There used to be shop in Neal St, a long time ago, called Neal St East. No, not the same as the East chain of shops that now have a branch near Covent Garden market; Neal St East was something else. It took up four floors of a complex emporium where goods from China, Korea, India and Japan were piled up in chaotic profusion, like an Eastern bazaar that had taken it into its head to migrate to what was then a quiet back street. I used to love it, not least for the racks of vintage kimonos on sale. Now vintage is becoming an increasingly acceptable choice, Neal St East is gone, taken over by a shoe shop. But it’s still possible to get your hands on vintage kimonos if you know where to look.
Online kimono seller Vintage Kimonos was set up by British expat and long-term Japan resident Jo Wilkinson, following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku in 2011, as a way of helping rebuild the local economy and communities. The company sources vintage silk kimonos from all over Japan.
But the real point of the company is to help people get back on their feet, so they work with local support groups in Tohoku, one of which teaches disabled people clothing manufacturing skills such as pattern cutting and hand finishing. Another group set up a sewing cooperative after the disaster, doing beautiful hand sewing. These groups now produce new clothes, bags and accessories using kimono fabric.
Although they’re based in Japan, Vintage Kimonos prices its goods in pounds and delivers in the UK. They’ll also do custom designs, where you can choose your fabric from their range and have something specially made from it. Or just buy a kimono to wear or to hang on the wall.