“As long as I pursue upcycling, I am dealing with limited resources. And we reach our goal when there is nothing to be upcycled.”
Recra, an upcycling company which runs a project called “Kimono Yarn”, was established by Makoto Nishikawa based on the idea Seriko Fujieda came up with. Now, Fujieda runs the KimonoYarn project in Fukuoka, Japan where she works in a studio located in the corner of a sewing factory.
Fujieda’s initial idea was to make and sell ladies undergarment when she first started to look for a company who could fund her project. One company was interested in her business idea but when she joined the company she learnt something she had not paid attention before. Majority of the employees were middle-aged men and the main product the company sold was caskets. So her initial idea of selling ladies undergarment did not quite work within the company.
One day she was tearing up some fabric at home and making them into strips for crochet, which she always loved doing. Her mother said to her,
“Why are you tearing up new fabrics? Why don’t you just use the kimono we have at home instead? We have lots of them!”
And that was how she got into “kimono yarn”. The kimono belongs to her grandmother who used to devote herself in fashion. Fujieda told her boss at the company and they decided to create a separate company dedicated to her idea of selling kimono yarn.
“I wanted to turn abandoned kimono into “raw material” which gives everyone a chance to play with.”
She says kimono that are donated at recycling shops are most often in unsellable condition in its original form. So she uses the kimono that were to be thrown away to make the yarn.
She thinks the use of kimono and who wears kimono is limited when it is in the original form. It is true that nowadays, it is rare to see people choosing to wear kimono as their everyday attire or even on special occasions in Japan. Even if the kimono is refined and cut into relatively large pieces of fabric, only people with a sewing skill can manage to make something out of them. But she believes that when they are torn into yarn, suddenly potential of the kimono as material explodes.
“People from all over the world can use it. They can choose to use just a bit. They can knit or crochet. It really depends on how people use them.”
“This one is so “kawaii”! I think it looks even better than when it was a kimono? That’s maybe because we can see the details of the pattern better with Kimono Yarn?”
“Upcycling” in Japan
“ “Upcycle” doesn’t necessarily ring a bell for everyone in Japan” she says. When she organized a pop up in Tsutaya which is one of the major bookstores in Japan, the reaction she got from people towards “upcycle” or “used” was mostly negative.
Actually, I suspected the reaction myself. Japanese people like hygiene a lot. We are like graduates of the Academy of Hygiene, only if it existed! We were told since we were kids to wash our hands every time we come home from outside and of course when you’ve been to bathrooms. We bring home our own rubbish and clean after ourselves. There was a funny tv commercial some years ago where a mother-in-law wipes the top surface of a drawer with her index finger and let the daughter-in-law see the captured dust on the finger! Well, joking aside, it may not be only hygiene people care about. I know some people feel uncomfortable to know the fact that the things once belonged to someone else because they may still belong to the previous owners spiritually.
“Whereas people from Europian countries, for example, seems to be more familiar with the words like “upcycle” and “sustainable” and they seem to value handmade items more” she feels. Then she brought up about the exhibition she held at a gallery in Naoshima, Kagawa.
“Kimono Yarn Kakeru”
Above is the title of the exhibition. “kakeru” means to multiply. She reached out to artists and artisans such as Masaji Sonoda to collaborate on the exhibition. When she came up with the idea of collaboration, she thought she needed to find the right place in order to get them on board and also to exhibit Kimono Yarn worldwide.
“Kyoto?… mmm… not really it. Kanazawa?… a bit too cosy. Tokyo?… mmm.”
“I’m sorry… it’s really just my instinct but Naoshima seemed like the right place.” she chuckled. “I thought perhaps promoting its artistic perspective is more appropriate for its branding rather than presenting it as craft”
Naoshima has been holding Setouchi Triennale since 2010 and when Fujieda decided to hold her first exhibition for Kimono Yarn in the summer of 2019 was perfect timing to crash in the triennale festive period.
“I wanted to see the reactions of people from abroad.”
My favourite work from Kimono Yarn is the glass wind chimes. This specific type is the one you see very often hanged at “engawa” during summer in Japan. When you hear it or see it, you know that summer has come. It is a typical scenery of the good old days in Japan. The idea and structure of glass wind chime is very simple but it makes soothing sound and it is a sight to see especially with the Kimono Yarn which is the dangling ribbons under the wind chimes. Fujieda managed to make 400 glass wind chimes for the exhibition and all were hanged and covered the entire front of the Honmura Gallery, “so the sound was extremely powerful!”
“On days the Kimono Yarn ribbons were swimming in the wind, they attracted a lot of people and some people from abroad even bought them as a souvenir.”
These glass chimes have become Kimono Yarn’s symbolic piece of work. She says “It would be nice to hang them again this summer somewhere but…”. I would love to see 400 hundreds of them at once. It will definitely be a whole new experience. She also mentioned,
“I am interested in holding workshops and exhibitions abroad. Where was it? You know, the floating umbrella festival takes place in street markets? It would be nice to see hundreds of wind chimes floating like that in other countries.”
Nunobana is Kimono Yarn’s latest piece that received a surprising amount of attention. It’s very easy to make as she says “you can make it with the sewing skill that you’d learnt in elementary school”. But the best part is that it looks impressive that as if a lot of effort were put into making it. It is perfect for everyone especially people with kids staying safe together at home during this challenging time.
“Engawa Art Project”
Her recent exciting event to note is Engawa Art Project, which was Fujieda and Masaji Sonoda’s passion project to recreate the engawa at the Honmura Gallery from last summer. They were initially looking for a place just like the gallery in Honmura but they found a forgotten arcade and the owner of the arcade led them use the site free of charge. This “forgotten arcade” is another typical Japanese scenery and every city in Japan has at least one of them.
“Though, usually 80% of the shops are closed, on the day, the arcade was full of kids! I was like, huh, people would come if something was going on”
This is amazing. Making a forgotten arcade a fun place, which then brings people together to play. There were 500 pieces of kimono hanged from wall to wall and people including kids tried them on and engaged with their own culture and tradition. And also, “it was the perfect place to bring in people especially kids and let them play freely because they did not need to worry about traffics” Fujieda follows.
“Mottainai is mottainai.”
“When I look at kimono even the ones that were to be thrown away, I think “kawaii”and they give me happiness. That’s exactly the feeling of mottainai! I hope someday I manage to bring all of these kimono back to my studio and make more kimono yarn with them.”
I really hope she does. Although Fujieda intended to use a variety of materials when she first started the company, she got hooked on kimono that the project page on their website only has “PROJECT 1: Kimono Yarn” for almost two years. Fujieda seemed to be a happy and peaceful person but it was intriguing to see the fire in her. Her big love towards kimono yarn was powerful and that has led her to many collaboration projects. I also admire her being true to her intuition because that is how she finds and approaches people to collaborate. I am sure she will show us more and more collaboration magic but most of all, I cannot wait to see hundreds of thousands of Kimono Yarn’s wind chimes somewhere someday with my own eyes.