Kim Kardashian has just become embroiled in another cultural appropriation controversy—or has she?
In addition to KKW Beauty, her beauty line which recently launched a collection of body foundation, Kardashian has gotten into the lingerie business with Kimono, a new line of shapewear launched yesterday in New York by the mogul. The website explains that Kimono is “a new, solution focused approach to shape enhancing underwear” and “is fueled by her passion to create truly considered and highly technical solutions for every body.”
The name of the brand is obviously a play on words with Kardashian’s first name, but a slight uproar has begun online with regards to the fact that the brand is named after the traditional Japanese robe-like garment. On social media, Kardashian has come under fire for what many are calling “cultural appropriation,” and expressing their dissatisfaction with the fact that the nude shapewear Kardashian shared in photographs by Vanessa Beecroft looks nothing like an actual kimono in the first place.
When creating the brand, Kardashian filed for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office under her business venture, Kimono Intimates, Inc., but if you look closely at the specifics of the trademark application, it would appear that Kardashian is not attempting to own the word “kimono.” Instead, she applied for a trademark for kimono as it is stylized in a particular bubble font (which was actually drawn by Kanye West), according to a report from Business Insider. It is unlikely that a trademark for just the word “kimono” would be approved for Kardashian to fully exploit Japanese culture by “owning” the word kimono.
She also applied for trademarks for Kimono Body and Kimono World, and again, per BI, there have been other companies who have tried to trademark “kimono” in 2013. If the argument that Kardashian has appropriated Japanese culture hinges upon the fact that the cultural significance of the word “kimono” is at risk of being co-opted, then that is a fair point, and Kardashian does have a history of participating in culturally appropriative trends (see: the many times she has worn cornrows despite the backlash).
So, is naming a shapewear line after a traditional Japanese garment that it bears no resemblance to a problematic decision to make? It’s certainly worth giving a side-eye, and thinking about critically. However, the details of this trademark are crucial to understanding just how much of her new business venture is actually appropriating another culture. Kardashian also applied for a wordmark on the word kimono, which is different from a trademark, and some of the wordmarks she applied for have been suspended. If you think of a word as a visual symbol of the brand, you can see why Kardashian applied for a trademark over the word “kimono” as styled in a particular font. The particular trademark approved for her business exists to protect the word only when it is used in the same stylized font for similar goods, like another collection of underwear by a competing business.