How Sara Sakanaka Is Revitalizing Vintage Kimonos
In her Brooklyn studio, designer Sara Sakanaka keeps a small drawstring bag that her grandmother made for her decades ago. Sewn from textile scraps, the striped pouch is one of Sakanaka’s oldest keepsakes, an heirloom representing a generations-old philosophy. “My mom used to tell me this story. It was about how if we treat objects with love and care for one hundred years, they can obtain a soul,” she shares as pours each of us a cup of Mugicha, a Japanese Barley tea that she grew up drinking. We met at her studio on a gray Tuesday morning, where a collection of silk separates, each made from reclaimed Japanese kimonos, hangs neatly. On a shelf, folded piles of salvaged textiles wait for her to sew them into something new, just like her grandmother once did as a hobby. “There’s this whole idea that objects have lives,” she says. “I like to see every piece as a true considered object in that way.”
It makes sense then that Sakanaka would name her own label Considered Objects. The 39-year-old launched her line—a collection of hand-sewn jackets, dresses, and shirtings that are made entirely from reclaimed Japanese kimonos and textiles—just two years ago. “I never had the dream of starting a business,” she shares. “I was happy working toward someone else’s vision. But at some point, there’s this part of you that wants to explore what you want to say. It took time for me to be able to discover that.”
Sakanaka has a lot to say. With 20 years of experience under her belt, she has developed a design philosophy of her own. “I have no interest in buying new materials or producing with mills,” she says while showing me the intricate, hand-stitched panels of a vintage summer kimono. As she points out its cotton lining and hand-painted family crests (her own paternal and maternal family crests are tattooed on each of her arms), it becomes clear that she is not just making clothing; she’s stitching age-old stories into contemporary garments. “After years of working at different fashion brands, I found that you can get stuck on this hamster wheel. What has always grounded me was the question, ‘how can I not only find true meaning in these things, but how can I offer connection through these pieces?’”
An FIT graduate, the apparel designer previously worked for fashion label Imitation of Christ, luxury line Ports 1961, bespoke womenswear collection Honor, and the Japanese fashion house Foxey. In 2020, after spending nearly four years traveling back and forth between New York and Japan for work, she felt she was ready for something new. “I started to wonder how I would mentally, physically, and creatively sustain. I was burnt out.” she tells me. Around that time, her grandmother, the one who gave her the collaged drawstring bag and taught her how to sew, passed away. “This was during the pandemic, so I wasn’t able to attend her funeral in Japan. I had previously inherited her collection of kimonos and rediscovered them during that time. I had completely forgotten about them, but learning about them became part of my grieving process. Having those made me feel close to her,” Sakanaka reflects.
It was then that she took a page from her grandmother’s book. “Studying these shambled garments and giving them new life through reconstruction was a way for me to heal while reconnecting with myself and my culture,” she says. Preserving the original rectangular panels and stitching style from each kimono, the designer began dismantling and reassembling each one. Her first design? A classic, collared, button-down shirt. Inside each shirt she constructed, Sakanaka sewed a layered patchwork flower made from leftover silk scraps. “That flower, that mark, it was sort of my way of memorializing the whole experience of my creation and of finding closure. It was a way of bestowing my honor upon each piece.”