Reimagining Japanese Vintage Kimonos Through Modern Styling

By Kaitlyn Ellison

Sustainable fashion brand, Kimono Zulu focuses on modern styling and reimagining ways to style the iconic Japanese kimono. In this special video presentation of men’s and women’s looks, shot at Asia Society Texas Center, brand stylist Tina Zulu combines modern accessories and vintage garments, with some pieces dating back to the Mid Century. We posed a couple of questions to Tina about her brand: 

What is it about kimonos that so inspired you to create Kimono Zulu? 
My introduction to Japanese culture started with a childhood obsession with Hello Kitty, which I've been collecting since the mid-70s. Through Sanrio and their characters, I was introduced to Japanese design, lifestyle, and the kimono, often worn by Hello Kitty. My fashion background in styling and appreciation for handmade garments, textiles and couture is why I am now obsessed with kimonos. They’re a universal, timeless design that I view as magical, wearable art that should be enjoyed and celebrated. By working with vintage kimonos and using modern styling, my goal is to breathe new life into them to be worn by a new generation. On a broader level, I feel good that what we are doing is eco-friendly and a model of circular fashion. Reimagining the kimono helps keep the garments out of the landfills, which in turn, slows the damaging effects of climate change.

You collaborate with artists and designers often, what do you find makes a successful collaboration?
We have been fortunate to collaborate with prominent local artists such as GONZO247, Shelbi Nicole and Selven O’Keef Jarmon — all of whom respect and appreciate the art of the kimono. Through artist collaborations, the kimono becomes a canvas for another artist whether it’s paint, beading, completely redesigning or adding embellishments. The result is unique, thoughtful and often playful. For the artists, it gives them an opportunity to create wearable art that is tangible for their collectors to connect with.

You have joined us for many Asia Society festivals and have participated in others all around town. What is it about the festival experience that connects with your brand?
I believe that kimonos are magical and that people are emotionally drawn to their energy  the way the fabric feels, a color, pattern or artwork. When I put on a kimono, I am instantly energized and it brings me joy to see the same reaction in my clients. Festivals and pop-up markets provide an opportunity for me to share my love of kimonos and help people find something that resonates with them. 

More About Kimono Zulu
Kimono Zulu, a creative exploration led by Tina Zulu, is a fashion brand that draws upon the rich history of traditional Japanese attire, mainly the kimono, and its influence on other cultures throughout Asia and the West. Through artist collaborations, Tina Zulu inspires and initiates the visual conversation for artists to incorporate their own design sensibilities into the vision for the brand, bringing new life to vintage kimonos in a thoughtful, beautiful and often playful way. The reimagined kimonos are embellished and modernized to be enjoyed as unique, one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art. Collaborators to date include: GONZO247, Janavi M. Folmsbee, Emilie Duval, Selven O'Keef Jarmon, Sebastien “Mr. D 1987” Boileau, Katsola, Dandee Warhol, Christy Karll, Jennifer Gabiola of Dawning Soul, Royal McGee, Mina Gaber, Soi-K, Shelbi Nicole, Dawn Bell, Falon Felscher and Judy Masliyah of My Flaming Heart, Elijah Coccetti, Uyen-My Pham, Rene Cruz and Ann Brooks. 

Video Credits
Styling: Tina Zulu
Models: Shannon Rodriguez and Anthony Blaine
Hair & Makeup: Rachel Magdelena
Videography: Blah Blah Co.
Music: Phil Hernandez
Special Thanks: Asia Society Texas Center, Shop 1988, The Fashion Time Machine