- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Hisako Barrow’s creations incorporating upcycled Japanese fabrics of all kinds attract all kinds of customers, from women of Japanese heritage, as one might expect, to all sorts of ethnicities and places of residence.

“Some ladies from the mainland are fascinated,” she said. “They’ve never seen anything like it.”

Barrow travels to Japan for most of her fabrics, though she occasionally finds some locally, or her customers give her old kimonos, yukatas and other garments that she turns into fringed shawls, tops, dresses, two-piece pantsuits and elegant jackets.

“If I don’t love the fabric, I won’t use it,” she said. Each of her pieces is one of a kind.

There is no set number of garments or accessories she can make with each kimono or yukata. Sometimes the design of the fabric will determine how she will create her own design, while other times the condition of especially the vintage fabrics will limit its usefulness.

However, raised in Japan and taught strict standards in sewing school in her youth, she is a strong believer in the practice of “mottainai,” or “waste not, want not,” in her work.

Her designs include ornate fabrics from obis, the wide sashes worn around kimonos, to all manner of kimonos and more casual yukatas (lightweight, usually cotton kimonos) to kasuri, sturdy fabric used in the old days to make farmers’ clothing.

Tops made from kasuri fabric are costlier than the yukata tops “because it’s hard to find,” Barrow said. In modern Japan, “farmers now wear jeans and T-shirts.”

“Kasuri is hand-woven, indigo-dyed and very strong,” she said.

In old Japan, kasuri garments were repaired, and repaired, and repaired, with patches and stitching, until they might have appeared to have no possible use. At that point the garments, multilayered due to years of patchwork repairs, were cut into strips and woven into thick, study fabric for even more use, in a tradition loosely known as “boro.” (The term boro-boro, used nowadays to describe the junk clothing worn to clean the yard, etc., came from this traditional practice.)

Just to be clear, there is nothing boro-boro about Barrow’s clothing.

She used to wholesale her clothing to a former retail shop at Halekulani, and despite the higher, resort-style pricing, “one lady bought four dresses,” Barrow remarked. Now, though, she doesn’t do any wholesaling, limiting herself to a few direct-to-consumer events each year.

Barrow’s lightweight yukata tops start at $49, while tops made with the sturdy kusari fabric cost $89. Elegant jackets trimmed with kimono or obi fabric start at $149, and fringed shawls, such as a black one made from a formal kimono, sell for $179. Pantsuits are $119 for the top and $79 for matching slacks, and dresses with shibori or kimono embellishment are $199.

With the exception of this year, she typically is a vendor at the Hui Makaala Fashion Show and at the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation fashion show and boutique sale, but the biggest event for Barrow is the annual Made in Hawaii Festival.

Her last turn as a vendor for this year will be at the Islandwide Christmas Crafts & Food Expo at Blaisdell Center the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Growing up in Japan, “I didn’t think of Japanese art as anything special,” she said, but after she left Japan, in part through her late husband’s influence, she gained a new appreciation for all sorts of Japanese art, from the high end to everyday items that some consider “folk art,” which has its own simple beauty.

Terence Tui A Tane Barrow was a globally noted anthropologist and expert in Maori and Polynesian art expert who authored some 20 books.

She met him in her native Japan, where the New Zealand native was attending an international science conference.

She had gone to the International House in the quiet part of Roppongi, closer to the embassies than the nightclubs, to apply for a job.

“It didn’t work out,” she said, except of course that she met the man who would become her husband as the two admired an old, traditional Japanese garden.

“In the middle of busy Tokyo, this really quiet, peaceful garden,” she said. Its beauty compelled her to speak, and the two struck up a conversation.

When his conference was to end and he had to return to New Zealand, her roommate convinced her she might never see him again and that she should wake up super-early to get to the airport by 5 a.m. to see him off.

She did. The two exchanged addresses, corresponded and married in Japan three years later. At that time he was working for Bishop Museum, so this is where they landed, settled and raised a family.

Her sewing school lessons served her well, as she made all her husband’s and, eventually, her two sons’ aloha shirts, and it established the foundation for her business. Her husband died in 2001, but his books, his art collection and, of course, his pictures still adorn the Manoa home they shared and inspire her work.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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