Washi paper weaves its way into modern fashion, design

Washi paper weaves its way into modern fashion, design
Stoles made with washi paper at Tezomeya.

Washi paper is being used in increasingly diverse ways for clothes and accessories, which can be made lightweight and highly water absorbent.

The material's appeal has been rediscovered as traditional Japanese techniques for making washi paper - passed down for generations in some areas of the nation - were registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage late last year.

Various brands of washi are made in Japan. Their names are often derived from their place of origin. For example, Mino washi paper is manufactured in and around Mino, Gifu Prefecture.

Matsuhisa Eisuke Kamiten, the time-honoured Mino washi dealer in Mino, makes socks and towels made of cotton thread twined with washi paper. Socks sell for ¥850 (S$9.69) to ¥1,290, and towels for ¥1,280.

"Washi is more water absorbent than cotton is," said sales manager Yukiyasu Fukagawa.

These socks are less sweaty, reduce odour and can be washed for repeated use. The towels are popular among women as they "reduce the hair-drying time required after washing," according to the company.

After washi was added to the UNESCO list, more clothing manufacturers began contacting Matsuhisa Eisuke Kamiten about using the material in their products.

Stoles made of washi are a hot seller at Tezomeya, a shop in Kyoto that sells goods made with natural, vegetable-based dyes. Available in 10 different colors, the item sells for ¥17,064. Woven with twisted washi threads from 1.5 to 2 millimeters wide, each is coloured with pigments extracted from the skin of pomegranates and other sources. Despite its large dimensions of 1.7 meters by 1.6 meters, the stole is only about 180 grams, about half the weight of its cotton equivalent.

"Washi has numerous openings between fibers," said company head Masaaki Aoki. "The fabric retains air, so it's cool in summer and warm in winter."

The Siwa series by Onao Co., a washi manufacturer in Ichikawamisato, Yamanashi Prefecture, includes hats that show off washi's attractive texture. Available in three types, the products cost from ¥7,560 to ¥8,640.

The company said the paper used for the hats is a water-resistant variety designed to be glued onto shoji sliding doors.

Atelier Kawahira, a manufacturer of Sekishubanshi - a type of washi - in Hamada, Shimane Prefecture, has been selling baby shoes made of handmade washi since 2012. Branded as "First Step Shoes," the product sells for ¥19,440. A handmade DIY pair costs ¥5,400 and is a popular baby shower gift.

Masao Kawahira, who runs the atelier, said, "I want to try to develop new products, which I believe can increase the consumption of traditional washi paper."

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