The Traditional Japanese Art of Boro Is Experiencing An Unexpected Resurgence

Kiriko and KUON Breathe New Life into Ancient Boro Textiles

Japanese tradition is no stranger to restoring or beautifying that which has become broken or fragmented. The ancient art of Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, saw the destroyed remnants of shattered pottery be restored and elevated to something desirable. In some ways, the Japanese textile style of Boro (which translates to scraps of cloth) has a lot in common with Kintsugi. The traditional Boro style takes old and mended garments and crafts them together into wholly unique and recognizable patchwork creations. But unlike Kintsugi, which turned into a fashion statement among the affluent, Boro was created out of necessity.

 

Although cotton became more widely available in Japan during the 20th century, poor rural workers could still not afford it. Due to this, old garments were mended repeatedly and incorporated into scavenger-style patchworks: Boro. Handed down from generation to generation, and mended all along the way, these ‘rags’ would often turn into stunning textile records of time.

Ancient Textiles Become Art In ‘Boro — The Fabric Of Life’

In Charente, France an exhibition titled ‘Boro — the Fabric of Life’ aimed to give the world a more in-depth and personal look at decades of Boro cloth.

Featured on display were more than 50 pieces of worker’s garments, traditional kimonos and other household textiles, each handmade by Japanese peasants between the 19th and 20th century. While the readily available nature of cotton has made Boro obsolete, the patchwork tradition has lost none of its cultural significance or appeal: it wasn’t long ago that Boro’s Japanese rural cloth look found its way into Louis Vuitton designer Kim Jones’ designs.

“Boro textiles were the domain of the ordinary man and represented a collective, impoverished past.” -Stephan Szczepanek, private Boro collector

When a single piece of clothing or textile goes through the hands of many generations of families, with each adding and changing to the initial piece, the result is an artifact that’s nothing short of art. Mending became the tradition, and Boro became a staple for country farmers. The creative stitching on these hand-dyed and hand-loomed fabrics, coupled with decades of abuse, leaves us with an eye-catching and surprisingly durable material.

Modern Day Boro Is Made Timeless Through KUON

Whether you present it as art or high-fashion, the traditional Boro style of fabrics created through a never-ending cycle of loving repair will always find an outlet in creatives.

Combining both their love for fashion and the preservation of their native techniques, designers Arata Fujiwara and Shinichiro Ishibashi founded fashion house KUON. With an emphasis on low-key style and a sustainable fashion sense, KUON uses vintage Japanese Boro stitchings to create fashion garments with a contemporary bohemian look.

“The repair work on these materials tells the story of their life and reconstructing them into contemporary pieces helps them live on” -Arata Fujiwara

But there’s more than sustainability at play here: for an added element of authenticity and social consciousness, each piece of reclaimed material is disassembled, cleaned and repaired by artisans in the Tohoku region of Japan. Pieces of Japanese fabric history reborn in the hands of the Japanese: it all falls together with KUON’s ambition of timelessness. It is no accident their brand name translates to the word ‘Eternity’.

Kiriko Aims To Bring Boro Into The Mainstream

While KUON prides itself in authenticity and the worn look that Boro has become integrally associated with, Portland’s Kiriko brand tries to bring the Boro Japanese textile clothing to a more mainstream audience. Founded by graphic designer Dawn Yanagihara and gallery owner Katsu Tanaka, Kiriko produces a wide range of everyday fashion wear from centuries old denim, hand-dyed Shibori, and vibrant Kasuri.

Ties, bags, rucksacks, scarves and even pocket squares are all handmade using decades old indigo-dyed cotton and hemp Boro fabrics. For designer Yanagihara, Kiriko is a way of reconnecting with her Japanese heritage.

“It was only when I started working with boro that I realized that none of us had any artifacts or antiques from our families.” -Dawn Yanagihara

Kiriko’s motto goes hand in hand with the very essence of the Boro clothing style. ‘Wear them, love them, and hand them down.’ Wearing Boro allows anyone to add another chapter to the story of this ancient fabric. And look darn stylish doing so.

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Originally published at thesquirrelz.com on March 15, 2016.

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