Big in Japan: history of the world’s luxury denim.


Traditional oyoda shuttle looms, still used today by Japanese denim artisans, intertwined the warp and weft threads with a component called a "shuttle "that spun the thread on two sides of the loom, back and forth, allowing for a unique, strong weave impossible to achieve with industrial looms.

Have you ever wondered why Japanese Jeans are the most expensive and prestigious ever?

The first time Japanese society saw a Jeans was just after World War II: American soldiers returned home, leaving a considerable amount of clothing and personal effects in Japan, among them, the unknown Denims, which were then sold in second-hand markets located in Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido, Kojima.

These pants with their stiff, durable fabric, exposed seams, and convenient pockets attracted the attention and gaze of the Japanese at that time, becoming especially popular among affluent young people and those rebelling against the country’s traditionalism, earning them the nickname “Taiyōzoku“, literally “Pachyderm” (because of the straight, stiff cut of the denim, much like elephant legs).

With the popularity of American Jeans, and the scarcity of the product in Japan, in the late 1960s the major American brands adopted new masa production techniques to increase production; costs began to decline, as did the use of the old looms, called “bullet” looms, in favor of massive reproduction of the denim product and consequent decline in its quality and attention to detail.

It was not long before some Japanese noticed the noticeable loss of quality in jeans from the States: lower quality fabrics and dyes, lack of detailing, shoddier workmanship and stitching.

Japan, which has always had an important textile tradition, decided to produce its own selvedge denim, i.e., of reduced width and produced on shuttle looms, inspired by the iconic jeans of the 1950s and early 1960s that had contributed so much to the Japanese counterculture.

Traditional oyoda shuttle looms, still used today by Japanese denim artisans, intertwined the warp and weft threads with a component called a “shuttle”, in fact, which spun the thread on two sides of the loom, back and forth, allowing for a unique, durable weave that was impossible to achieve with the industrial looms that were already becoming dominant worldwide.

In 1972, after as many as eight attempts, the Japanese textile company Kurabo succeeded in producing the first selvedged denim fabric in Japanese history, called KD8, at its factory located in Kojima, a city with an important textile tradition that is now the epicenter of denim in the country.

The following year other brands began to produce their own denim fabric, such as Big John, also based in Kojima, and later, in 1979, Shigeharu Tagaki created the Studio D’artisan brand in Osaka – now one of the icons of Japanese denim) – which was later joined by the Denime, Evisu, Fullcount and Warehouse brands.

Together they formed what became known as the “Osaka 5,” creating a distinctive style and establishing the foundation of what has become Japanese denim culture, to which other brands, such as Samurai, were added.

Thanks to an obsession with perfection, the use of traditional machinery and a dedication to a job well done, Japanese denim brands surpassed, qualitatively and in prestige, the American jeans from which they were originally inspired, creating a “school” of their own, made up of distinctive hallmarks and must-have details, to make it recognizable worldwide.

Currently, most of the few shuttle looms still in operation in the world are located in Kojima, where many small manufacturers have adopted the tradition of Big John and the Osaka 5, taking their production to extreme levels of quality and attention to detail that are hard to find elsewhere these days.

Far from the throwaway philosophy of the whims of fast fashion, Japanese artisans still rely on the concept of “Takumi”: a word that describes craftsmanship as a unique way of life, a philosophy that goes far beyond mere manual dexterity.

The unparalleled tailoring, the quality of the fabrics, the use of the best dyes, the use of premium cottons and raw materials, and, again, the countless details (such as stitching, buttons, rivets, pockets, and clearly selvedge) have made Japanese denim the most prestigious, qualitatively superior, and – consequently – most expensive in the world: a luxury product to be bought once in a lifetime and worn forever: an example of eco-sustainable lifestyle.



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