Kimonos are synonymous to Japanese culture and formal occasions, until Kim Kardashian West decided to take the term for her latest lingerie brand.
The reality television star is under fire once again – not for launching a shapewear line, but for trademarking the term "kimono" as the name for the new underwear brand.
“It’s so unusual that even people in Japan are offended by the usage of this particular term,” said Asian American expert Dr. Helen H. Hsu.
Hsu, the president of the Asian American Psychological Association, called Kardashian West’s use and trademarking of the term especially inappropriate, especially considering the culture from which kimonos originate.
Kimono Intimates Inc. applied to trademark a specific font version of the word under the United States Patent and Trademark Office, according to Business Insider.
The history of the Japanese garment spans at least 1,000 years. It is typically worn by women, and can be wrapped and stylized in different manners to convey different meanings, like whether the wearer is married or unmarried.
“These days, people don’t wear a kimono in Japan for everyday wear, however it’s still very much seen as something for special occasions, like weddings and ceremonial functions,” Hsu said. “It can be very expensive and refined, and it’s known worldwide as a representation of Japanese culture.
“It’s the exact opposite of what a shapewear line is,” she continued, comparing the discrepancy to turning a communion dress into underwear. In fact, the internet agreed. The hashtag #KimOhNo – a play on words of both Kardashian West’s name and her new brand name – emerged on social media shortly after the launch.
“Cultural appropriation is sort of like cherry picking,” she said. “It’s taking a group that has a really rich history and a really sensitive history and really minimizing it for something frivolous like fashion.”
But the comparison is even more harmful keeping in mind negative and often over sexual stereotypes of Asian women in America.
“Asian Americans are definitely enjoying a pretty good year in terms of representation and having fought so hard to claim some of the ways we’ve been misrepresented in the past,” Hsu said. “There’s a history that’s very negative about the sexualization of Asian American [women.]”
Kardashian West said in a statement to the New York Times that her brand is "a nod to the beauty and detail that goes into a garment" and that she does not plan "to design or release any garments that would in any way resemble or dishonor the traditional garment.
"My solutionwear brand is built with inclusivity and diversity at its core and I’m incredibly proud of what’s to come," the statement continued.
But this is not the Kardashian clan’s first offense into the world of cultural appropriation.
“It doesn’t seem like the learning has happened,” Hsu said. “It’s not so difficult to be respectful and think about cultural exchange rather than trying to appropriate and take away from something with centuries-old history and actual ceremonial meaning.”