Local designer Rian Robison has been creating cozy chic accessories for more than a decade. It just took a global pandemic, a year in which everyone is seeking clothing at the nexus of class and comfort, to have her most successful year ever, largely thanks to her one-of-a-kind kimonos.
Robison is the sole proprietor—artist, seamstress, model, social media maven, shipping and handling expert—of Tuesday, the fashion label she operates out of a small Chinatown–International District studio (currently boarded and closed to the public). She originally launched Tuesday with a line of brightly colored and vibrantly patterned infinity scarves, a kind of antithesis to Seattle's love of monochromatic neutrals, which she sold very part-time at the Fremont Sunday Market. After she began her C–ID studio through Storefronts Seattle in 2011, her collection began evolving, first to include hand-dyed fabrics in addition to purchased ones, then adding casual dresses and kimonos to the scarves. "The space has inspired some of the evolution of where I've taken my business," she says, "as well as what I like and what I want to wear."
A self-proclaimed "huge textile nerd," Robison's early designs relied heavily on the vintage and end-run fabrics she adores. And though those colorful prints still show up in her shop, the real draw is her one-of-a-kind, handpainted kimonos, which she started making in early 2020. The time-lapse clips she shares on social media of her process—layering algae-thickened garment dye onto soft white bamboo fabric, what she calls "speed-painting" since the color loses its vibrancy quickly—are like ASMR videos for her fellow textile nerds. She usually paints horizontally, with the fabric stretched on a frame; this year she's planning to try laying the fabric frame flat, allowing her to work with larger brushes and different patterns. Each piece is dramatically different, from Rorschach-esque ink blots to drips more reminiscent of a Liz Tran painting.
"I'm a white woman, can I wear this?" is a question Robison, who is half-Japanese, has heard more than once. But she doesn't consider cultural appropriation at play when non-Japanese clients wear her kimonos. She calls them kimonos because they are inspired by the traditional Japanese garment, though more in production than in actual style. Maintaining zero waste was one of the reasons Robison originally started making infinity scarves—really just large rectangles sewn together to make a loop—and kimonos similarly use an entire piece of fabric, preserving the beautiful canvases she's created. The result is much less structured than a traditional Japanese kimono: A flowy robe you can tie at the waist for a wedding-appropriate dress or leave loose and open over jeans and a T-shirt. Robison says she frequently wears hers over stretchy pants and a simple tank top for a pop of color during Zoom meetings.
Robison admits she hustled hard in 2020 as she pivoted from in-person retail to virtual. But this new business model has allowed her to reach customers all over the world, and her increased social media presence has created demand, especially for her one-of-a-kind pieces, which sell out shortly after they're released—always on Tuesdays. Still, she humbly credits much of her success to luck. "I'm making cozy robes in the time of a pandemic, so…" she laughs. She just wants customers to "wear them around the house and feel beautiful."