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Crossroads 001: An Interview With Sai Kimono

TANGIBLES is strongly influenced by Japanese culture and aesthetics. The inspirations for our first product stemmed from my first trip to Tokyo. The fabric for our Koukoku B.D shirt comes directly from Japan and the silhouette has strong ties to traditional Japanese garments, namely the sleeves of the Kimono. We did a lot of research on the culture of the Kimono and we’d love to share it with you!

In our newest segment, Crossroads, we interview creatives, business owners and people that we love and show you the awesome projects that they have going on. Our first guest is Masami Saisu of Sai Kimono, which specializes in exquisite Kimono photography and fittings.

Like many of our passions, it takes time to discover. For Masami, the Kimono business wasn’t even a thought until later in life. In fact, Masami was an investment banker in Tokyo before immigrating to San Francisco where she’s done freelance web design amongst a plethora of interesting things. As Masami realized the fascination of others for Japanese and Kimono culture, she began to host fittings and events throughout several festivals such as the Millbrae Japanese Culture Festival and the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, which is where she met her business partners.

E: Can you tell a bit about yourself? How did you get involved with the Kimono culture?

M: I was born in Japan and moved to the US over 20 years ago. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about the diverse culture in the US. It’s different from Japan, it’s more straightforward there. Being in the US for over 20 years, I discovered myself, my nationality and how precious the Kimono is to Japanese culture. I was always surrounded by the Kimono culture because my family is involved in the Kimono business but I didn’t think that I would be as well...then one time, my son’s preschool hosted their annual heritage day and the students, parents and teachers expected me to demonstrate a Kimono dressing and that’s when I first began introducing the Kimono and Japanese culture.

E: What are the origins of Sai Kimono?

M: I met my business partners at the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival which we’ve been involved with for many years. Mark’s the photographer for the festival and Hiroko and I were the Kimono dressers for the “Court of the Queen” Pageant and the beauty of the Kimono brought us together. The Japanese Character “Sai” stands for “The arrangement of colors” similar to how each of us contribute our individual talents to form a collective dedicated to spreading the Kimono culture.

With a passion for spreading the beauty of Japanese culture, Masami, Hiroko and Mark decided to start Sai Kimono, which helps their clients capture some of their most precious moments. Sai Kimono currently offers full service photoshoots and Kimono dressing consultations. However, Kimono culture is currently at a crucial stage as the Kimono industry continues to shrink. As Kimonos have gone out of fashion – Kimono manufacturers have shrunk from 217 to just 24 over the last 30 years.

E: What do you think about the decline of the Kimono Industry?

M: It’s disappointing and part of the reason is because Kimonos are difficult to wear and only worn for special occasions. That’s why we’d like to show the exquisite experience of a full Kimono dressing to the younger generation in order to preserve this tradition and celebration.

E: What’s the future like for Sai Kimono?

M: We’re a young company and we’re looking to expand our clientele and add more Kimonos to our collection. We currently have 15 in our collection!

E:Nowadays, most kimonos are mass produced and machine sewn in factories – usually for fast fashion brands such as Uniqlo which is great for spreading the culture to the masses but it’s incomparable in construction, beauty, historical significance and price to a traditional handmade kimono. Can you tell me how a traditional Kimono is made?

M: Generally, traditional Kimonos are handmade in silk. The patterns are created through two techniques, one is through weaving and the other is dying directly onto white silk. Every part of a high end kimono is hand-sewn with very beautiful and tiny stitches and typically costs at least $10,000. Most are familiar with the robe like piece of a kimono outfit but a full kimono outfit consists of so much more. A complete kimono outfit consists of the kimono, undergarments, obi, ties, socks sandals and accessories, which totalcan exceed $20,000. A single obi may cost several thousand dollars.

E: Another distinctive aspect of a traditional kimono compared to a factory made kimono is the pattern. For traditional kimonos, the patterns aren’t just pretty, tell a story through it’s beauty. What are the meanings and significance behind the patterns?

M: In Japan, there are clear seasons and each season consists of flowers that bloom specific to that season, distinct colors, and plants that represent the season. The patterns on the kimonos represent different seasons and utilize the distinct flowers, colors and plants to display it. There are patterns specific to special occasions such as New Years or weddings and some patterns can be used for all seasons.

E: The kimono industry is currently at a critical stage as traditional craftsmen are quickly declining as the industry shrinks due to the lack of interest from younger generation. What’s the historical significance of the kimono?

M: Before the Meiji era, in the early 20th century, everyone worn Kimonos as everyday wear but after, western wear became popular in Japan and now kimonos are only worn for special occasions.

E: Japanese culture has always been at the forefront of public interest. Different fashion brands have infused elements of the kimono into their collections such as Gucci as seen on Beyonce. Do you see kimonos remaining traditional wear or evolving into modern fashion?

M: I’ve seen the collaboration of Kimono fabrics with western fashion in Gucci. It was western clothes with fabrics inspired by kimono patterns. The collaboration of Kimono culture and western fashion helps spread the kimono culture to keep it alive and well and helps grow the industry.

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It’s fascinating to see the direct influences of a garment that originated 2000 years ago on the largest brands of today. Fashion functions on a cyclical basis and we find some of the biggest inspirations from our past, whether that’s a decade ago or a millennium. We’ve got more fire in store for you guys that we can’t wait to show you!

Interview: Edison Tong

Photography: Provided By Sai Kimono

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