While the kigurumi trend has been around since the mid-1990’s, when SAZAC first began manufacturing its original kigurumi, it really only hit North American shores in the mid-2000’s. In Canada, Kigurumi.com became the only official distributor and seller of these cute, fleecy onesies, and in Los Angeles, Kigurumi Shop became the official distributor of SAZAC within the United States. So, yes, you can say that Kigurumi.com helped to pioneer this trend for Western audiences.
One big thing that had to change for the kigurumi trend to become successful in North America, though, was to adapt the types of characters available to those recognizable by young buyers. For example, if you check out a Japanese kigurumi website, you might find examples of kigurumi featuring characters like Rilakkuma or Korilakkuma. OK, those might be huge cultural icons in Japan, but in the North American market, probably not so much. As a result, there was a need to license Disney-style characters that might be a bigger hit with Western consumers.
Another thing that was missing at first was widespread celebrity adoption of the trend. It’s one thing for trendsetters to come back from an exhilarating trip to Tokyo, raving about kigurumi, but another thing entirely if nobody in New York, Los Angeles or Toronto was embracing the trend to help give it traction in the pop culture mainstream.
A big moment came, though, in 2004 with Gwen Stefani’s song “Harajuku Girls,” which helped to celebrate the fashion-lifestyle culture of Tokyo’s cutting-edge Harajuku district. And guess what? One of the biggest trends in Harajuku at the time was the animal onesies from SAZAC! So, at the same time that one of the biggest pop music stars in the world was singing about Japanese fashion culture, there was a whole set of street photographers, artists and musicians taking their cue from nascent trends in Japan, with everyone trying to learn more about Tokyo street culture.
Other music videos began to feature kigurumi-like outfits, and soon, they began showing up at music festivals and anime conventions. People began wearing them like they were in Japan – as normal, everyday street attire. Since they were warm and fleecy, they were a natural fit for cold weather outdoor events. Some people, in fact, started snowboarding in their kigurumi, making a counter-cultural statement at the same time that skiers were transforming into snowboarders.
Another big milestone was 2014, when the popular blog BoingBoing published an article saying that this would be “the year we all wear kigurumi.” Not surprisingly, Hollywood celebrities and top entertainers picked up on the trend, mostly because kigurumi are just so, well, Instagrammable. What better way to pick up followers and likes on social media than to show yourself hanging out with your friends dressed in kigurumi? The list of celebrities that have embraced kigurumi include Cara Delevingne, Lena Dunham and Meghan Trainor.
Some have even appeared on TV in their kigurumi outfits, as Meghan Trainor famously did.
And the kigurumi trend in North America shows no signs of fading. In 2018, the popular fashion blog Racked wrote how kigurumi are popular with celebrities and concertgoers, and specifically pointed to the Brooklyn performer Miss Eaves, who released a song in 2018 called “Paper Mache (Single AF).” In the video to the song, she celebrates her new status as a single, middle-aged woman in hipster Brooklyn by dancing around in a dinosaur kigurumi and eating cupcakes!
And don’t forget – the kigurumi has become a staple of North American Halloween celebrations everywhere. That’s especially true since kigurumi come in both adult and child sizes, so they can be enjoyed starting in toddlerhood, all the way up to adulthood. In fact, many people view their kigurumi as costumes in the first place, and tend to wear them to costume-themed events rather than as everyday loungewear.What is unique about kigurumi in North America is just how fast this Japanese trend has been mixed and re-mixed into Western culture. In fact, many people may not even realize that it’s a Japanese trend – much as they have embraced Hello Kitty and Pokemon. So the next time you see kigurumi in a YouTube video or on social media, you’ll know that the trend has its origins in Japanese street culture nearly two decades ago!