The Kim Kardashian shapewear controversy: what happened? ǀ Justine Leconte
Hi everyone, it’s Justine.
You know I don’t usually pick up on pop culture topics on this channel and I certainly
don’t feed into the drama and gossip already present on YouTube, because there is enough of it already.
So this video isn’t gossip, it is my opinion & research on a fashion issue that has been
heavily discussed in the past 2 weeks, internationally. Kim Kardashian has recently announced she
would launch a shapewear line. It caused an uproar.
Here is what really happened & why. 1. The context: Kim Kardashian’s new shapewear
line Kim Kardashian is famous for her figure. She
has capitalized on it with an app, a cosmetic line called KKW BEAUTY and other business
ventures. Now on June 25th, she announces the launch
of the line which, for me, makes most sense: a shapewear line.
Let’s be clear: I am not in favour of her and her family promoting a beauty ideal that’s
absolutely not attainable – since she only achieved that body with the help of repeated
cosmetic surgery. I’m solely saying that given her brand positioning, launching a shapewear
line makes sense. Now the name: it is called KIMONO SOLUTIONWEAR™
(specific font). 1 Her name is Kim. Japan is trendy. Kimono robes
used as overgarments are trending, especially in the US. The US are likely to be the biggest
potential market for the product. So you’d think: great name, all boxes checked.
The line is even planned in 9 sizes and 9 shades, which means it is meant to be inclusive. 2. The Japanese reaction
Within 24 hours, the info spreads and the backlash starts: many very annoyed Japanese
people comment under her Instagram photo: “this is disrespectful”, “change the
name”, “how dare you use that name for underwear”, “shame on you”.
If you are surprised by the reaction, it’s because you are not Japanese. Let me explain:
Japan is a millenary culture, very sophisticated, where “daily activities” such as flower
arrangements, tea drinking or getting dressed have been elevated into true art forms and
are being taken extremely seriously. The kimono garment is a symbol of the Japanese culture
and the subtility of putting one on includes precise drapery… and NOT showing much skin
or body contours. So there is a kimono (and everything is stands
for) and there is Kim Kardashian’s product: body-con, showing quite a bit of skin & it
is an undergarment. All the opposite of an actual kimono.
Turns out Kim has even filed a trademark request for the name. And the Japanese think: how
dare you try to get the generic name that describes a garment and is central to another
culture? 3. The legal story (which wasn’t mentioned)
Even before the announcement of the launch, Kim Kardashian has requested not one but several
trademarks: The word “kimono” in the specific font.
You can’t trademark a generic word but you can trademark it in association with a font.
The name “Kimono solutionwear”. The name “Kimono body”.
The name “Kimono world”. Now let’s check what she wanted to protect
under the trademark “kimono” because the trademark register is public:
Luggage, bags and purses. Lingerie, shapewear, bras, kimonos… bikinis, and even socks & t-shirts.
It is defined very broadly and it includes multiple products that are not part of the
line yet. This tells us that the plans for the new brand
are clearly much bigger than just shapewear and intimates. 4. The consequences
On June 29th (4 days after the launch announcement), the mayor of Kyoto, Japan has written an open
letter to Kim Kardashian, demanding a name change as well as the withdrawal of the trademark
application on the initial name. A Japanese lady has started a petition on
change.org, which has crossed 137,000 signatures at the time of filming.
There is a hashtag against the new line: #KimOhNo. I must admit it’s catchy.
The backlash on Instagram is growing: over 46,000 comments (including many in Japanese).
Pretty much all the media outlets in the US are now covering the controversy.
On June 27th, Kim Kardashian was still sticking to her brand name and said to the New York
Times: “Filing a trademark is a source identifier
that will allow me to use the word for my shapewear and intimates line but does not
preclude or restrict anyone, in this instance, from making kimonos or using the word kimono
in reference to the traditional garment”. She is clearly playing on legal terms, here.
You know what? It’s hard to believe after seeing all the trademark categories she applied
to… and since she even wanted to use @kimono as the Instagram handle for her new line.
And once you have a trademark, you know, you can always discuss its limits in court. It’s
not clearly defined so there’s room for interpretation – especially if you have
the good lawyers. Anyway. On July 1st, she pulled it back and
announced on Instagram that she would be changing the name of her line.
Result on Instagram: even more likes on this post than on the initial one. 5. My conclusion
Before I tell you what I really think, let me just add in a few more pieces of information,
for context. 1. On July 4th: sale announced for her line
KKW BEAUTY – how practical for her beauty line, that she just had 10 days of intense
buzz in all media… 2. She probably has not one but a full team
of lawyers behind her. In fact, SHE is currently even studying law in California. I don’t
believe, for a second, that she didn’t know the tricks of trademarking specific words
& how trademark law varies from one country to the next.
3. On July 4th (same day as the beauty line sale), she won a lawsuit against Missguided,
a British fast fashion brand, which tends to use her image to market knock-offs, copycats
of her looks. She won 2.7 Mio. $. So she is well aware of how much money you can make
through trademark law and intellectual property lawsuits.
4. It is not the first time that Kim Kardashian causes an uproar through perceived cultural
appropriation and she knows how much press coverage that can bring.
So here is what I think: I think she tried to trademark the word kimono as much as possible,
no matter what she claims to defend herself, and even though she knew it is actually a
generic word AND that is has a high meaning in the Japanese culture.
The buzz generated means that the shapewear line will get even more attention when it
finally launches under a new name – which means lots of free PR.
And the timing, just before the sale of her cosmetics, probably brought her quite a bit
of extra income as well. I’d say this whole story is an orchestrated,
very advanced marketing strategy from a team extremely experienced in the media field.
Ethics not so much. After researching this controversy, I believe that if she could have
trademarked the word “kimono” alone, she would have done it.
In fact, it is a strategy where she couldn’t loose: either she gets the trademarks and
starts suing everyone over the word kimono – or she gets the scandal and it brings
free PR. And what about the Japanese public? I’m
guessing that Japan wasn’t a big potential market for the shapewear, so it probably won’t
have a dramatic effect on the actual sales. And in her 2nd Instagram post, she remained
very politically correct but did not apologize. What do you think of this whole story? Did
you think that trademarking “kimono” might be an issue? What if she had trademarked the
word “sari”? What would be a similar, potentially problematic word in YOUR culture?
The business of fashion is wild, it baffles me again and again.
Thumbs up if you enjoyed this video, though. Thank you!
And if you’d like to watch more, here is another one.
I’ll see you soon and until then, take care! Bye!