Suki Robe Name Change

Suki Robe Name Change

Posted by Helen | May 16, 2019 | Pattern News, Suki Robe
Suki Robe
Suki Robe PDF Pattern

As many of you know, there have been discussions happening around the use of the word ‘kimono’ in the making community this week. This is in no way the beginning, but rather, a rise in awareness and conversation that is being led by BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People/Person(s) of Color) makers who are dedicating their time and energy to educating us. We are grateful.

Thank you to those who have emailed and messaged us to express concern over the use of the word ‘kimono’ to describe our Suki sewing pattern. I apologize for incorrectly naming this garment a kimono and for following the trend without thinking. With our new awareness, and in support of the issues being raised by BIPOC, we’re taking action and choosing a more appropriate name. We are learning and want to do better.

I also want to apologize for not changing the name as soon as we became aware of this issue. I should have taken immediate action to change the name and make a public statement to educate others about this issue and to show support for those who took the time to educate me.

The Suki Kimono is now named the Suki Robe.

You may be reading this and thinking, what is the big deal? Well, the big deal is that this action adds to the never-ending racist, dismissive and hurtful behavior of white people (like myself) taking from cultures that do not belong to them. My actions hurt others and that is unacceptable.

The Suki pattern is a robe, not a kimono. A kimono is a traditional Japanese garment and the appropriation of the name ‘kimono’ demonstrates a serious lack of respect for the rich history of this garment and its cultural significance. To start reading on this subject, we recommend this article by Emi Ito: My Kimono is Not Your Couture.

The Suki pattern was inspired by the Japanese kimono and we decided to give it a Japanese name. We chose Suki because it means ‘loved one’ or ‘to be loved’. We wanted people to sew a Suki Robe for themselves as an expression of self-love, or to make one for a loved one as a special gift. The name Suki still feels like a good fit for this design, but we are open to feedback about the use of a Japanese name in this context.

The burden of calling-out racism and educating people about things like cultural appropriation almost always falls to BIPOC. All too often it is met with skepticism, dismissiveness, racism, and hatred. They are told they are ‘mean’ and ‘too sensitive’. They are asked to assume good intentions and ‘get over it’. They are censored and ignored. It is not acceptable and we will not tolerate it here on Helen’s Closet. If you do not agree that this name change was necessary, please read the article above. Respect those who are sharing their experience and knowledge on the subject. Listen to their stories.

There are many people who helped us learn more and right this wrong. Thank you for your labour. Thank you for your free education. Thank you for your honesty.

This is not the end of this discussion or the end of my education on this subject. I have a lot to learn and I sincerely hope that you will continue to let me know when I make mistakes and how I can do better.

The comments section below will be moderated. Please allow time for us to approve your comments. Please note that racism, bullying, or any other discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated in the comments section of this post.

In an effort to make amends and put our literal money where our mouth is, we are making a donation to the Nikkei Place Foundation, a charitable fundraising organization for the Nikkei Place Japanese Canadian community that is located here in Vancouver. Learn More.

The new name for this pattern is Suki Robe. We will be changing the hashtag to #sukirobe and updating all the supportive content on our website to reflect the name change. We promise to be more intentional and thoughtful about naming patterns in the future. Thank you for reading!

If you would like to continue this conversation with us directly, you can reach us at support@helenscloset.ca.

For other designers out there, please consider this advice from Emi Ito (@little_kotos_closet) on the use of ‘kimono’ in fashion design:

My Kimono is not your Couture
My Kimono is Not Your Couture by Emi Ito.

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Blog Comments

Thanks for this, and for the link by Emi Ito.

You are welcome! Thanks for reading!

Thank you for being open and honest in your explanation – and for your continued invite to call you out. We all learn through others. (An aside – once I learned via Native Americans that the use of the term “spirit animal” is also cultural appropriation (since having a spirit animal is a sacred thing for some tribes – as well as some pagan groups), I’ve been doing my best to gently point that out. When words like kimono and spirit animal get thrown around in casual use, we forget the co-opting them causes harm to others – and as mentioned above, it really causes us no harm to modify our language – to robe or Patronus as the case may be. 🙂

Thanks Ryann! It is true that there are many examples of cultural appropriation in language, both that we are aware of and completely oblivious to. Thanks for being willing to stop and think about these issues and course-correct.

I’m happy with this change. I love Japan and its culture, and been trying to learn more and more about it for years. When pattern companies name their patterns “Kimono” is confusing to me, because I’ve looked for proper kimono patterns before, and it makes the search harder. I have seen the use of the word growing very common on RTW, being used to mean anything that looks like a robe or has a big wide sleeve, and that has bothered me before. So I see this change as a positive one.

Having said that, I really want to point out that the use/wear of kimono by non-japanese people isn’t itself a problem. I’ve managed to get loaned Japanese book with proper Japanese kimono patterns, and I have made my own Yukata, which is a type of summer wear cotton kimono. And I’ve did it all according to the book, and wore it with a proper 5 meter sash that is called an obi, which I properly tied (not a fake one). I’ve made it because I love the garment, the culture, and because I wanted to learn. I wore it to the Japanese festival which is organised by the Japanese community in Portugal, and they praised my efforts to learn (both making and tying that bow which is not easy) and said they were happy to see more people enjoying their culture. I take part every year, I wear my Yukata and dance with them in the Matsuri.

My point is: yes the appropriation of the name is not good, changing it was positive, but people don’t need to completely excluded themselves from the culture and the love for kimono if they are respectful. I’ve asked and seen people ask online professional kimono makers if they dislike western people wearing kimono and I’ve always seen them say that as long as you respect the culture they actually like seeing people wear it.

So let’s be respectful but loving at the same time, since it’s such a beautiful garment that belongs to a rich and beautiful culture.

Thank you for reading and responding to my post, Sara! It sounds like you have been making Japanese garments in a respectful way and taking the time to learn about the history of the garments and culture. In my case, the pattern I designed was simply not a kimono and that was, at the very least, mislabelling, but of course, that is just the beginning of my ignorance on the subject. Thanks for sharing your personal experience!

Thank you for not only being a great pattern designer, podcaster, and human, but for being a good example of an ethical business on the free web. When the president of the US (he who must not be named) can’t even tell to the world that the US government is supportive of a zero tolerance policy on broadcasting hate, you are a shining example of how to gracefully support humans and cultures everywhere with your business. I am so grateful to be a part of a community that isn’t afraid to genuinely love and support and grow with another. I wasn’t aware of this issue, and I’m grateful for the lesson, and the lessons yet to come.

Thank you, Jessie!

This is clearly a big issue that is not unique to North America. I’m curious if there is a reason why Japanese Americans are referenced more specifically than say native Japanese people or the Japanese community more world wide? I assumed that it is because the author of the article speaks of lived experiences but I also think in all situations it’s better to ask than assume! So, if anyone could shed some light I’d appreciate it =]

Thanks Ally! That is a great point. I have been reading about the history of Japanese Canadians who also faced horrific racism and exclusion, including internment camps. This is a global issue, thanks for bringing that up. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-canadians

You’re right that this issue isn’t unique to NA. The issue is international, but to answer your question in an altogether too simplified way, it’s important to look where the oppression has been/is. The conversation has been focused around NA because this is where the conversation started, but in addition to Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians, Japanese Peruvians were also placed in internment camps during WWII.

I’m both a 13th generation American on my dad’s side and a first generation Japanese American on my mom’s (I was born and partially raised in Japan), so I hold so much of my Japanese heritage, language, and culture as an inextricable part of who I am. I’m extremely fortunate that my family didn’t face persecution in WWII, but the racist and bigoted attitudes still remain in the US today– from being told to “go home”; having my language made fun of (“ching chong ming mang”); having my food made fun of as stinky, weird looking, or gross; being called “oriental” –as my Aunt likes to say, “I am not a rug”– or “exotic” looking; being objectified and sexualized as a meek and silent Japanese woman; having false assumptions made about my family history, that my father went to Japan as a member of the US military to pick up a “Japanese Bride”.

These attitudes hurt because they’re echoes of a very painful past. And with each iteration, it begins to seem more and more like we live in an echo chamber of hurt. Can you imagine what it must be like, after 75 years of “progress”, to still not be fully accepted as you are? To always be considered an “other”?

Most Japanese people living in Japan have never experienced this kind of hostility. When they see people without Japanese heritage wearing a Kimono in Japan, they are a) most likely worn with the help of a professional since putting on a Kimono properly is a long process and difficult to get right, b) mostly happy or at least indifferent that they’re able to share their culture in an authentic and meaningful way, and c) benefiting from an economical standpoint because buying or renting a Kimono from a Japanese-owned business in Japan is very different from buying a “Kimono” from h&m, and it supports local businesses and native Artrisans. For more on this perspective, read this article: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/07/18/books/underneath-orientalist-kimono/#.XN5gjpMzbs0

But for me (and I assume a lot of other people with Japanese heritage living outside of Japan), it’s painful to see, because I CANNOT wear Kimono without being objectified, called “oriental”, told to “go home”, and so on. I CANNOT wear Kimono without opening an invitation to attack me for showing my heritage. I CANNOT wear a Kimono outside of my community and feel safe. But non-Asian people can do so easily and be considered well-traveled, open-minded or on trend.

As far as the use of the word “Kimono” in Japan, things that are not actually Kimono (i.e., robes, dresses, jackets, dusters, and shirts with grown-on sleeves) are not labeled “Kimono” — if it were it would be met with confusion. It would be akin to a foreign company trying to market spaghetti to you as mac and cheese; yes, they both have pasta elements and they’re both edible, but they are not the same. It would be a harmless, albeit confusing, mislabeling at best.

All of this (and so much more) is mixed up in the use of the word “Kimono.” Its roots in the western language and fashion lie in the exoticization of Japanese (and other Asian) culture(s), where anything even remotely characterizing Japanese culture could be hyped and sold, an effect that Japanese people living outside of Japan still feel today.

Helen, thank you for creating the space to talk about this in a civil and respectful manner. I apologize to you for not speaking up about this when I was invited to pattern-test and first learned of the name you were giving it. It made me uncomfortable at the time, but didn’t recognize my feelings as important enough to speak up about. Thanks for taking action.

Thank you so much for this response, Saki! You have shed more light on this and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience. The points you made about not being able to wear a Kimono outside of your community, while others, like myself, feel free to do so, deeply saddened me. Your story helps to put things in perspective and educate myself and others. I regret the name choice and cringe at the thought of your discomfort during testing for this pattern. Thank you for your kindness then and now. <3

Saki, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I’m half Chinese and share in all of those feelings, yet I found it so hard to explain to others why it’s different if native Chinese people say something is ok to them but it’s not ok to me. Thank you so much for putting those feelings into words that I can use to explain to others and also to further get to know myself and begin to articulate my perspective.

Helen, I really appreciate how you’re handling this issue and how you’re taking the initiative to make this a safe space and moderate these comments! Now I can feel extra good about the Avery leggings I’m making this weekend!

Thank you for changing the name and for being so gracious about it – after the mess that was another pattern company’s response earlier this week, it’s nice to have an example to point to of the right way to respond to a call-out. Also, thank you for publishing this decision – while I knew it was coming thanks to an email convo with you earlier, it still felt uncomfortable seeing the old name come up. I’m glad to have more good reasons to support your awesome patterns!

Thank you for taking the time to read our apology and respond! We are glad that this resonated with you and would like to personally say sorry we did not take action sooner. I am glad to hear you are still here to support us!

Thank you for modeling the correct response to this issue – I hope other pattern makers follow suit. I have been disappointed by the behavior of many white women in the sewing community this last week – let’s lead through example how we can do better <3

Thoughtfully and intelligently articulated blog post Helen. Thank you for sharing! I have changed my blog posts and Instagram posts to reflect the change.

Thanks Sue! That is very kind of you.

Thanks for the name change and for doing a good job presenting the reasoning and providing resources. The Suki is a great pattern, and even better for its new name.

Thank you!

This is a very thoughtful apology and response to criticism and I absolutely commend you for that. I have been following your blog for quite a while now (similar sizes!) and have always loved your choice of makes. To be completely honest though, when this pattern came out…a while ago…the “Suki” made me cringe more than the “kimono” and it still does. I understand the meaning of the name and I understand the inspiration it just sounds like a stereotype to me and makes me uncomfortable. Like a pair of jeans called the “John Doe” or something.

Thank you for reading the post! I really appreciate your honesty on the topic of the name ‘Suki’. This is a subject we are still discussing and we are open to further thoughts on this.

Thank you for sharing your apology in this blog post and for taking the specific actions of making a donation and changing the name. A few years ago, I had reason to read the Brown University Report on Slavery and Justice (available as a free PDF online). One of the chapters discusses global approaches for restorative justice and the most successful actions that promoted racial healing had three key features: 1) a sincere apology, 2) some form of truth telling (like recording the event in writing for historical record, or to legitimize the stories of people who had been harmed by putting their words/accounts in writing), and 3) some form of reparation, which in their definition meant any form of devoting resources (time, money, etc) to repairing the harm caused. You have done all three in your response to being called out, which is such a refreshing thing to see. I also appreciate the empathy that you show to folks who do the emotional labor of calling out harm. Thank you for leading by example.

Thank you for sharing, Allison! I am glad that I was able to hit those three points and hope to continue to demonstrate leadership and accept accountability.

Yes! This is fantastic! I’ve put a personal ban on any pattern that calls itself a kimono after reading some of the very personal and moving accounts from sewists who identify kimonos as part of their heritage. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Ignoring the pain of others just makes us callous and narrow minded.

Yes! Thank you for taking the time to read my post!

I appreciate this sincere and thorough apology, and it’s commendable – thank you for acknowledging different layers of harm, not centering your feelings, appropriately signposting to relevant resources, and acknowledging the energy and labour that black, indigenous and people of colour put into educating us white people. Thank you also for your commitment to heavily monitoring this space, and making the boundaries clear.

I noticed that Emi links people to the Densho giving page if they express an interest in recognising her labour financially, and perhaps you can add a direct link, so people can contribute as acknowledgment, if they are able to.

Thanks Vicky! I appreciate you taking the time to read my apology. I have reached out to Emi and compensated her for her labor and support others doing the same if they have learned something from her article or messages on Instagram. <3

I appreciate this forum for thoughtful response to a complex issue and I have a question: what do people make of the dressmaking term “kimono sleeve” used in a top or a dress that is not a robe? It is a term that has utility, in that it alludes to an iconic shape many people associate with kimono, but if its use is confusing, inaccurate, or undermines the integrity of authentic kimono — what are alternate terms for this sleeve to differentiate it from dolman or batwing?

I am genuinely curious about this as well. I know it’s my responsibility to educate myself, but I have looked and not found an answer. Just because it’s the commonly used term does not make it appropriate, and if there is a better term I’d love to use it. Tops with “kimono style” sleeves are something I enjoy wearing so I often use this search term to look for patterns.

Thank you Julie and Kristine! I too am not sure on this point and am looking for answers.

I have picked up various comments in blogs over the last week or so about the use of the word kimono by pattern makers. And frankly I just couldn’t understand what was going on , or what the fuss was all about. The comments all referred obliquely to an issue ,but none told me what that issue was or explained the point of view behind it. Thanks for not just posting your apology and future intentions, but also explaining the issue and putting in the link to Emi’s article. This has given me the opportunity to read and understand, without which mistakes and misunderstandings and offence can be unintentionally continued.
I hope your own response to this will be appreciated by all concerned

Thank you for taking the time to read! I am glad I was able to articulate the situation and encourage others to learn more as well.

An wonderful post Helen. There is so much to learn about this issue and you have made a great contribution. I’m proud of you. xo MOM

Thanks!

I want to say publicly how proud I am of my daughter for her work on this issue. When she introduced the Suki pattern I never gave a thought to the use of the word “kimono”. We all have a great deal to learn about this issue, and much to do to change old behaviours/thoughts; and make a future where all cultures/people’s are respected and valued. And Helens Closet is an example of how an individual business can deal with theses issues up front and honestly.
Helen’s Dad

Well said! Thanks!

This is such a wonderful change! I have zero Japanese heritage (obvi), but am so happy that Emi’s work has resulted in one more ‘kimono’ pattern getting a name makeover.

Thanks for reading! I am grateful that her hard work has had this positive impact too <3

Reading about this issue over the last few weeks has made me really sad, especially with the Papercut response. I’m so pleased you’ve handled it in this way Helen, helping to educate others, as well as apologising and making reparations.

As a women with white privilege, I feel that my world view is opening rapidly and I’m very grateful to those that are doing the hard work, especially people like Emi. I’m not on instagram but have been looking and I am APPALLED at the comments on some of the posts. Hope we all keep learning and speaking up in our communities and countries.

Arohanui from Aotearoa New Zealand

Thank you for taking the time to read and reply Nicky! I am glad to hear that this response to the issue and this space feels respectful and positive.

Thank-you for the name change and this clear explanation of why you have done it. Most of all, thank-you to all of those in our sewing community who have put a tremendous amount of time and effort into bring this issue to the attention of everyone in our community, including myself, who, from the position of the privileged majority, had not been previously aware of the pain being caused by this labeling. I have a practical question: is there a better term we should be using than “kimono sleeve” (compared to set-in sleeve, raglan sleeve, batwing sleeve etc) to refer to any garment where a wide sleeve is built-in to the bodice?

Thank you for your reply, Beck! I am also curious about this question and hope to learn more soon. If anyone can shed light on this that would be much appreciated!

I will add my voice of thanks for your response to this issue and for the many thoughtful and educational comments that have been left. I have become much more aware of wide reach of racism since my daughter partnered with and married a man of Korean descent. They moved away from our small Virginia town in part because of the stares and comments and occasional threats made, finding a more comfortable community closer to Washington DC in truly diverse neighborhoods.
This is sad but unfortunately not surprising. So, we continue to educate people and to lead public discussions in the hope of opening even a few minds.
Thanks to all who add their effort to this important conversation!

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