The Story Behind Kim Kardashian’s "Kimono" Trademark Backlash in Japan - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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The Story Behind Kim Kardashian’s “Kimono” Trademark Backlash in Japan

The Story Behind Kim Kardashian’s “Kimono” Trademark Backlash in Japan

This past June, Kim Kardashian West announced on Twitter that she would launch her shapewear brand under the name “Kimono.”1 The shapewear line is designed to streamline women’s bodies and promote confidence, and is available in nine different shades and an array of sizes.2

In Japan, a kimono, which literally translates to a “thing to wear on the shoulders,” is a ceremonial gown worn during special occasions that represents centuries-old Japanese culture.3 Following Kardashian’s tweet, many expressed frustration on social media not only because associating a cultural symbol with underclothes is considered derogatory, but also because “kimono” is a generic term for this kind of clothing that should not be trademarkable.4 The mayor of Kyoto even wrote a letter to Kardashian, asking her to reconsider using kimono in her trademark.5

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Kimono Intimates, Inc., a Delaware corporation headquartered in Culver City, California, filed the applications for Kimono, along with three other related trademarks, between March and June 2019.6 The Kimono trademark was filed to include goods from lingerie to other clothing and accessories.7 The application shows the mark consists of the word “KIMONO” in a stylized font.8

In trademark law, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. v. Hunting World9 categorized trademark distinctiveness into four classes, in which a “generic” term is generally considered not trademarkable because it insufficiently differentiates one product from another of the same kind.10 However, issues remain on whether “generic term” covers generic terms in foreign languages, and whether a generic term can be trademarked for a product not in the category of that term. If this trademark were to be approved, companies making and selling traditional Japanese kimono would not be able to sell or market their products in the United States under the same name.11

Things escalated in early July as Japan’s Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko declared kimono belongs to Japan and urged U.S. trademark officials to examine the case appropriately, even after Kardashian said she would reconsider the name.12 Moreover, the trade minister delegated patent officials to “properly exchange views on the matter” with U.S. counterparts.13

After the backlash, Kardashian acknowledged on Twitter that she would launch her brand under a different name.14 All trademark applications were withdrawn by late August.15

  1. Kim Kardashian West (@Kim Kardashian), Twitter (June 25, 2019, 9:05 AM),[]

  2. Simon Denyer and Jennifer Hassan, ‘This Is Blasphemy Against Japanese Culture’: Kim Kardashian’s New ‘Kimono’ Shapewear Sparks Outrage in Japan, Wash. Post (June 26, 2019),[]; Yuko Kato, Kim Kardashian West’s Kimono Underwear Meets Japanese Backlash, BBC News (June 27, 2019),[]

  3. Kato, supra note 2.

  4. Id.

  5. Tribune News Service, Kim Kardashian Ditches ‘Kimono’ and Will Relaunch her Shapewear Line with New Name, S. China Morning Post (July 2, 2019),[]; Letter from Daisaku Kadokawa, Mayer of Kyoto, to Kim Kardashian West, Kimono Intimates, Inc. (June 28, 2019)

  6. Kato, supra note 2; Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), United States Patent and Trademark Office, (last visited Oct. 22, 2019).[]

  7. TESS, supra note 6.

  8. Id.

  9. 537 F.2d 4 (2nd Cir. 1976)

  10. Id.

  11. Crystal Tai, Kim Kardashian’s Ill-Fitting Trademark Sparks ‘KimOhNo’ Backlash and Accusations of Cultural Appropriation, S. China Morning Post (June 26, 2019),[]

  12. Haruka Nuga, Japan Official to Kardashian West: Kimono Belongs to Japan, AP News (July 2, 2019), []

  13. Id.

  14. Kim Kardashian West (@Kim Kardashian), Twitter (Jul. 1, 2019 9:51 AM),[]

  15. TESS, supra note 6.

Yang Dai

Yang Dai is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. He holds a B.A. in History and Political Science from University of California, Los Angeles.