When a Kimono is Not a Kimono

August 22, 2020 4 Comments

When a Kimono is Not a Kimono

The term “Cultural Appropriation” has been tossed around quite a bit in the past few years. Mayamam Weavers is very sensitive to the theft of the beautiful huipil designs of the traditional Maya dress and the women in the weaving cooperative participate in the struggle for the recognition of the designs as heritage and identity. And it is clear when a fashion designer uses a design copied from traditional Maya embroidery that that is appropriation and it’s wrong. But it took listening to a recent podcast episode to sensitize ourselves to our own act of cultural appropriation as we had appropriated the name “kimono” for one of our woven products.

Cultural appropriation happens when we make use of something without fully understanding its context or meaning. Several years ago, we had chosen to use the name kimono for an open front, “flowy” long jacket that is handwoven on a foot loom by the women of our cooperative. Our inspiration for change began with Manpreet Kalra of the Art of Citizenry and her July 2020 Navigating an Unequal World podcast, episode 3 titled “Which is it, Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation”. The podcast had recommended reading an article written by a Japanese American woman, Emi Ito titled, "An Open Letter to White Makers & Deisgners Who are Inspired by the Kimono and Japanese Culture." Ito is a teacher and sustainable fashion advocate who has been successful in reaching out to fashion brands who misuse the name kimono and helping them find alternative solutions. The article made the role of the kimono in Japanese culture, tradition, and identity very clear. It was such a learning experience to discover how easily lack of knowledge about another culture can lead to unintentional cultural appropriation, but cultural appropriation nonetheless.

Photo by Jie on Unsplash

The fact that we meant nothing bad by naming our garment a kimono is fine, but once we understood the deep cultural significance of the kimono in Japanese culture it was clear we had to change the name of our product. The kimono is a sacred garment. When companies sell kimonos as fashion, they are erasing the definition as well as the history of kimonos. Not only did our kimono have its own unique shape and style, it didn’t have a connection with Japan, or with Japanese culture.

 

While the concept of fair trade no doubt celebrates cultural differences, one of the nine principles of Fair Trade is to respect cultural identity. As a fair trade organization, this is extremely important to us. So with a little brainstorming with our team, we came up with a new name for our product – introducing the Windowpane Weave Wraparound!

If you're interested in additional reading about this topic:

My Kimono is Not Your Couture by Emi Ito

 

4 Responses

Jennifer
Jennifer

September 22, 2021

Thank you for stopping by Morgan!! We’re so glad you did. Love your website :).

Morgan Mendoza
Morgan Mendoza

August 09, 2021

You never fail to impress me with your titles and on top of that, your blog is fantastic.
https://tinytwigorganic.com/

Caryn Maxim
Caryn Maxim

August 27, 2020

Thank you Rachel for the thoughtful response. Yes, we remember your comments back when we introduced our “kimono”. It was really the article that we reference in the blog that made us stop in our tracks and decide we had to change the name. It is not easy to navigate this subject of cultural appropriation, but in this case we had a clear voice from a Japanese American woman testifying to its importance and role in the Japanese culture. Since we are in the midst of the Guatemala issues of cultural appropriation of the beautiful ceremonial huipils, this was an easy decision! Thank you again for your support along our journey. Caryn

Rachel Biel
Rachel Biel

August 27, 2020

This is such a complicated topic as some words have become so embedded in the design world (or with food products, etc.) that they are not necessarily tied to their original culture anymore. I remember when you launched your kimono design and I didn’t like it because it is not shaped as a kimono and I think words should mean something specific, especially when you rely on keywords in search engines to find certain things. In the textile world, I see many artists talking about their quilts, weavings, etc as “paintings” because they are more accepted as fine art and in high end exhbits. But, they are NOT paintings. They are textiles or fiber art and I think it would be better to just try to elevate those words into the fine art world instead of trying to change what something is, like is is shameful to work with fibers.

Language is always changing and we incorporate words that catch the public’s imagination. Think about English and how many words we use that come from French, German or Spanish. I think the big problem is not the use of ideas or where things come from, but profiting from them when they are clear rip-offs of a culture, especially when they are big fashion houses using indigenous designs and not educating the public about the origins or not giving part of the profits to an organization that might support an effort. Instead of collaborating, they just take. I’ve worked on the retail side of representing the handmade community for over 25 years and have found that we always benefit from trends that zoom in on a certain part of the world. In the mid-1990’s Guatemalan products became all the rage which was great for us until the mainstream picked up on it, set up sweat shops, and flooded the market with cheap knock-offs. Even thought these factories were set up in Guatemala, they paid very low wages and affected all of the fair trade groups that were operating then. So, that is the big Catch-22. Every generation of consumers is a blank slate where they are awed by traditional garb and products from around the world and the education needs to be ongoing. You guys do a wonderful job with your presentation, your stories, your personal growth, and I commend you for all the hard work you have put in over the years!

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Our Blog

Preserving Cultural Heritage
Preserving Cultural Heritage

October 08, 2021

View full article →

The Intrigue of the Color Turquoise in our Textiles
The Intrigue of the Color Turquoise in our Textiles

September 18, 2021

View full article →

Getting a Grip in the Kitchen
Getting a Grip in the Kitchen

July 11, 2021

View full article →

Want to hear our stories, see beautiful new products, and learn how the weaving cooperative makes positive changes in the community?