There is nothing better than sliding into your favorite pair of jeans. Better than comfort food or even a warm blanket on a cold day, jeans play an important part in fashion all over the world.
There are many styles, brands, price points, and even colors of denim to choose from. While we could spend time talking about your options, let’s take a moment to admire the craftsmanship and artistry of some of the world’s best denim from Japan.
What Is Japanese Denim?
Japanese denim, of course, is denim that is woven in Japan but more specifically is it used for a specific classification. Denim crafted on shuttles looms as opposed to modern looms is used to identify Japanese denim. The difference in production also affects the final outcome of the fabric.
Vintage looms operate at a slower pace and also produce more narrow bolts of fabric. The slower production and the smaller width also means that it will take longer to make each pair of Japanese denim jeans.
The advanced age of the looms and the special skills needed to operate them make the denim richer, more expensive, and also more desired.
What Makes Japanese Denim Special?
Japanese denim weaving produces a final product named selvedge denim. You can spot this type of denim easily because the edges are finished in a red-colored thread. Commercially produced denim is always unfinished and has frayed edges.
While other denim producers may also make use of hand-loomed denim with a selvedge line, that originating from Japan is praised as being the best in the industry.
All handloom selvedge denim features a higher-quality fabric than modern denim, but there is still a clear difference between makers. Selvedge denim that comes from a Japanese selvedge loom will tend to age much better than those produced in other parts of the world.
Where Does Japanese Denim Come From?
Many people assume, thanks to rampant myths, that Japanese denim is made on imported American Draper looms. In actuality, it is made on old shuttle looms, specifically, vintage Toyoda looms. The operators of these looms produce high-quality handloom selvedge denim in very small quantities.
Each completed roll will be about three feet wide once complete. There are many large and small scale Selvedge denim boutiques, each producing its own line of high-quality Japanese denim.
Some of the world’s top brands source their exclusive Selvedge denim lines directly from Japan which not only ensures a base quality but also helps to preserve the art.
Japanese Denim History
Japan has a long history in arts, music, culture, and even fashion. Denim that originates from Japan is considered to be top of its class, despite the relatively short history of this artisanal craft. The majority of denim in Japan was woven on handloom machines.
As the demand for denim increased, so did the need for more efficient weaving methods. Toyota which has always been most known for its cars decided to create textile looms.
The Model G Automatic selvage loom was created by Sakichi Toyoda and increase the productivity yields of Japanese denim 20 fold.
Denim was a staple for working-class Americans until the end of WW2. Following the war, they become a symbol of fashion, and rebellion thanks in part to James Dean. Japanese youth have always been entrepreneurially minded which encouraged the import of American-made jeans.
The natural need for perfection triggered the creation of a handloom denim culture in Japan that is still going strong today. The most well-known areas for Japanese denim are located in the Okayama Prefecture.
Kojima has long since been a top producer of textile in Japan, so it makes sense that Japanese denim would find a home there as well. In fact, Kojima at Kurabo Mills is one of the longest-running denim mills in the world. In 1972 the first selvage denim jeans were made and were named KD-8.
The following year the entire denim revolution in Japan took off with the help of the Big John brand. The two main qualities that set Japanese denim apart are the way it is woven on vintage looms, and the natural dye used to create a rich, deep color.
The worldwide denim craze hit off in the ’90s, but by then, Japan had perfected their techniques and placed themselves in the perfect position to garner a large market share.
Hidehiko Yamane was the first to produce a premium line of Japanese denim with Evisu being the first brand to sell a pair of jeans for more than $100. Japan Blue Group, another company went on to sell to top-end brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton in addition to their own Momotaro Jeans.
Top Japanese Denim Brands
There are many top makers of Japanese denim, but the top companies are really worth mentioning. Evisu is well known in the luxury denim market. They are most well known for the hand-painted bird on the back pocket of their jeans. High-end designers, A-list movie stars, and more are known to wear this trendy brand which furthers its appeal.
Big John is the first brand to have made denim jeans that were completely Japanese in origin in the 1980s. They may not be a trendy name in most households today, but without them, most denim brands would not even exist.
45RPM not only focuses on hand-loomed denim, but they also set themselves apart by their special cloth dying practice. They use a mix of Indigo-dying and Ai-dying to create a signature color on all of their fabrics.
Japan Blue uses traditional looms and traditional dying methods for all of their fabric. This sets their denim apart in that no two pairs of jeans will look the same after regular wear. While some may scoff at the lack of uniformity, this feature makes their products attractive to denim aficionados.
Of course, these are only a few of the top makers of Japanese denim. Studio D’Artisan, Oni Denim, Stevenson Overall Co, Samurai Jeans, Sugar Cane Brand, Iron Heart, and Momotaro are all top names that can be found both locally and abroad.