Saturday, January 15, 2011
Kimonos–are they dying out?
When i think about Japanese clothing kimonos are one of the first garments that come to mind. The kimono is a garment steeped in history and is a traditional attire worn by all genders. Kimono translates to ‘thing to wear’. Its a T shape item with long sleeves and a floor sweeping length. They are usually gathered around the waist with an obi belt.
Kimonos have long been admired by the West for their luxurious fabric and exquisite designs. But the traditional kimono making industry in Japan is in peril. A lot of this is down to a decline in popularity. Previously the whole of Japan wore kimonos but this is no longer the case, now its mostly worn for special occasions. Is feared that within the next 10 years the art of traditional kimono making will have died out. The industry is having trouble passing on the skills needed to the next generation. There are actually thousands of stages involved in kimono creation and a whole host of different craftspeople are needed and they all possess different areas of expertise. It can take 10+ years to develop the expertise needed for a single stage. Many of the last remaining kimono artisans are now elderly and its feared that the kimono industry will die with them.
The kimono used to be the preferred garment for everyone from samurai to aristocrats but its hardly worn by todays youth who have become very Americanised in style terms. These days they only wear them on certain occasions and even then they’re more likely to opt for a Chinese produced machine made kimono. It costs £1400 + for a traditional kimono whereas Chinese ones are less than 10% of that price.
The kimono industry has taken note of the decline in sales and are trying to attract younger consumers with modernist designs but so far its not proving a success. Kimono sales are at an all time low. This isn’t helped by globalisation and a rapidly changing target audience within Japan.
This is all very disappointing especially as the Japanese economy is thriving. Sadly the new generation are more likely to purchase the latest Louis Vuitton or Chanel bag than a hand crafted lovingly made traditional kimono. This lull in demand is forcing even some of the premier kimono artisans to use lower quality foreign silk rather than the much more expensive but superior quality Japanese silk. Now its almost impossible to buy 100% Japanese kimonos.
Another factor in its demise is fewer Japanese are getting wed and alot of the ones that do are going for western style wedding dresses instead of traditional wedding attire of traditional kimonos. Add to this the decrease in the birth rate and with it the need for kimonos to wear for coming of age rites.
In the past 10 years kimono sales have almost halved and the number of kimono factories has sunk to under 500 (from 1000+ in 1980).
Japanese kimonos aren’t just an item of clothing they are a sign of ritual, history and culture. The death of the industry would be a travesty.