Auckland Japanese housewives give kimonos a new lease of life as fashion accessories

By Lincoln Tan

Chika Crooks and Noriko Collins with bags made from kimonos. Picture / Doug Sherring
Chika Crooks and Noriko Collins with bags made from kimonos. Picture / Doug Sherring

KEY POINTS

Old kimonos don't die in New Zealand - they get a modern makeover and a fresh lease of life.

Old kimonos don't die in New Zealand - they get a modern makeover and a fresh lease of life.

Japanese housewives in Auckland are behind a cottage industry that transforms the kimono, Japan's traditional dress, into modern fashion items and accessories such as purses, bags, headbands and scarves.

Michiko McNay, 46, originally from Yokohama, says she sees it as a great way to get "a little bit of Japan" into New Zealand homes.

"Kimono is an integral part of Japanese culture, and it would be so wrong to see them thrown in the bin," she said.

"Recycling them is a great way for me to feel connected to my homeland and also to be sharing my culture with other Kiwis."

Since last October, her creations have been sold at craft and weekend markets, which had made her "shopping money" of about $500.

Mother Rika Cai, 39, said she did her sewing in her Glenfield home when her two young sons were asleep.

Noriko Collins, who started the community, said a dozen Japanese immigrant housewives are involved the scheme called "Project Wa".

"Wa" is a Japanese cultural concept that can be translated as "being in harmony".

Collins moved to Auckland in 2015 after spending 18 years in Singapore where she worked with fashion designers to turn old kimono fabric into 21st century fashion.

"I have lots of leftover vintage kimono scrap fabric which would be such a waste to throw away," Collins said.

"Many have seen a kimono but few would have ever touched them, so by tapping on the creative talents of the housewives, people can have an opportunity to do so."

Collins said many Japanese women here struggled to find employment because of their limited English and social networks.

The women were recruited through a Japanese community online website.

"Generally Japanese ladies are quite skilful as we have sewing classes from primary school," she said.

"My kimono scraps will also give them a chance to make some pocket money."

The kimono was once part of the daily dressing for women in Japan, but was now worn only for special occasions.

Damaged and old kimonos often sat in storage or were discarded.

Collins said wearing an elaborate kimono was not only complex and time consuming, but it was also not very comfortable.

"To wear one properly, you will need the help of at least one other person and it takes about an hour," she said.

"By turning it into modern-day clothing and accessories, the aim is to give the wearer that same special kimono feeling with something that's easier to put on."

Since September, Collins has been selling the kimono fashion items at craft and weekend markets.

They will be available next at the Silo Park market on Mar 18 and the General Collective Market at the ASB Showgrounds on Mar 26.

Collins is aiming to have kimono fashion included at the 2017 New Zealand Fashion Week after failing to raise enough funds to participate last year.

- NZ Herald

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