Okay, maybe it’s not “Official” official. Does anecdotally official count? Because that’s all I really have. But it does confirm in my mind what I’ve thought was going to happen for a while. But first, a little background.
It seems like at least once a month, I come across a news article featuring someone in the kimono community bemoaning the decline of the industry. The master artisans are retiring or passing away, and nobody wants to learn the craft. These articles usually talk about their efforts to revitalize the industry by (1) getting younger people interested in kimono (2) making kimono more accessible or (3) creating new objects and projects using the same techniques that are used to create kimono.
Here’s just a short list of articles that I’ve found in the past year or so along these lines.
- The Japan Times: Designer Jotaro Saito Seeks To Free The Kimono From The Confines of Tradition
Newsweek: Can High Fashion Save The Kimono?
- The Japan Times: Kagoshima Kimono Makers Seek To Keep The Tradition Alive
- Nikkei Asian Review: New, Affordable Kimonos Popular With Young Women
- The Asahi Shimbun: Saving The Disappearing Fashion Goes Political
- The New York Times: Old Ways Prove Hard To Shed, Even As Crisis Hits Kimono Trade
In my mind, it’s simple supply and demand. As the artisans retire or pass away, the supply of hand-made silk kimono will dwindle. At the same time, these kimono activists are trying to increase demand for kimono to keep the industry alive. Something has to give somewhere and prices will rise accordingly.
I’ve also heard some rumors in the past few months regarding certain secondhand stores (no, I won’t name names). According to what I’ve heard, a large chain of recycle kimono stores has struck a deal with a large chain of general recycle shops to supply them with kimono (for those outside Japan, recycle is the general term for a second-hand store here.) Sure enough, I have been noticing a rise in prices at that particular chain of recycle stores over the last few months, especially when it comes to well-crafted pieces like furisode, full shibori, or oshima tsumugi.
However, for me, the final confirmation came this weekend when I was out shopping. My absolute favourite recycle shop is a local one (not a chain) that operates as an NGO/NPO. The workers there can’t get a job in the regular workforce for various reasons, so they get work experience at the shop. They get all their stock through donations, so when they sell it on, it’s really, really, cheap.
Or at least it was.
I would find incredible pieces there for incredibly cheap prices. One of my favourite formal pieces is from that shop and I only paid ¥2500. I routinely get kimono there for less than ¥1000, sometimes as cheap as ¥350. I think the most I ever paid for a single piece was ¥3000. It was very easy to break my wallet and I never left that store without something in my shopping bag and a grin on my face.
But when I went there this weekend, I was hit with a case of sticker shock. There were very few pieces lower than ¥2000. With the fast turnover of this store, I’m betting the ones cheaper than that were just old stock that hadn’t sold yet. There was a gorgeous furisode that was on sale for ¥8000. It’s not an unfair price, but before that visit, I would have expected a price of ¥4000 or less. There was also an oshima tsumugi piece there for the unheard of price (for that shop) of ¥6500. Gasp! Shock! Horror!
Yes, yes, yes, I know. Those prices aren’t all that bad. In any other location, I would have been happy to find those pieces at those prices. Just not at this shop. It would be like finding anything is a secondhand shop for full price. Even if it is brand new and still in the box, you don’t expect the price in a secondhand shop to be the same as in a retail location.
Yes, in my mind, the days of cheap kimono are over. I can only see prices rising from here. My already expensive hobby is about to become even more expensive. I’m sorry wallet and bank account. I think you’re going to be losing a little more weight in the near future. Or I won’t have to pay for an expensive second closet to hold everything. Either way, [music plays] “it’s the end of the world as we knooooow it!”
BTW, I never do any kimono shopping online. If you do, please comment and let me know if you’ve noticed a price increase at all in the past year. I’d love to hear about your experiences!