Jeans from Japan – A History of the World’s Best Denim

Jeans were originally designed as workwear for laborers on the farms and mines of America’s Western states in the late 19th Century; they proved extremely durable and became the garment of choice for the working class. After World War II jeans became a symbol of youth rebellion: American culture and vintage clothing quickly became a fascination, especially among Japanese youth.

Denim from Japan has a reputation among enthusiasts for being the best in the world and for good reason: it is known for its premium construction and the skilled, artisanal craft required to make it.

The main reason why Japanese denim has become so renowned is for perfecting these two defining qualities: being woven on old looms to produce selvage fabric and using just natural dye.

Jeans in Japan were mainly produced at Kurabo Mills, one of the world’s longest operating mills, with the use of Toyoda machines. The company was founded in 1926 as “Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, Ltd.” by Sakichi Toyoda (on the left picture) and soon became very successful in the textile field for its numerous innovations and improvements that lead to an increase in productivity.

Selvage fabric is the natural end of a roll of fabric which – when made into a pair of jeans – prevents unraveling of the material. Producing selvage denim is more expensive since it can only be woven at a width of 31″ and is woven on old looms requiring more skill and adaptness.

Natural dye is another reason why Japanese denim is significantly better than others. It contains many impurities and it is way more expensive than most synthetic dyes used nowadays. This way each pair of jeans has a distinctive composition that only becomes more special over time. The first wash creates the characteristic fades and creases unique to each wearer.

Some examples of Japanese brands producing luxury denim are:

  • Big JohnPioneers of Japanese Denim, they started their business over 70 years ago as a small sewing factory in Kojima, known today as the denim capital of Japan. With Japanese design, Japanese fabric and Japanese production as core elements they “continue to pursue uncompromised quality and distinguished style in each piece of clothing.”
  • Evisu Genes – founded by Hidehiko Yamane, who was one of the first on the premium denim scene. Originally done as an homage to Levi’s classic 501, the brand took off and gained him a cult following among those in the streetwear scene. Evisu quickly earned the reputation for being the best in denim and was the first brand able to sell each pair for over $100.
  • Momotaro Jeans considered the pinnacle of denim artistry: priced at roughly $2000, each pair is made entirely by hand and dyed using indigo from the indigofera tinctoria plant. The denim takes up to 8 hours for every 3 feet of material; it can take up to a year to produce just one pair. The fastening button is made of silver and silk lines the back of each pair. Once finished, jeans are washed in Seto Sea water.
Years of tradition, training, craft, and skills are involved in the process of creation.