Earlier this week, Kim Kardashian-West announced that she was launching a new line of shapewear. Given the type of clothes Kim often wears, entering this aspect of the fashion business makes sense. But what baffled and angered many people about Kardashian-West's announcement was the brand name of the new brand: Kimono.

When most people hear the word kimono, they associate it with a traditional Japanese garment. Kardashian-West's new line of shapewear doesn't resemble a traditional kimono and has nothing to do with Japanese culture. As a result, many people are crying cultural appropriation and wondering if Karshashian only chose the brand name as a play on her first name.

Yuko Kato, a BBC News Japanese Editor, further explained in her Twitter thread why usage of the name Kimono was so agredious:

Basically, what you're doing is creating a line of underwear and calling them, 'traditional Japanese garments'. Is that what you're aming for? Or, or are you intentionally taking a Japanese word of specfic and extreme cultural significance, stripping away its meaning, and appropriating it for your brand? I do hope not, but intentional or otherwise, that will be the result. That's why many Japanese are crying foul.

People around the world were further angered when it was reported that Kardashian had applied for a trademark for the word "kimono" in a specific font.

This type of backlash isn't new. People are increasingly speaking out when they feel like brands are trying to capitalize on a culture that isn't their own.

How Disney bounced back after similar cries of cultural appropriation

A few years back, Disney got into hot water when they attempted to trademark the term Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday. Their film Coco was originally intended to be called Day of the Dead, so Disney wanted the rights to the term for their promotional efforts. 

After fierce rebukes online calling out Disney for trying to take ownership a piece of Mexican culture, they withdrew their trademark application. Eager to learn from their missteps, they immersed themselves in Mexican culture and hired cultural consultants for the film, including some of their biggest critics during the trademark debacle. Even after the initial public outcry, Disney's efforts on investing in cultural intelligence, and applying it to the making of Coco helped them become the largest grossing film of all-time in Mexico.

As a business leader, cultural intelligence isn't optional. You and your team have the responsibility to know and understand the cultural significance of terms you use in your marketing, especially if they are connected to a culture that isn't your own.

Culture is deeply rooted and personal. It's what helps people feel like they belong.

And because business is about belonging, you've got to take great care to ensure that anytime you use aspects of a culture in what you produce, that you do it with insight, respect, and in a manner that draws people who associate with aspects of that culture closer to you, rather than causing them pain, or making them want to run away from you.

Otherwise, you might find yourself on the receiving end of trending hashtags like #KimOHno.

Published on: Jun 27, 2019
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