A tradition of reuse: the seamstress giving beautiful kimonos new life

Nana Sakaguchi of Hena Hena has a passion for giving vintage kimonos new lives and letting them shine again. Compared to designing and making clothes from new fabrics, upcycling these beautiful items needs a lot of extra work. However Nana believes this is a worthwhile task: to pass on the beauty of Japanese kimonos to future generations as wearable and useful items.


What do you make?
Hena Hena brings back once-forgotten kimonos to the modern world. I create sustainable, universal and unique items with the exquisite fabrics taken from vintage Japanese kimonos, while retaining the grace and delicacy of the garment that it once was part of.

How did you get into your craft?
About twelve years ago I moved to Christchurch from Japan and I started to make clothing for myself, using Japanese patterns as I missed Japanese style fashion so much. Just after the big earthquake in Christchurch we moved to Ashburton with only a cellphone and a wallet. I was nine months pregnant then, and began a new life from scratch. We lost everything in the earthquake, literally everything – our house, job and belongings. However, I never lost my passion for sewing.

I started sewing again, using a second hand sewing machine in a small corner of my kitchen and held a tiny stall at a local farmers market every Saturday morning. I never forget how I felt when I sold the very first kimono cardy there. It was so very special. Now I have my own sewing room with two industrial sewing machines and my garments are sold at three lovely shops in Ashburton, Christchurch and Oamaru. I also sell online through Felt and my Hena Hena FB page.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I learned basic sewing skills at junior high school, but mainly I am self taught using books, internet and Youtube. Thanks to technology we have lots of teachers all around the world!


Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I use preloved Japanese vintage kimonos for my creations. I carefully choose and import them by myself then unpick, wash and iron them to use as materials for my creations. Compared to cutting a roll of new fabric, upcycling needs a lot of extra work. However I believe it is worthwhile work to pass on the beauty of Japanese kimonos to future generations and share them with people all over the world as wearable and useful items.

My passion is to give vintage kimonos new lives and let them shine again through my creations. I try my very best to make full use of these materials and ensure there is no waste in our precious environment.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Sustainable luxury. Kimonos were once everyday clothing for Japanese women and they were so much treasured as well. Mothers’ kimonos were re-sized for daughters and often mended or even re-dyed for longer wear. People unpicked no longer wearable kimonos to return them to original fabrics and made cushions or duvet covers. Kimonos were cherished like that for generations.

Surprisingly, kimonos are made out of only rectangle pieces of fabrics and nothing needs to be cut out and wasted from original fabrics. Yes, from the beginning, kimonos are made to be ready for upcycling or repurposing later. How clever they are!

I aim to make something people can enjoy for a long time and something that can even can be passed to future generations just like sustainable kimonos.

Describe your creative process
I put a vintage kimono on a mannequin first and just observe it. My thoughts often go to someone who owned the kimono and how she enjoyed it in her life. It also makes me wonder about the craft people who originally made the kimono. I admire it and wait till I get the best design for the kimono. Sometimes it takes only a minute, at other times over a month to decide its design.

Next, I unpick the kimono to take it back to the original pieces of fabric and carefully hand wash it, if it is washable. I dry and iron them and mend the damaged parts. Finally I cut and sew the fabric with a pattern I created.



Describe your workspace My happy place!

Five words that describe your mind Creative, caring, patient, sometimes impulsive, often distracted.

Your favourite feedback from a customer
“I just opened your beautiful package. Thank you so much I absolutely love the top! It is so special and has been made with such care, I will treasure it forever. Thanks again.”

A favourite quote
“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe if you must, but take the step.”

Tell us about your pets
We have a toy poodle called Mimi. He is my sweet baby. He follows me anytime, anywhere, even to the toilet! Mimi looks just like a stuffed toy but actually he is a very good watch dog. We don’t need a door bell at all! (I often feel sorry for delivery people though!) Thanks to Mimi I can force myself to go out and have a walk with him, otherwise I would end up staying in my happy place (my sewing room) all day!


Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
I think it is important to think about where our money goes when we buy something. When we spend money on handmade or locally made goods, we can clearly know who gets the money, which means you know exactly who you support. I believe buying things is not just to exchange money with what we want but to show our gratitude, respect and love to who made them for us, I believe.

What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
It keeps me doing what I love and helps me so much with my self-esteem.

What’s in store for the rest of 2020?
Currently I am working on new designs for kimono coatigans (coat/cardigan) as well as popular items such as kimono ponchos and kimono dresses. I also take custom orders. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was not able to import kimonos from Japan for a while but fortunately Japanese kimonos can now be shipped again! Please stay tuned to my Felt shop, where I will add new items regularly.

Prize draw for Felt readers!

Nana has very kindly offered an elegant prize for the home of one lucky Felt reader: this lovely silk cushion cover (see below). Upcycled from a vintage Japanese silk kimono, in excellent condition, this 45x45cm envelope-style cushion cover has no zippers or buttons – so it’s safe around babies and toddlers. (Inner not included.)

To be in to win this gorgeous vintage textile cushion cover, leave us a comment telling us what you love about Nana’s story and her creations. The draw closes at 5pm Monday 3 August and is open to New Zealand residents only.


18 thoughts on “A tradition of reuse: the seamstress giving beautiful kimonos new life

  1. I’m in love with your ethos! I’ve upcycled a few kimono myself and am fascinated by their history, and simple zero waste construction. Do you know the work of Kimono Kollab?

  2. I simply have always loved kimonos they are just beautiful traditional your devotion to your craft and recycling is admirable keep it up I hope to own one of your pieces

    1. Hi Shaileen, thank you for your comment. I am happy to hear you love kimonos too. They are true “wearable art” aren’t they? I appreciate that I was born and raised in the country that has lots of cool cultures like kimono and now I can introduce people in NZ the beauty of kimono through my creation.

  3. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for your lovely comment and glad to hear you are also kimono upcycler! I love the simple but really thoughtful construction of kimonos too. Kimono represents Japanese way of living in old days I think. Kimono Kollab? Is that an upcycling project in Singapore?

  4. I thought I knew how much preparations you do before your creation. I didn’t understand fully. But I do now! What you do is amazing! ! Kimono fabric itself is one of a kind! Your creation is taking up to another level of one of a kind:-) 🙂 🙂 Look forward to seeing many more of your garments next time.

  5. Hi Eiko san,
    Thank you for your lovely comment. Yes it’s just incredible that not a single kimono has the same pattern as others! In this mass production and mass consumption age, kimono upcycling can be a good sample of sustainable fashion I think. Im looking forward to showing my new items and also seeing your beautiful glass works!

    1. Hi Rachel,
      Thank you for your kind comment. What I keep in my mind when I design my clothing is to bring out the most of original beauty of kimono fabrics so my designs are simple and versatile.

  6. This is such beautiful and important work! The artisans who have loved that garment all the way up until it made it to you would be thrilled, I think, to know you were loving them into the future.

    Thank you for sharing, and thanks as always to the Felt team for making this space!!

    1. Hi Kate,
      Thank you for your lovely words. Yes, I always think about the artisans who have created the kimono when I put scissors into it and determine I will make a garment which would not ruin their hard works. I feel so thrilled every time!

  7. I love that you take the time to reuse the fabric. Wash, iron, fix and then find the best design to showcase the beautiful fabric. Every piece is unique.

    1. Hi Paula,
      Thank you for your kind words. I hope more people love something upcyled and sustainable. Even though it takes so much work to upcyle kimonos, that is not too much work for me when customers love and enjoy my clothing for a long time just like Japanese people used to do.

    1. Hi Helen,
      Thank you for your lovely comment. I love what I am doing….putting OLD kimonos and NEW designs together. When olds and news are blended perfectly, they starts shining beautifully. I am proud of myself to be one of Japanese who have such an amazing tradition of re-purposing.

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