How Japanese Heritage and Sustainability Inspired Naomi Osaka’s New Levi’s Collection

levi's-naomi-osaka
Image courtesy Levi's

Forget tennis court whites; Naomi Osaka is wearing denim kimonos in a new sustainable collection featuring vintage upcycled Levi’s jeans.

Although she’s best known these days for her forehand on the court, 23-year-old four-time Grand Slam tennis star, Osaka, says she was inspired to create the Levi’s x Naomi Osaka collection that mixes her love of sporty attire and feminine style.

Osaka says she was inspired by her longtime love of fashion. And it runs in the family. She and her sister Mari, who’s also a professional tennis player, used to spend “hours and hours” sketching fashion designs, Osaka said in a video about the launch. “It’s always been a thing for us,” she said.

Levi’s x Naomi Osaka

The collection is a departure from typical denim wear; it includes a bustier, shorts, and a denim kimono with an obi belt.

“I always loved wearing kimonos when I was a kid,” Osaka said. She was raised in Japan. “So, to be able to do it in denim felt really different and a bit unexpected.”

For the bustier, Osaka said she liked the idea while she was sketching, but says she loves it “even more now that it’s been brought to life.”

This isn’t the first collaboration between Levi’s and Osaka; earlier this year she was featured in the “Beauty of Becoming” campaign.

“It was important to share my story in case I can help or inspire anyone,” Osaka told PEOPLE at the time. “My goal is really to raise awareness, so this campaign gave me that platform, which I’m very grateful for.”

The long-time denim brand described her as “a powerful young voice in the world of sports whose authenticity and willingness to stand up for important causes has helped inspire millions. In a very short time, she has become not only an iconic athlete, but a true ambassador for social change.”

In the video, she said activism means “speaking what you feel in your heart.”

“I feel like everyone has their experiences that shape them into a person, and no one can take that away from you, and I feel like it’s your individuality that makes you unique. Sort of a realization I had in the entire quarantine process, I feel like I had a lot of time to sit down and think, and more importantly, reflect on the choices in my life, and sort of what I want people to remember me by. I feel like I’ve been really hesitant, and worried about what people think of me too often, and I just feel like everything I’ve experienced in my life, I want people to understand that that shaped me. And I wanted to use my platform for a good cause.”

Osaka’s Activism

Osaka made headlines this summer when she exited the French Open after anxiety over attending a press conference. The first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles, Osaka said she suffered “long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018” where she beat Serena Williams to win her first Grand Slam title.

The athlete has also been outspoken about social justice issues. During the 2020 U.S. Open, Osaka, who is half-Black, wore face masks that bore the names of Black people killed by police.

She’s also a passionate advocate for sustainability; climate change is disproportionately affecting people of color. And using her love for fashion is helping to get the message out.

 “The sustainability aspect was super important to me. And I love that every piece in the collection has been recycled or repurposed from old stock.”

More collaborations could soon be on the way, too. Osaka says she’s even hoping to start her own label.

“I’d like to start my own brand one day, probably together with my sister,” she said. “But for now I’m loving collab’ing with some great designers and learning the craft and the business.”

Read: 7 Fair Trade and Sustainable Denim Brands: Perfect Fit Jeans for You and the Planet

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