#KimOhNo: Star’s new brand name sparks backlash

Rich history: Modern kimonos are unchanged since Japan’s Edo era (1603–1868).

Is Kim Kardashian West disrespecting Japanese culture? The decision to call her shapewear brand ‘Kimono’, like the traditional Japanese robe, has prompted cries of cultural appropriation.

Here’s a question. Look at the pictures above. Which one is a Kimono?

The answer: both, thanks to Kim Kardashian West.

Yesterday, the reality star launched Kimono Intimates shapewear. The “inclusive” line, which “celebrates and enhances the shape and curves of women”, will feature products in nine skin tones and sizes, ranging from XXS to 4XL.

Last year, the multimillionaire trademarked the terms “Kimono Body”, “Kimono Intimates” and “Kimono World” in the USA. She also bought the domain www.kimono.com.

But the name has sparked anger, with Japanese Twitter users venting their frustration under the hashtag #KimOhNo.

“My culture is not your plaything,” wrote one.

Others were offended to see an underwear brand named after a type of dress usually reserved for weddings, funerals and formal ceremonies.

“[The kimono] is not overtly revealing or figure-hugging. It wraps the wearer, so they are not exposed,” explained Professor Sheila Cliffe from the Jumonji Women’s University.

Kimonos, which date from 15th century Japan, are delicately embroidered. Some are regarded as works of art, with traditional designs denoting the seasons, as well as political and family ties.

The garments were often passed down through generations. The most valuable kimonos once cost more than the family home.

Kardashian West’s apparent disregard for this history has prompted accusations of cultural appropriation, a term coined in the 1990s that has developed into a political battleground between the Left and Right.

It refers to a dominant culture (generally, white and Western) using or exploiting something from another culture without appreciating its historical or cultural importance.

Kardashian West found herself at the centre of another cultural appropriation storm in 2018, when she wore her hair in cornrows.

At the time, she defended her decision.

“If it comes from a place of love and you’re using it as cultural inspiration, then I think it is okay,” said the reality star.

But the “cultural inspiration” in Kardashian West’s latest venture remains unclear to many.

"[This] shapewear doesn’t even resemble a kimono — she just chose a word that has Kim in it — there’s no respect to what the garment actually means in our culture,” one Japanese woman, Yuka Ohishi, told the BBC.

What’s in a name?

Is Kardashian West’s Kimono brand disrespectful? For thousands of years, cultures have borrowed from each other, interacting and evolving along the way. Without this exchange, our world would be less rich and more divided.

But Kimonos have had a solemn significance in Japanese culture for many hundreds of years. Kardashian West is blemishing that tradition with her shapewear range, marketed using a corny pun on her name — simply for profit. Is it so hard to show basic respect?

You Decide

  1. Is Kardashian West’s Kimono shapewear disrespectful?
  2. What’s the line between cultural inspiration and cultural appropriation?

Activities

  1. In your own words, write a definition of “cultural appropriation”. Have you ever borrowed a style from another culture without understanding its origins?
  2. Learn about the history and development of the kimono since Japan’s Heian period (794-1192). Write a one-page history of the garment, and its significance. You can include drawings.

Some People Say...

“The concept of cultural appropriation is nothing less than an intellectual fence: keep out.”

Richard Cohen, US journalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Kim Kardashian West has a net worth of approximately $350 million, and 142 million Instagram followers. Aside from her business ventures, which include an app and a body make-up range, she is studying to become a lawyer. Her prison reform activism, which has seen her visit the White House, has helped release 17 prisoners since last year.
What do we not know?
How big the backlash will be. Some on social media have offered support for Kardashian West, suggesting that the media attention could help to promote the traditional outfit that is, in fact, declining in popularity in Japan.

Word Watch

Trademarked
When words are legally registered, so that no one else can sell products using that brand name.
Domain
A website address.
Kimono
In Japanese, the word literally means “the thing worn”. From the 16th century, it became the main item of dress for all classes and both sexes. It has become less popular over the last century.
Left and Right
Left-wing politics generally prioritises economic and social equality, including for marginalised groups. In contrast, Right-wing politics focus on tradition and personal responsibility (rather than too much government involvement in people’s lives).
Cornrows
A traditional African hairstyle, in which the hair is braided into narrow, straight lines or patterns on the scalp.