The internet has been in an uproar recently about a scandal that has everything a good scandal needs: celebrities, fans, history and an international element. If you are confused by the photos of beige form-fitting underwear and what does that have to do with the Japanese traditional kimono – you came to the right place to find out. Let’s unpack the controversy.
— ゆっち (@y_5959_y) June 26, 2019
Kim Kardashian launched her line of underwear on June 25th 2019 and named it Kimono Solutionwear line. The problem lies with the use of the word “kimono”, and it gets worse. Many would argue that people should have the right and the freedom to name their businesses as they see fit, but Kim Kardashian tried to trademark the word in several variations. A trademark would mean that she would own the name exclusively. In that case, the real ‘kimono’, a centuries-old Japanese word that has crossed language borders and is known worldwide as simply’kimono’, might lose its meaning. And to stress this again – it might lose its name to underwear.
Seeing how Kardashian’s underwear has nothing to do with the actual Japanese kimono, it was obvious that she tried a play on words with her own name, the KIM in KIMono. However, netizens internationally came up with much better wordplay, dubbing the controversy “KimOhNo!”, and rallying under that hashtag. Soon enough a petition was created, asking Kim Kardashian to change the name of her shapewear line.
The outrage was shared between real kimono fans, kimono wearers and makers, Japanese and people from all over the world. And then, the actual mayor of Kyoto, Japan, joined in. This is significant because Kyoto, once an Imperial capital, is the beloved centre of traditional Japanese culture and history. It is also considered the city of kimono, as many people wear kimono there on a daily basis – both professional geisha and maiko, as well as Kyoto locals.
Mayor of KYOTO (!!!) made an official request to Kim K to RECONSIDER and STOP what she’s doing. KYOTO! Once the capital of Japan, city of traditional kimono makers. GO KYOTO! pic.twitter.com/0Mhm7vMPk9
— inKIMONO (@inkimono1) June 28, 2019
In a soft, but firm, and very poignant letter, the mayor, Daisaku Kadokawa, asked Kim to drop the name of the traditional Japanese garment. He explained that the Japanese themselves are submitting kimono culture as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The mayor also reminds her that the kimono has always been shared with other cultures, people being happy to see foreign visitors wearing a kimono. But trademarking the word, that is really too much. “We think that the names for ‘Kimono’ are the asset shared with all humanity who love Kimono and its culture therefore they should not be monopolized,” the mayor points out.
At first, Kim Kardashian was firmly rejecting criticism, deleting all negative and opposing comments on her social media accounts and publicly saying she has no intention of changing the name. She even tried to draw a tenuous connection between kimono and her shapewear, saying she intends to give a “nod to the beauty and detail” that goes into a kimono.
However, it seems that the online rage has had some effect. Less than a week later, on July 1st 2019, Kim announced she is changing the name. Here’s her Instagram post announcing that.
There are messages of gratitude that she reconsidered, as well as ones asking for an official apology. Most importantly, the next day, July 2nd, Japan announced they will be sending patent officials to the US to investigate the legal aspects in detail. As the act of trademarking is the most controversial part of this and it is a dangerous way of monopolizing world heritage, many are glad the issue was not dropped after Kim’s announcement that she is changing the underwear line’s name.
Fans are already giving her suggestions for a new name, from earnest ones like KimBody, to the jokesters suggesting KIMCHI and trying to move the outrage to Japan’s neighbor South Korea. We still don’t know what the new name will be.