When I say Japan, most people go, ‘Oh Sony? Toyota?’, but there’s so much more to the country than just that,” says Tomomi Yamamoto with a laugh, as she lounges on a pouf in her Mumbai home. She should know. The 36-year-old designer moved to the city in 2007, with her husband, and brought with her a part of Japanese tradition. Under her eponymous label (previously called Saison Japonaise) she makes handbags and clutches out of old kimono silks.
“I love Indian antiques and, initially, wanted to start a store selling these in Japan, but it was very difficult to set up my business because stores there sell cheap replicas. That’s when I thought of it the other way around,” she says about starting her line.
In 2010, she fashioned the first bags out of the kimono fabrics she’d collected from Japan over time, starting, as with many entrepreneurs, with her friends and family.
Tomomi uses the silk from kimonos and obi belts. “The tradition behind these garments is rich. Different styles and colours are worn for different occasions. Unmarried, young women wear long-sleeved kimonos in bright colours with intricate designs, while those who are married wear muted patterns,” she says, adding that the custom has just as many mores as the sari in India.
Tomomi makes two to three trips to Japan in a year to source her material. She looks for old kimonos that have been handed down over generations. “The practice of wearing them is on the decline, so most people just have them stored away, gathering dust. I look for women’s robes mainly because they have brighter colours,” she says.
She makes four to six bags using a single ensemble (the average kimono is 12.5 yards long). “Obis are richer in design but more fragile,” she explains. “Each handbag has a clasp, and there’s a mirror inside. Even the inner lining is made from kimono silk.”
Tomomi retails at Bombay Electric (Colaba), Atosa (Khar) and Taj Khazana boutiques across the country.
Prices range from R7,000-15,000. She may soon set up an online shop on her website,