Kiriko is a small unisex accessories label based in Portland, Oregon that uses traditional and vintage Japanese textiles to craft their continually changing collection of unique scarves, ties, pocket squares, and other miscellany. As such, much of their work is devoted to and inspired by time-honored production methods of traditional Japanese textile weaving, whether it’s kasuri, boro, sashiko, or any other number of conventional styles.
Products aside, what’s beautiful about the label is that it propagates a broad aesthetic, conceptual, and consumer interest in these heritage fabrics – even despite their commercial decline over the last half century. Although the traditional production methods behind these heritage fabrics may no longer be profitable for textile manufacturers, the pieces themselves are in no way outmoded. In fact, if Kiriko’s growth as a brand is any indication, vintage Japanese fabrics are regaining relevance amongst contemporary consumers connoisseurs.
Wanting to know more about the label, I was lucky enough to catch Dawn Yanagihara (Kiriko’s co-founder and creative director) amidst the holiday rush to discuss the label and why creativity is a constant pursuit:
Tell me how it all started. What prompted you to launch Kiriko?
My business partner Katsu Tanaka came across these kasuri fabrics that had been produced by this Japanese manufacturer, who didn’t really know what to do with them. So they started selling everything off. The patterns used were of traditional Japanese designs that we were really interested in, so it all fit. At the time, I was working as an intern for Katsu’s other store Compound Gallery. He asked if I would help him to create a brand that would center on these fabrics and we decided that we should start with scarves. So we did that and launched that collection at the Portland Bazaar and it took off from there. We just let the fabric itself dictate the types of products that we wanted to make – and that’s what we’re doing now.
I’m glad you brought that up. Could you tell me a bit about your creative process?
A lot of our process comes from the vintage pieces that we import from Japan. We have a lot of actual vintage kimono, vintage boro quilts, and sometimes boro jackets. We get pants too, bags, stuff like that. We look at this as the basis for creating our products. For example, one of our new pieces uses a beautiful shibori fabric from a full kimono. Shibori by the way is essentially a Japanese tie-dye where the pattern is made up of little white circles that create a design. But each circle represents a single knot that was tied by the artist’s hand. Getting back to our process, the shibori pattern on this kimono drapes beautifully over the neck, so we decided to create a series of neckerchiefs made out of the same materials. When you put one on, it mimics the neckline of a kimono.
Is it hard to cut these fabrics up knowing that they are so old?
You know it is kind of a catch-22 because on the one hand you want to preserve them because they are heirloom pieces. At the same time, people aren’t really seeing the value of them anymore in their current state.
That’s kind of sad.
It is. But I don’t think that if we specialized in just reselling the kimono that we would have found as much relevance with people, and we wouldn’t be able to spread our story. What we needed to do was to re-conceptualize these materials in a different way. I don’t think the importance of these fabrics stem from the fact that they were part of an heirloom jacket for instance. Our focus is more on the processes that made the fabric, not what the fabrics made in turn. Our work functions on the realization that these processes are dying. There is a rich history and cultural context behind these traditions, and we feel that it can be equally as relevant now if we can bring that heritage into modern fashion even if the practices themselves are dwindling.
It’s interesting that you bring that up because one of the things I was curious about was whether you ever considered designing a line of your own fabrics in-house.
It hasn’t really come up. The beauty of the fabrics we use is that the processes used are not cost effective anymore – and that’s why we like them. A lot of manufacturers just don’t do things this way. To use natural indigo or to make boro textiles takes upwards of 28 days wherein the fabric gets submerged 300 times in the dye bath. If we did that, our pieces would cost thousands of dollars. That’s the main reason why a lot of the craft, the art, and the history that went into creating these fabrics is slowly dying out.
Aside from the fabrics themselves and the processes behind them, is there anything in particular that inspires you?
That’s a tough one I know.
Yea. It’s a very multi-faceted question. I never really know how to answer it. I don’t want to sound cliché but we really just look at the Japanese styles – even historically, and using that as a basis for our inspiration. Along with following other American brands, most likely ones you wouldn’t necessarily associate with our work. I guess in some respect we are trying to create a middle ground between those two.
Are you ever satisfied with your work?
I’m definitely proud of what we’ve accomplished. There’s a reason why we create and release these pieces – because we want to share something of the best quality possible. Maybe it’s a Japanese mentality but as a result, I think that things can always be better; they can always be done better. And I think that will be a continual mantra behind our brand: to always try to think of new ways to use the fabrics. The thing I never want us to do is to become complacent.
I think that’s important for any creative person.
Yea. I think as designer – no matter what the discipline – it’s always hard to be fully satisfied with what you’re doing.
On that note, is there anything that you all are looking to do down the line that you haven’t had the opportunity to try yet?
Without revealing too much, we do want to import more Japanese products. I think there is a lot (even beyond fabrics) that I’d like to share our brand’s interpretation of. And we definitely want to start experimenting in apparel.
Is there anything that you feel people don’t tend to pick up on about Kiriko? Something you would want people to know about what you do?
I do hope that people recognize that the fabric has a story behind it and that there’s a lot of history and process that went into making it. That is what we’re spreading and – yea, that’s kind of it!
PROCURED DESIGN X KIRIKO GIVEAWAY:
HOW TO WIN – share this post on Facebook or Twitter using #KirikoGiveaway, and you’ll be entered to win a surprise from Kiriko shipped directly to your door! The winner will be chosen at random and notified on the Procured Design Facebook page Saturday Dec. 14th at noon. Contest ends Friday the 13th at 6P EST, so get to gettin’!