The word kimono is defined in the English language as a long, loose traditional Japanese robe with wide sleeves, tied with a sash. Translated directly from Japanese, it’s composed of two words; ‘ki’ meaning ‘wearing’ and ‘mono’ representing ‘thing’.

Wearing-Thing? Sounds like much of my wardrobe!

In Japan, the youthful population once saw the kimono as a symbol of antique femininity, an expensive investment that was in complete contrast to the trends and style of the Western world. However, within the last decade, it appears young Japanese women have re-embraced the traditional attire. Leeyong Soo, international fashion co-ordinator at Vogue Nippon said;

‘I think some women are getting tired of following Western culture, and want to get back to something that’s not only Japanese, but wearable.’

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Western culture is also seeking to embrace this ‘wearing-thing’.

Within the designer realm, Gucci and Saint Laurent produced Kimono-inspired pieces for their Spring 2014 collections. On the highstreet, Topshop, New Look, Warehouse, Boohoo and River Island, each have entire sections on their website dedicated to the Japanese style.

Buying a kimono-inspired piece would result in immediate satisfaction but would ultimately equate to it hanging in the back of my wardrobe for all of eternity.

Thus, I was a little over-excited when I was introduced to the WAYO: WAYOAn authentic way for Japanese culture to infiltrate your wardrobe, for men and women alike!

WAYO, derived from the Japanese term ‘wayosecchu’, means a blending of Japanese and Western styles.

Dublin-based owner / designer, Emily Waszak wanted to find an eco-friendly way to incorporate vintage kimonos into Western fashion.

Sitting across from Emily in Clement and Pekoe, we discussed ethical fashion, expanding a business and boyfriends!

1. How would you describe yourself?

I think of myself as a textile designer but my role with WAYO is in more of a manufacturing capacity and as a fashion and accessory designer.  You could also say that I’m a stylist as part of the development in designing for WAYO, includes an important selection process in going to flea markets, choosing specific kimonos and there’s an element of problem solving to it too.Though, I still do textile surface design in attempting to blend the two cultures. 

2. How did WAYO first begin?

My father is Japanese and although I grew up in America, I always had a huge interest in Japanese culture, mostly fueled by my father. As a child, I always had a fascination with sewing; both of my Grandmothers were incredible tailors and seamstresses. When I moved to Japan some years ago, I started going to flea markets all of the time. There, you can buy two kimonos for ¥500, which is the equivalent of less than €5. It’s because people don’t wear them anymore, they have them and they’re just taking up space.I started buying them, I didn’t even know how to wear them but I was just in love with the textile.  I love fashion and I love silhouettes but the kimono is the perfect garment for me as it just showcases the textile – it’s a canvas. As I began to collect them, I learned about the textiles and researched how to wear them, which is a huge process.

My boyfriend at the time thought that Americans wearing kimonos looked silly, so he suggested taking the fabric from the kimonos and making something else with them. It got me thinking, I’m Japanese-American, how can I take my love of these two cultures and fuse them?

3. Transforming kimonos into accessories offers an ethical element to WAYO. Was that in any way intentional or intrinsic to your brand?

ntkiku3Yes, definitely! Prior to WAYO, I was a print designer, I hated my job. I felt so guilty that my work wasn’t sustainable and I spent a long time trying to figure out ways to design that was. I realised that I had over thirty kimonos and thought that perhaps I could use them to create something else.

My mother had always said that the silk from kimonos was of great quality. I took apart the kimono and designed a deliberate pattern where I was wasting as little kimono silk as possible in creating WAYO’s range of silk ties, bow-ties and bags. There’s almost no waste at all and it alleviates almost all of my guilt! WAYO also gives me an outlet to express my appreciation of the work, history care and art that is integral to kimono design. It’s an extraordinary process that we in the West often define as merely cherry blossom and cranes but it’s so much more diverse than that and I’m really proud to showcase the kimono tradition.

4. How long does the metamorphosis from kimono to accessory take?

It depends! The actual ‘taking it apart’ process takes so much longer than I ever anticipated. You would think that because they’re all hand-sewn, it’ll be easy to just rip apart but the work that goes into them is impeccable. Plus, you don’t want to damage any of the fabric.

Sometimes, it could take me a week to get the whole kimono taken apart, pressed, cleaned and cut for one piece alone. There isn’t any set time as it often even takes me a couple of weeks alone to select which kimono I am going to use – particularly if any of the fabric is damaged, which occurs regularly. The fabric dictates what and how much I can produce. 

5. When you lived in Japan, you almost bulk-bought kimonos. What do you plan to do when your reserve of fabric runs low?

When I was in Japan, I bought lots of kimonos for just me, because I ‘needed’ them. Well, that’s what I told my husband! I had a couple that I didn’t want to wear so I used those for WAYO. Then, I started buying them online or my friends in Japan would ship them to me. About this time last year, I went back to Japan for a month and went bananas! I filled up three enormous suitcases but when I arrived home I fell in love with so many of them that they were moved into my ‘to-wear’ stash and some of them were more damaged than I initially thought.

However, if I run out, I can always go back to Japan but if you know what you’re looking for and have the necessary vocabulary, eBay can be a great source for kimonos. Although, if you’re not fluent in the language of kimono though, you can be easily duped!

6. What has the reception in Ireland been to WAYO so far?

In Ireland, I’m still trying to figure out what the market is. Irish consumers are different to American consumers. In the US, I have some very specific costumers – people who I never would have expected. There’s an older gentleman who loves the neck-ties because they’re funky but art almost. Then, there’s the sustainability-crowd who are more interested in the rejuvenation of the garment. I also sell quite a few ties to women who prefer androgynous styles of dressing. To me, it’s really cool that my whole idea of design in general is blending cultures and that’s reflected in my customer base. 

I’m still learning about the fashion landscape in Ireland but I really feel there is a population here who deem a value in craft. In Dublin specifically, there is a really great community for WAYO to call home. 


7. What’s next for WAYO? How do you plan on developing the brand?

I want to continue creating accessories, menswear – I really enjoy that and I feel it works. In the future, I would love to create womenswear but I just don’t feel that I have the capacity for that yet but it’s something I aspire to. A lot of the linings in the kimono are cotton and they’re just as gorgeous as the silk.  If I’m ever able to expand, I would like to incorporate the traditional Shibori dyeing into the WAYO brand. 

As of this week, WAYO are available to purchase in The Loft Market in Powerscourt Shopping Centre but if you’re not Dublin-based, you can find Emily on her website WAYO Textiles and on Facebook.

Who / what would you like to see featured in the next ‘Minnie Meets’?

Written by

Sinéad Burke is an academic and a writer with an obsessive interest in fashion, education and 'Extraordinary Women'. She is an ambassador for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Women's Council of Ireland.