Kamiko 紙衣

Hands gather to create, protect, and sustain community

Kamiko is committed to preserving a garment-creating tradition that is being lost.  We honor and celebrate the community of craftspeople who draw on centuries-old knowledge as well as contemporary artistic design to create unique kimonos and other one-of-a-kind garments. Even the simplest pieces embody the highest level of craft. We enjoy sharing our philosophy of minimizing waste and creating objects of enduring value. The Japanese believe that a garment sewn by many people becomes an amulet, protecting the wearer from danger and enclosing them in prayers.

Kimono Making School

Tsuyo Onodera, a Master Kimono Maker, has been in the garment industry for more than sixty years, as owner and proprietor of the Aizawa Sendai Kimono Making/Training School in Sendai, Japan. Together with her daughter, Maki Aizawa, she makes haori and hanten, jackets and coats from denim, linen, and cotton, as well as scarves, silk broaches, and other garments. Additionally, they offer home goods including sashiko stitched (a form of Japanese folk embroidery) tea towels and abstract tapestries. Kimonos are often worn in Japan for important public holidays and festivals, and for formal occasions such as weddings and funerals.

A Women’s Collective of licensed kimono makers in Tohoku, Japan

In 2021 in Sonoma, California, Maki was inspired to create her own brand “Kamiko.” As founder and designer, she brought together a Women’s Collective of licensed kimono makers in the Tohoku region of Japan, who were trained by her mother, Tsuyo. Her vision is to put a contemporary spin on kimono traditions, creating designs that can be incorporated into everyday use. Tsuyo’s mastery of traditional techniques and Maki’s creativity combine to create contemporary garments and more that preserve the traditions of kimono-making. Using recycled antique kimono silk, and natural cottons and linens, fabric dying is an integral part of the process. The pair use a variety of colors ranging from muted grays to precious indigos to fiery reds. For indigo, they send cloth to be specially dyed in Japan. Once the fabric is dyed, it can be embellished with traditional styles of embroidery such as sashiko or kogin or the fabric can even be hand painted.

After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated part of their home region, This mother and daughter team collaborated with seamstresses and embroiderers in the Tohoku region of Japan. They initiated the Senninbari Project (Senninbari meaning “Thousand Person Stitches”). Maki and Tsuyo created this project to bring together women who had lost everything and teach them sewing skills so they could have a source of income, but even more importantly a connection with others.

Kamiko Products

Maki Aizawa is committed to preserve a sewing tradition that is being lost and to honor and celebrate the specialized hand skills and techniques of this tradition. She wants to share the philosophy of minimizing waste and creating objects of enduring value that is embodied in the kimono making tradition. The Japanese believe that a garment sewn by many people becomes an amulet, protecting the wearer from danger and enclosing them in prayers.

Paper Garments with Shiroishi Washi – Handmade Mulberry Paper

The art of paper making has been practiced since the Heian period in Japan. Washi, handmade Japanese paper, was called ‘Michinoku-gami’ in the Tohoku region. Shiroishi washi is produced in Shiroishi city in Miyagi Prefecture of Japan. It has been a specialty product of Shiroishi since the Edo period. Mulberry production, papermaking and processing prospered as an industry in Shiroishi, and was actively produced until the Meiji period. There used to be 300 paper making workshops in Shioiri but currently there are none today and it is manufactured only by a group of about 10 local people who want to preserve the paper making tradition.

The raw material is Kozo. There are two types of trees called Kozo in Japan: Paper Mulberry and Kajinoki. Its long soft fibers give strength and durability to paper. It is also used for kamiko (paper cloth). Since 1973, Shiroishi washi has been used for the creating of for the garments worn by the monks in Shuni-e (Omizutori) at Todaiji Temple.

We, as the Women’s Collective of licensed kimono makers in Tohoku, create Shiroishi garments using traditional methods.

Japanese Indigo

Once we sew our garments, we ask Shoichi Chiba in Miyagi Prefecture or BUAISOU in Tokushima Prefecture, (famous for the long history of indigo leaf farming and composting of indigo leaves into sukumo) to dye our garments. The Japanese indigo dye is made with natural ingredients such as indigo leaves, lye, bran, and shell lime.

Shoichi Chiba’s great-grandmother was Chiba Ayano, a designated living national treasure. She grew hemp and indigo. She wove cloth on a manual loom, fermented her own dyes, and dyed the cloth by hand using traditional methods. The Chiba family’s indigo is called “chijimi ai” (indigo) and it is now only grown at the Chiba family’s farm. He makes his indigo vats only a few times a year. For our Women’s Collective, we have 2~3 garments a year from Choichi Chiba’s workshop since he does all the farming, fermenting, and dying by himself. The production is limited and not many of the younger generation want to carry on this tradition in the area. We hope to share his family legacy even though we can only produce a few pieces with this specific kind of indigo.

Different from this is BUAISOU, a group who does all their own processes, which were traditionally divided into separate specializations– from cultivating the raw indigo, fermenting the indigo leaves (Sukumo), dyeing, and designing the products.

Photo Credit: BUAISOU