Kim Kardashian’s announcement in June of 2019 that she would be starting a shapewear brand came as a shock to no one. For someone who had been credited with “bringing curves back to Hollywood” and an ambitious businesswoman to boot, this step seemed like just another revenue-generating move that would cement her status as an entrepreneur for the Kim brand. Her choice to name the brand “Kimono”- a term that refers to a traditional Japanese robe and also literally means “clothes” in Japanese- was met with public outrage, as a woman who comes from an empire built partly on cultural appropriation was seen as committing yet another egregiously insensitive crime.
Kim and her team sought to trademark this label, making a lot of people angry in the process. She wanted to commodify this traditional garment, and as the change.org petition tagline read, people “didn’t want to see their word for clothes plastered over a photograph of Kim Kardashian in underwear.” Many protested that her marketing choice was taking an essential part of Japanese culture and incorporating it into the Kardashian empire, thus ‘branding’ and culturally appropriating something that Japanese people considered sacred to their customs. Trademark registration would mean that ‘Kimono’ would get exclusive legal protections, including ones for the brand name and logo. Many brands seek a trademark registration because it allows for protection of the product: if another brand were to name itself ‘Kimono,’ Kim, as the owner of the trademark, could bar other labels from using that term to ensure her profit off that brand.
‘Kimono’ was scandalous in its outrageousness. Wanting to profit off of a label that had meant something different and culturally significant for centuries was a bold move and one that was clearly a lapse in her and her team’s judgment. However, Kim was able to respond, re-market, and rename her brand to Skims. Now, Skims today is a highly successful shapewear and underwear retailer and has even expanded to selling dresses, pants, and other clothing.
Kimono’s failure- and Skims’ success- speaks to a lot of greater themes in the fashion world. As soon as Kim responded to the outrage and changed the name of her brand, consumers were forgiving, and the fact that Kim and her team approved and named it that in the first place was forgotten. While initial rage had dredged up many past offenses, as people cited her past use of other cultures for her own benefit: calling her cornrows ‘Bo Derek Braids’ or wearing skin-darkening makeup in a 2017 KKW beauty campaign- ultimately, Kim’s brand was not tarnished.
People praised Kim for her acknowledgment of the wrongness of Kimono, and, more importantly, people bought Skims. Kim’s fame and popularity trumped her wrongdoing, and the consumption of her brand prospered. Scandals may seem rampant in the fashion world, but Kimono is an example of how these objections can lose out to consumerism. And, while many outraged fans of Kim might still refuse to purchase Skims, Forbes valued Skims at $3.2 billion in 2022, and Kim does not seem to be hurting. This scandal could be a tell-tale sign of authority and fame in action, and it may be beneficial for us to look into who “gets away” with what. Her quick rebranding symbolizes the need for acknowledgment in the fashion industry, but the public’s openness to buying her brand after the mistake may be illustrative of the power that consumption and consumerism can have over ethics and the effectiveness of cancel culture.