Mihiro Aoki founder of TSUBAKI VINTAGE gracefully reviving the art of the Japanese Kimono.
Born and bred in Japan, casually wearing a Kimono was never really something that crossed Mihiro’s mind. As life has it, in her mid-20’s she set out to vibrant India, where she immediately fell in love with the rich culture. What mesmerized her the most was how the women looked elegant in their sarees and traditional dresses. “They were so beautiful, confident and sophisticated. I couldn’t help but feel boring in my plain jeans and t-shirt,” she said.
For days, Mihiro puzzled over how naturally and effortlessly the Indian women exuded femininity. Despite wanting to believe that the saree must have some sort of magic, she knew it was something deeper than that. Like a sudden awakening, the pieces of the puzzle came together: “I realized it is not about the dress, it is all about the attitude. They made me realize the beauty of embracing one’s own tradition and culture and this experience re-opened my eyes for the cultural treasure of my own country; Japanese Kimono.”
A couple of years following, Mihiro found herself getting acquainted to a new culture miles away from home. “The culture is different from Japan, Japanese culture is more community focused, Holland is more pragmatic. It’s taken me some time to get used to it but I love it here,” says Mihiro.
A new culture sparked a deep desire to hold on to her roots, she knew she wanted to keep the Kimono culture alive. But, it wasn’t until her mother expressed her wish to take up sewing again that TSUBAKI VINTAGE came to be.
I’d love if you’d talk a little more about TSUBAKI VINTAGE. Who is at the heart of it and what is your mission?
It is a family business. Right before I moved to Holland, my mother shared her desire to start sewing with me. [Older people like that, they have great hand crafting skills they have perfected over the years. It is sad that the younger generation is not interested in learning these skills].
I decided let’s start TSUBAKI VINTAGE. I manage the shop, my mother does the sewing – she does all the sewing in Japan where our production line is. I go to Japan once a year and that’s the only time we physically work together on TSUBAKI. We communicate via Skype almost everyday, mainly to discuss the business.
My dream is to ensure that we honor Japanese craftsmanship. Each piece is made by hand, so we cannot mass produce and nothing goes to waste. I think the time and attention spent creating each item makes it even more valuable to the wearer. I want our creations to be elegant, not only in Japan, but around the world.
Everything seems to come together so naturally and beautifully. How do you balance having a day job and running a business?
I will admit it is hard but it fulfills me, TSUBAKI VINTAGE is like an extension of me. I like my day job because it allows me to meet and interact with different people, which is something I enjoy. I usually work on TSUBAKI VINTAGE at night and during the weekends. But sometimes, like this week, my day job demands more, so I don’t get to do as much as I would like to do for my shop. In a strange way, this is also alright because it allows me to grow at a human scale. Stability is very important especially in the beginning.
What do you envision for the future of TSUBAKI VINTAGE, especially growth-wise?
For me, growth – well of course everyone wants to grow, but growth is not as important as telling the story behind the product, the story as in the process for making the products. If we grow fast, I am afraid we might loose touch with these values of preserving a tradition. I see it happen a lot with big companies who started with a purpose, and they lose their main focus once they start growing too fast. I would’t want that to happen to TSUBAKI. So for now, a slow and steady pace is ideal.
Now that your shop has been operating for a little over a year, do you feel you are accomplishing your mission?
We take a modern approach to traditional Japanese kimonos while retaining the grace and delicacy of the original dresses. By incorporating modern creativity into traditional kimonos, we create universal fashion items which can be enjoyed by people around the world. The people in Holland and the US are curious to know more about the Japanese Kimono. In Holland, it is interesting to see how there is a shift. People are becoming more and more interested in a holistic way of living. So, I have had people ask me questions in this regard. We have customers in Japan too. What makes me really happy is that in Japan, we are creating a new awareness and appreciation for the traditional Kimono.
What do you do outside of work to recharge and refuel?
To relax, I do yoga. I think it has helped me get a deeper sense of who I am and taught me to recognize and trust my inner voice. Before, I was fearful and relied on outside voices so it helps me stay centered.
**Cover Image: An old picture of Mihiro’s grandmother and friends, 1930’s.
There was a poise, class and grace with these women in kimono. There was an authenticity in them. I wanted to find the same grace as theirs in myself. That wish has lead me to start this journey of TSUBAKI.
The Girl Gone Authentic
She is not afraid to show the world her true essence. She plays by the rules of her own game, and is happiest when she is free to create without holding back. She is inspired by cities near and far, cultures ancient and modern; and will passionately fight for a cause that she truly believes in. Driven by the authenticity of her being and an undeniable zest for all that is life, she wears her heart on her sleeve and dares to love hard – in all ways and always. She is a Girl Gone Authentic.
Welcome home, Mihiro.
Catch up with Mihiro here: