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Kimono Importer Branches Out

September 05, 1993|CHRISTINA V. GODBEY

In a small store off Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Ruby Uehara can usually be found buried under a mountain of kimonos.

The Venice entrepreneur, owner of Texuba, is the largest importer of vintage kimonos and obis (sashes) in the United States.

Working with sources in Japan, Uehara supplies eclectic clients in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Iran. Orders come from fashion designers, interior decorators and artisans who re-create and recycle the fabric into art of their own designs. Creations range from wall hangings and clothing to pillows and book covers.

Uehara says it is a constant challenge to find sources. To keep up with demand, she makes several trips a year to Japan and has found some unusual kimono makers. In one remote village, for instance, she buys kimonos from a religious sect that sells items only before the sun comes up.

Uehara said kimonos are no longer considered valued commodities within the Japanese culture.

"People in Japan don't want this stuff because they want to look more American and they can't understand why we Americans clamor for it," she said. "In contrast, jeans go to Japan. They laugh at us and we laugh at them."

Born and reared in Honolulu, Uehara said she was always fascinated with textiles. By eighth grade, she was designing and selling clothes. Putting her sewing skills to work, she used material from antique kimonos to create unique fashions. "Art has always been a part of my life," said the 38-year-old Venice resident. "I used to collect unusual textiles from all over the world."

Uehara went on to study fashion design at the Hawaii School of Fashion Design in Honolulu before setting up her own design shop. When the work became too demanding, she devoted her energies to importing kimonos and obis. She gained a faithful local following and expanded her market to include buyers outside Hawaii.

But two years ago, it became increasingly difficult to operate her business from such a distant location. To be closer to clients, she packed up and moved to Venice. Since she relocated, about 80,000 to 90,000 pieces have passed through the Venice store. Prices range from $5 to $500 for elaborate wedding kimonos.

Uehara said she has enjoyed the success of the business but wants to someday return to her first love of fashion designing. She also hopes to complete a book about Japanese textiles and prints because she feels there is a need to document the one-of-a-kind works.

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Waldo Burnside, retired president and chief operating officer of Carter Hawley Hale Stores, has been elected president of St. John's Hospital and Health Center Foundation.

Burnside, a longtime member of the board of directors, is a resident of Los Angeles. He also serves as a director for the Automobile Club of Southern California and is co-chairman of the Los Angeles Transportation Coalition.

Five new members were also named to the hospital's board of trustees. They are Beverly Hills residents Dennis Holt and Robert Day, Century City resident Richard Ferry, Los Angeles resident Bradford Freeman and Bel-Air resident Glen Holden.

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Beverlywood residents Jair Fray of Palisades High School and Kareena Fray of Alexander Hamilton High School participated in the Summer Business Institute.

The two students took classes that focused on business and finance during the six-week seminar at USC.

The Summer Business Institute was established to educate, assist and develop young people for careers in the business world.

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Allen Mathias Jr. has been reelected chairman of the board for the Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross.

Mathias, chief executive officer and president of Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, was elected at the chapter's recent annual meeting held at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles.

Others recently elected include Margie Eddy-Forbes, Don Alexander, Susan Barker, Richard Davis, W.J. Wally Fassler, Lawrence Fisher, Robert Corlett, Richard Newman, Dale Crandall, Libbie Brady, Royce Diener, Harvey Lehman, Bowen McCoy and Irv Margol.

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Malcolm Cosgrove has been elected president of the Los Angeles Urological Society.

Cosgrove, who received his medical training in Great Britain, has maintained a private practice in Encino for 16 years and is on the faculty of the USC School of Medicine.

The West Los Angeles resident also served as president of Sinai Temple in Westwood.

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The Volunteer Center of Los Angeles presented awards for outstanding service to several Los Angeles residents.

Award winners were Lee Dudley, Linda Chaitin, Shirley Evans, Daniel Hernandez, Bienvenido Cancio, Evelyn Gratts and Rufus Jones. They were honored June 30 during the organization's annual ceremony in Los Angeles.

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