporate antique Japanese kimonos. Her group visits people in nursing homes and performs belly dancing several times a year.
“When we started to visit nursing homes for performances four years ago, we wore Arabian costumes,” Rumi said. “But, when we created our costumes from old kimonos two years ago, older people were really pleased to see them. They are the generation that wore kimonos as their daily clothes, and they probably recall their youthful days when seeing our kimono costumes.”
Rumi’s peer Kumiko Toyama also produces the kimono dance costumes. Kumiko also enjoys belly dancing and is very good at sewing. When she comes across an appropriate antique kimono, she makes a belly dance costume out of it. “I was originally practicing classic ballet, but two years ago, I ran into Rumi and started belly dancing,” Kumiko said. “I love performing with a kimono costume at nursing homes, as people start smiling to see our costumes.”
For belly dancing costumes, flashy and colorful kimonos are used in many cases. If you wear them as dance costumes, the occasion is limited. But, it’s possible to wear them as your casual clothes, even as a party dress, as the photos show. The aged kimono can serve us as a fashionable outfit. If the fabric is thin, it can turn into a light free-size jacket or coat.
Since the kimono is made of fabric, it will deteriorate as time goes by. Even if it is turned into a piece of furniture, its life is not eternal. Yet, if you place the kimono-used item near to you, you will see it and keep the memory alive. Rumi suggests embracing your grandma’s memories on a daily basis instead of visiting the grave only once or twice a year. Rumi’s wish is to expand this business to Paris in the future, where antiques are appreciated. She hopes to propose a way to enrich lives with sweet memories.
For further information about the products, feel free to contact us: email@example.com
Photo by Eri Minouchi, text by Motomi Takahashi, products made by Orange Garnet.
How to get to Tokushima
🚄 Take the Sanyo Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to JR Shin Kobe station. Move to Kobe to take a highway express buss to Tokushima.
✈ Take a direct flight from Haneda Airport to Tokushima Airport.