Kimono or Kim, Oh No?

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Kim Kardashian’s new shapewear brand shows that cultural appropriation in the fashion industry is still not over.

Another day, another Kardashian scandal. Most recently, we’ve had Khloe and Kylie embroiled in the cheating scandal with Tristan Thompson and Jordyn Woods, and it seems like Kim was feeling a little left out. So, what better way to launch herself back into the limelight than to release a brand of shapewear with a poorly thought out name?

In an Instagram post on the 25th of June, Kim announced the launch of her new business venture Kimono, showcasing the different skin tones and styles of her shapewear. Including an innovative ‘solution short’ that would allow the wearer to wear things such as split leg dresses, and in sizes XXS to 4XL, with in 9 shades to fit people of every race, the launch of her shapewear would have been a complete success if the name had been changed.

There’s no doubt that the name ‘Kimono’ can be seen as extremely culturally insensitive. The kimono being one of the most important iconographic symbols of Japan for hundreds of years, the kimonos we know today being noted to be worn as early as the Heian period of 794 AD. They are still worn contemporarily for festivals and special occasions, and even more frequently in traditional places. World-renowned for their beautiful designs and simple, elegant style. It’s clear to see how Kim’s naming choices had the power to offend an entire culture. I’m sure her marketing team thought it was ‘cute’ to incorporate Kim’s name into an article of clothing that already exists, whereas here in the real world, we know the kimono to be a symbol of a rich, ancient and thriving culture.

The Kardashians love splashing their name all over their brands, as proven by Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty and seem to find it hard to not be embroiled in drama. Kim’s most recent controversy has been some mild backlash to her body foundation led primarily by Jameela Jamil on Twitter, and let’s not forget Kendall’s Pepsi campaign or Kylie and Khloe wearing cornrows. Cultural appropriation is still a serious issue in the fashion industry, and even still, had Kim decided to design her own kimono it still wouldn’t have felt as uncomfortable and inappropriate as it does for her to steal the name and apply it to underwear.

The mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, wrote an open letter to Kim, asking her to reconsider the naming of her brand. ‘Kimono is an ethnic dress fostered in our rich nature and history’, he writes. ‘It is a fruit of craftsmanship and sense of beauty, values, and spirit of Japanese’. He then goes on to explain that Japan is attempting to register ‘Kimono Culture’ to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, to preserve the history of the outfit.

Thankfully, Kim has made the wise decision to change the name of her brand, taking responsibility for this mistake and taking the steps to fix it. However, when confronted with the issue of their blatant cultural appropriation, many designers still opt not to even apologise for their poor decisions.

One of the more infamous examples was Marc Jacob’s decision to outfit white models including Kendall Jenner (a running theme) in brightly coloured dreadlocks for his Spring/Summer 2017 collection. In modern western society, dreadlocks are heavily tied to afro-Caribbean and black culture, and there have been many incidents of people of colour facing discrimination in the workplace for their hair, when white people who wear them are hailed as ‘alternative’ or branded as hippies. Marc Jacobs didn’t even bother to apologise when he received backlash for this choice, even going as far to state ‘funny how you don’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair’.

This statement has incredibly racist implications; white people have never been criticised for having straight hair, women of colour have been insulted and even fired for having hairstyles such as dreadlocks or cornrows. Jacobs eventually apologised for these comments, admitting that ‘maybe’ he had been insensitive with his decisions and comments.

Other cases of fashion brands being accused of cultural appropriation include Chanel’s £1,100 S/S17 boomerang, Gucci dressing white models in turbans, and Victoria’s Secret putting a white model in a Native American war bonnet. Several celebrities, including Beyoncé , Madonna, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj, have come under fire for wearing objects particularly from Asian cultures in shows or photoshoots, almost to the point of satirising cultures.

Cultural appropriation isn’t universally agreed on. However, it is mainly agreed on that cultural appreciation crosses the line when it stops being used for genuine cultural purposes and starts being used simply for fashion or aesthetic purposes. The decision to put a Victoria’s Secret model in a Native American style war bonnet attracted so much backlash because the war bonnet is traditionally worn by highly respected Native American tribe leaders, and should never have been put on any model to sell sexy underwear. This is why there has been so much uproar at Kim Kardashian choosing to name her shapewear company after an article of clothing with undeniable cultural meaning. Just as a bindi is culturally significant to Hinduism and Jainism and so shouldn’t be worn by festival goers simply because they like how it looks. Asian culture is not something for the western media to claim as their own

In this day and age, there is no excuse for cultural appropriation to be still so prominent in the fashion industry. It appears to come down to a complete lack of thought and consideration for other cultures, and perhaps arrogance, for designers to adopt certain cultural symbols or aesthetics and send it down the runway without a second thought for the culture they’re trampling on, or to the inevitable backlash they’d face.

Kim is setting an example by acknowledging her mistake and changing the name of her brand. Hopefully, this will serve as a warning for other designers who are considering making dubious choices in the name of fashion.

There should not be a space in this day and age for designers and brands to market important cultural symbols as sellable, seasonal fashionwear- let alone shapewear.

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