Local start-up brand gives new life to vintage kimonos by turning them into pants and more

Through her brand Etsuka, Mimi Dumalaog ‘preserves the soul’ of thrifted kimonos by reimagining them into new contemporary pieces

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When we talk about Japan, what usually comes to mind are its delicious food, anime and manga, and unique sense of style. Japan is known for its distinct Harajuku street style and kawaii looks, but its legacy in fashion started way before the contemporary looks. Its traditional garb, the kimono, has been one of the most recognizable pieces of clothing in the world. It merges art and style with its unique silhouette and vibrant prints. It is so iconic that even designers from different nations have created new looks inspired by the beloved garment. The latest to do that is Mimi Dumalaog.

Through her startup fashion label Etsuka, Mimi turns vintage kimonos into pants, skirts, and tops. She sources her kimonos at thrift shops in Nagoya City in Japan. Some were “donated” to her by her friends and community in Japan and in Manila. The idea of establishing her brand came from a 90-day challenge she and her fiancé Harry embarked on. The challenge is to build a small business valued at P10 million in 90-days with just P10,000 starting capital.

But unlike other fashion creatives, Mimi didn’t study design. Instead, she is a Political Science graduate who is now a PhD student for International Development and a co-founder of a tech company that helps business owners create video content.

“I never had fashion training but I’ve been a consumer my whole life,” Mimi tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “Especially when I gained weight, I experienced how difficult it is to find pants that fit someone who is 5’ feet tall and has a mid-size body. I want to change that. I may not have the training but I’ve suffered from the problem long enough that I have an idea how to solve it.”

The process of turning the kimonos into new articles of clothing starts with getting the measurements of her clients. With her shopping dilemma in mind, Mimi wants her designs to be flattering to people who are underserved in the market: plus size and petite. At the core of the brand is the sense of “reinvention,” something that applies to its wearers and the custom pieces she makes.

“I preserve the soul of the pieces. I believe the soul of the kimono is in its pattern and crest. The patterns are hand painted, hand embroidered,” she muses. “Imagine the time it took artists to make it. I want to preserve their work for years to come—just in another form.”

According to her, the crest is the symbol of the family wearing the kimono. It’s passed from generation to generation. That’s why she always asks her sewers to incorporate it somewhere in the design. Fun fact, one of her clients researched the crest of per pants. And to their surprise, it belongs to a family of ninjas.

Currently, her clients can’t choose the fabric yet, even the kimono to be used for their piece as it is operationally heavy. She only allows it during bazaars since people traveled all the way just to see her pieces. As per Mimi, the Etsuka pants are priced at P4,000 while the skirt costs P3,500.

To know more about Mimi’s works, visit @etsuka_fashion on Instagram.

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