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Upcycling My Mother’s Kimono

by Yumi Sakaki

Cutting into vintage clothes full of personal memories can be tough, but it turned out to be a great act of empowerment for Yumi, founder of the playful Japanese streetwear brand Yoroshiku 4649.

4649.REC is an upcycling collection I've developed in my living room-cum-studio in London during the lockdown. Using old family kimonos my mum sent over from Japan, the collection recycles vintage costume into everyday streetwear. 

For us modern Japanese, the kimono is not an everyday garment. Every fold and stitch carries meaning. Making a kimono is a time-consuming process that demands immense skill and experience. For all their exceptional quality, most traditional kimonos are only worn a few times – or even once for a few hours on a truly special occasion. They preserve techniques and characteristic designs handed down through generations. When you put one on, you're tangibly connected with past times. You walk differently and sit differently. You feel close to the people who came before you.

My mum was a hip hop dancer, and her wardrobes were filled with casual streetwear imported from overseas. Growing up, this solidified my love and passion for the streetwear style. It also instilled in me a drive that expresses itself in everything I do: to create something from nothing. Each piece in the collection is lovingly hand made by me using the rescued kimono fabric – it's unique and exclusive, and available nowhere else. Just like our beloved hip hop samples classic beats over and over again, we're upcycling pre-loved fabrics to be loved again and again.

These traditional kimonos have survived the passage of the years in immaculate condition. They look almost brand new, yet are full of emotional significance for me. They're made from pure silk or cotton, and mostly hand-sewn by kimono seamstresses. Unstitching them to turn them back into cloth was like rewinding time and having conversations with the women who made them long ago – helping me switch off from the rather turbulent world outside and unwind. 

Sharing the design progress with my mother over Zoom helped me cultivate a stronger connection with my family back in Japan. Each time I've showed her my creations, my mum has shared her stories about the day she wore each kimono – about the times before I was born. She really loves to see them being given a new life. They've been sleeping in our closet for a generation, alongside her fond memories. It's given me a deeper understanding of my roots, bringing great emotional fulfilment and empowerment during lockdown.

I'd love to encourage other designers to do the same. Repurposing vintage clothes passed down in your family into something new can forge deeper connections and stimulate conversations with your loved ones. Getting to know more about your own roots helps you live with more compassion and self love during this difficult time. It's a gentle, creative activity that encourages mindfulness.

Sustainable, circular, regenerative – this slow fashion movement starts from within you. Take a deep breath and focus on what you can do to make you and people around you feel good at this moment, and enjoy. Let’s amplify the value of our cultural heritage and resources, one piece of clothing at a time.