Reborn Kyoto

Repurposed Kimonos

Reborn Kyoto, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan, is a non-profit organization that produces clothing and gifts made from donated vintage Japanese kimonos to benefit its international women's economic development project.  Purchases of these lovely, one-of-a-kind items support financial independence for indigent women in developing countries in Southeast Asia.  On Saturday November 5th and Sunday November 6th, Reborn Kyoto/Boston will hold a special exhibition and sale, held in Boston once every two years.  Among items for purchase will be jackets, blouses, shirts, vests, scarves, ties and bags.  Although most of the clothing and accessories are for women, there are pieces for purchase for men as well. On hand for this special benefit event will be Masayo Kodama, President and Founder of Reborn Kyoto, who can answer any questions about the kimono fabrics, the garments they came from and Reborn Kyoto's non-profit work.
Begun in 1986 in a much more modest form, Reborn Kyoto has grown and thrived in its mission to nurture the economic self-sufficiency of impoverished women, both young and old, with training programs in dressmaking and textile technology in Cambodia, Vietnam, Yemen, Laos, Jordan and Sri Lanka.  Uneducated and unemployed trainees are instructed in all areas of sewing and tailoring by experienced and qualified professionals  Completed garments and accessories are then sent back to Japan where they are closely inspected and finished for final sale. 

Trainees receive a marketable skill that will allow them to secure employment, leading ideally to financial independence. Charity sales have been held in Kyoto, Japan and in the U.S. in Hawaii, Boston, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.  Proceeds from these worldwide sales are used to fund Reborn Kyoto operations and training programs, with the ultimate goal being to provide financial incentives for trainees to give them confidence in their abilities to earn an income through their own labor and to gain marketable skills to provide for their families. As one notice sent to publicize the upcoming event cleverly but aptly noted, it is "women helping women, doing good by looking good."
 Kimonos are traditional Japanese wear, usually made of silk, that have deep cultural ties and are associated with time-honored Japanese customs such as the tea ceremony, Kabuki, traditional dance and wedding ceremonies.  Once daily wear, kimonos today are generally worn only for those special occasions.  Kimonos currently retain a special meaning for the Japanese, but even more so in Kyoto, which was the country's capital 1,200 years ago and remains its artistic and cultural hub as well as the center of the kimono industry.   Because kimonos possess such high sentimental value in Japanese society, the donated material--often complete kimonos and some with a long history behind them, perhaps one originally made for a wedding that didn't take place, or owned by a deceased cherished relative--their donations are especially meaningful.  As Ms. Kodama explained, "The donation of a kimono was a sign of care for other people.  A kimono carries the love of the person who donated it.  Looking at the kimonos, I felt that I had a responsibility to make the best use of their love."
 In the Reborn Kyoto project, Japanese women in Japan first gather old kimonos,  disassemble them and take the beautiful old materials to poor, remote villages in such places as Cambodia.  There the Japanese women teach the local women how to sew and make Western style clothes that are ultimately sold at charity benefits in Japan and the United States.  Completed goods may also be seen and bought at the Reborn Kyoto store in Kyoto.
The origins of Reborn Kyoto trace back to the early vision of founder Masayo Kodama. Her generation in Japan experienced poverty growing up, and after World War II international support helped to save the Japanese people from starvation.  After the Japanese economy rebounded and became one of the strongest in the world, Mrs. Kodama and other financially secure Japanese people wanted to give back and assist developing nations that had been beset in a similar fashion by calamities and misfortunes.  Reborn Kyoto was created to provide a way to contribute to the international effort to assist countries in need to develop cottage industries for disadvantaged women and children.
Ms. Kodama, a mother and homemaker at the time, began her initial efforts in 1979 with a fundraising campaign for Cambodian refugees, which involved mostly housewives and students out on busy streets asking for donations.   Although it was rare at the time for ordinary citizens to be directly involved in a charity for another country, they still managed to raise over $66,000 in their first year alone.  Various issues and obstacles were raised in subsequent years, including the conclusion that direct charity was not ideal in the long run, that true help would only come when donees were taught useful skills to become financially independent. 

The need to find leaders who could continue to organize and train people after initial training was provided was essential.  Another problem was that until the early 1990s the environment surrounding non-profit organizations in Japan was not as fully developed as it was in countries like the U.S., so that it took years for non-profit organizationos (NPOs) such as Reborn Kyoto to achieve corporate status and to be deemed eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. Also, with the organization's limited resources, dealing with the complex variety of regulatory compliance issues in different countries continues to pose problems. Another difficulty was being able to reliably predict how many garments and accessories students would produce, a factor that varied partly upon their skill and motivational levels.  Determining the right product variety was also an issue, as some did well in one market but not in others.  Ensuring that customers would return for future sales was, and is, also an important issue, so there always needs to be new and interesting products to entice buyers back. In general, as Ms. Kodama declared, "There is always a problem finding funding.  What we do is unique and it is hard to find a funding source that matches our mission.  It is a constant struggle." In addition, colleagues involved in Reborn Kyoto have all praised Ms. Kodama and her impressive leadership qualities,in particular her ability to inspire as well as her generosity with her own time and money.                   

A detailed and compelling history of  Reborn Kyoto and an examination of these and other issues the group encountered over the past several decades is cogently presented in a business case study for The Case Journal of Simmons College School of Management (SOM)by SOM Associate Professor Cynthia Ingols and co-authored by (Erika Ishihara.  Professsor Ingols is also the event chair for the upcoming Boston sale.

For more information, please visit You may also visit Reborn Kyoto on Facebook,Twitter and LinkedIn.

The sale takes places at Bead & Fiber, 460 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118 (Free parking available in lot at 500 Harrison Ave.) on Saturday November 5th, 3-7 pm and Sunday, November 6th, 11 am to 5 pm.

The Case Journal may be accessed on the Boston/Reborn Kyoto website. Information about the store in Kyoto may be found at the Reborn Kyoto website.



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