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Portland's Japanese-inspired store Kiriko Made lives by 'reduce, reuse, recycle'

Decades-old kimono fabric or vintage, hand tie-dyed pieces are repurposed with modern clothing and accessories, melding east and west — and Portland loves it.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The Pacific Northwest is known for being environmentally conscious, at least to some degree. Whether it's recycling, beach cleanups or riding bikes or transit, a lot of people try to reuse things and minimize waste. That's the entire concept behind Japanese-inspired store Kiriko Made (pronounced K-EAR-ee-ko) that recently opened on a very visible corner in downtown Portland.

At Southwest 10th and Morrison, across from the City Target, the bustle of the street evaporates as you step inside Kiriko Made. There are aromatherapy misters, soothing music, the smell of incense and things for the eye to take in from floor to ceiling. 

Credit: KGW
Kiriko Made on the corner of SW 10th and Morrison in downtown Portland.

Kiriko Made is based on the Japanese word 'mottainai', meaning 'don't waste anything, use everything.' It was born out of the more than 200 years Japan was isolated as an island, from 1633-1853. Everything produced was reused and mended to not create waste in such a small area, with so many people.

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Owner Katsu Tanaka is Japanese-American. He's lived in Portland 25 years and has melded his style in that 'mottainai' mentality. 

"All of my clothes are usually like a used item, vintage items that's been around for a long time, or I feel that I will probably have it for years. So it's just a mindset that I'm not just like buying anything I want," he said.

Before the pandemic, Tanaka would fly to Japan to meet with fabric dealers to find vintage kimonos or meticulously hand tie-dyed pieces, where only one certain family knew how to make that design, and bring them back to Portland. Now he chooses them over videocall and has them shipped. The fabrics are used to mend pieces that might be frayed or have a hole, or added to denim. 

"It's mixing up kind of Western and the Eastern cultures in merging into one to create something unique," explained Tanaka.

Credit: KGW
Owner Katsu Tanaka holds up a vintage jacket made by tying super tiny knots all over white fabric, then dipping section of it into colored dye and when the knots are undone, it leaves a dotted pattern. It's an ancient tradition that each family used to specialize in a distinct pattern and style.

He showed an example of Vietnamese-style military jackets in a camouflage print that button up the front. Tanaka used 50-year-old-fabric to add patches along the bottom of the jacket, and different ones for pockets. Each piece and size option is unique.

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"These kimono materials are not being used so much in Japan," he said as he turned the jacket around. "There's a lot of waste happening. People were just kind of burning it, or they were just throwing away. We're bringing it out, creating this and people loved it."

Credit: KGW
Tanaka shows a Vietnamese military-style jacket that has had vintage kimono fabrics added on.

Every scrap is used. Inside the store is a workshop space. 

Two employees braided leftover strips of fabric together to create hat bands that go around the crown of Panama-style hats. There are key chains, accessory bags and stocking caps. About 30% of Kiriko Made's inventory is created in-house. But there's so much more inspired by Japan: pottery, books, socks, face masks, tea pots and accessories.

Credit: KGW
Scraps of long fabric, left over from other projects, are braided together and used as a playful hat band on these Panama style hats and sold at Kiriko Made

"The people really love the story behind the product and they value that story," said Tanaka. "We can buy anything online, but now we can have something that has a meaning to it."

Mottainai may be a Japanese ideology, but Tanaka doesn't know of any shops like this in Japan. This is a Portland thing, he said. 

"I can't think of any other cities that if I had done this, that I could have succeeded this well."

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