Boro: From Rags to Riches

 Photograph by Karl Zetterstöm

November, 2021

The name ‘Boro’ comes from the Japanese word for rags and describes a craft that elevates stitched, patched and mended textiles to an art form. This culture of fabric-making came from pre-twentieth-century rural Japan and is closely associated with the philosophy of mottainai – a respect and regret for anything that has to be wasted, a response to poverty and environmental hardship. The beauty of Boro is the aesthetic born of necessity combined with highly sophisticated sewing and weaving techniques, which makes each textile unique. The exhibition ‘Boro: The Art of Necessity’, on show at the Stockholm Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities until 9 January 2022, includes key pieces from the collection of the folklorist, archaeologist and ethnologist Chuzaburo Tanaka (1933–2013), who spent his life researching and documenting his compatriots from Aomori, in the north of Japan. Boro has contemporary proponents too; fashion designer Junya Watanabe has created collections based on the principle for Comme des Garçons.


As our awareness of textile waste grows, the Boro ethos and aesthetic could not be more topical.  ‘Made to be made again’ is one of the key directives issued by the Ellen MacArthur foundation to achieve a circular economy for the fashion and textile industries. Products and materials should be designed ‘to be disassembled so that they can be reused, remade, recycled’. While companies can enable this by designing products for reuse (like Kvadrat’s REALLY boards, made from upcycled textile waste) and implementing business models like take-back schemes and refurbishment programs, Boro shows how a culture of reuse is also an opportunity for exceptional creativity, craftsmanship and design. 


 Images courtesy of Amuse Museum. Photographs by Kyoichi Tsuzuki