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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

Laotian fabric used by kimono firm for obi


OSAKA — Home weavers in Laotian farming villages may be thousands of kilometers from Japan, but their colorful textiles, delicately hand-woven and with detailed elaborate patterns, are gaining attention in the ancient capital of Kyoto as a new material for making traditional kimono garments.

News photo
New look: Obi sashes made by Laotian weavers are displayed in Kyoto in September. KYODO

Omiya Co., a kimono wholesaler in Kyoto, is undertaking a project that uses Laotian textiles to make obi for kimono. It aims to breathe new life into the diminishing kimono market while hoping that the project will help create job opportunities for Laotian women and improve their economic status.

Koji Izumi, in charge of product development at Omiya, said he first came up with the idea of incorporating Laotian textiles in the making of obi about two years ago, when he was first introduced to the Southeast Asian fabric at a textiles exhibition.

"I was very amazed when I heard that the beautiful geometrical patterns were all woven by hand," Izumi said.

Weaving is a common side job for women in farm households in Laos, with highly elaborate skills passed on from mother to daughter through generations.

Using silk and cotton threads dyed in gold, silver, red and a rainbow of other colors, the textiles feature a diverse variety of patterns, such as dragons, flowers and the Mekong River, often reflecting the Laotian people's spirituality and admiration for nature's beauty.

He has traveled to Laos many times over the past year to blaze a trail for the project.

The warm touch of its hand-woven textures makes the material an excellent match for kimono, Izumi said.

"Laotian textiles are about 20 cm in width, which is also just right for making kimono obi," he added.

Both demand and supply in the kimono market have shrunk over the years, with fewer people wearing the traditional garment even at festive or ceremonial occasions.

The retail market size for kimono and related products stood at about ¥310 billion in 2010, about half of the ¥610 billion in 2005, according to marketing research firm Yano Research Institute.

The Westernization of Japanese lifestyles is one reason. Another is the relatively high prices of kimono, leading people — particularly the young — to shun the garments. Along with the shrinking market, kimono producers are also facing a lack of successors, they say.

Izumi's inspiration comes against such a backdrop.

Omiya contracted a textile trader in Vientiane and began producing Laotian fabrics for obi last fall.

Having raised product quality by training the weavers, operations soon picked up momentum and have been on a steady track since the spring, Izumi said.

"By placing orders from Japan on a regular basis, we hope to enable the women to earn stable incomes as well," Izumi said.

"We hope the fusion of the two cultures will bring forth a newfound value for kimono and make people realize their beauty once again."

Omiya President Shinya Fusamoto said: "I think this will be a positive incentive for those producing kimono in Japan. We also hope to further promote exchanges among kimono makers and the (Laotian) weavers."

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