Japan's Influence on Denim

At Kiriko Made we celebrate the history of Japan through the patterns, fabrics and garments of the past. It’s a story that starts thousands of years ago with Ainu, the native peoples of Japan, and continues today with the modern popularity of and thriving community around slow woven Japanese selvedge denim.

Starting with the family of brands in the Osaka 5, Japanese denim manufacturers began purchasing vintage shuttle looms, importing them to Japan (sometimes piece-by-piece) and making American-style selvedge jeans. The emergence of these brands in the early 1990s created trends across classes and cultures in both Japan and the US, and directly led to the modern popularity of vintage selvedge denim in Eastern Asia, North America and Western Europe. 

Denim in Japanese counterculture, early 1960s. Photo from Ametora.

Denim in Japanese counterculture, early 1960s. Photo from Ametora.

Each of the denim brands showcased at Kiriko Made illustrates a piece of Japan’s rich history with indigo, cotton, workwear and the west, as well as offering customers one of the sturdiest and most comfortable pairs of pants they’ll ever own.

 Sanding Tandem. Photo from Evisu

Founding member of the famed Osaka 5, Evisu was instrumental in fostering the raw denim revival of the early 1990s. Founder Hidehiko Yamane was among the first designers to purchase vintage shuttle looms from America and rebuild them in Japan, and upon launching in 1991 Evisu's commitment to heritage workwear reconstruction changed men's fashion forever. As Evisu grew as a brand and raw denim became more and more popular, Evisu's once vintage appeal found a new home in modern streetwear as a staple of late 90s and early 00s hip-hop. The name was originally Evis until Levi’s mentioned the similarity in named, prompting Evisu to find inspiration in Ebisu, the patron of good luck and fisherman of the Seven Gods of Luck.  

Photo from Full Count

Full Count
Launched in 1993 as the second of the Osaka 5, Full Count spun off from Evisu when Mikiharu Tsugita found his vision for a raw denim revival differed from that of his partners at Evisu. Tsugita's love was not just for historic production methods and textiles, but also for the vintage jeans themselves. The brand made one huge innovation that changed denim forever: Long staple cotton sourced from Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe cotton is very similar to the 1940s American cotton, abnormally long in staple, thus producing a one-of-a-kind soft yet sturdy hand. Zimbabwe cotton was mostly unknown outside of high fashion circles, but has since become a staple of modern denim.  

Photo from Clutch Magazine

The youngest of the Osaka 5, Warehouse first made a name for themselves in 1995 with the release of the loose straight 1001xx, a reproduction of the 1950s era Levi's 501s. Like all of the Osaka 5, Warehouse's origins can be traced back to Evisu, where twin brothers Kenichi and Koji Shiotani were working when they decided to launch their own brand. By 1995 Evisu had fully established itself as the apex of modern reproduction denim, and Full Count was emerging as a top producer of luxury fabric. Yet within the heart of innovation the Shiotani twins recognized two gaps in the reproduction denim world: A brand anchored specifically around the iconic 501 fit of the 1950s, and a brand whose modern releases were built with historic features incorporated into new designs. The denim in a pair of Warehouse Jeans is woven on a Toyoda G3 shuttle loom (the first model of vintage loom rebuilt in Japan during the raw denim revival) from a blend of American cotton sourced from Memphis, Arizona and Tennessee. 

Sugar Cane
Owned by Toyo Enterprises in Japan, Sugar Cane is inspired by vintage and iconic American workwear of the late 19th century and early 20th. Well-known in the 1990s for their meticulous attention to detail, Sugar Cane reproduces high-quality denim products aiming to capture the true meaning of workwear.

From The Real McCoy's Yearbook 2009

The Real McCoy’s
The Real McCoy's brand was founded in the early 2000s seeking to both reproduce and improve upon rare vintage clothing. Using the highest quality and most luxurious materials to produce their garments, The Real McCoy's makes no compromises to the design, fit, construction, or finish of their products. Within the brand are various imprints focusing on different aspects of vintage heritage wear, such as Buco (inspired by motorcycle clubs), Double Diamond (workwear) and Joe McCoy & Company (casual wear).

(Left) Kapitalism, a look inside Kapital, from GQ

A truly family operation, Kapital is the brainchild Toshikiyo Hirata and his son Kiro Hirata. Inspired by his time in America as a karate teacher, Toshikiyo brought the family into the denim business in 1984, opening of his first factory and vintage store Kojima, Kurashiki. After growing up in the industry, Kiro also pursued a career in heritage fashion, starting off as a designer for Japanese brand 45RPM before joining up with his father in 2002 to launch Kapital. More than just reproduction lines, Kapital incorporates boro design, sashiko stitching and a fearless taste for mixing fabric to stand out as the universally recognized most unique brand in heritage denim.

Shop our collection of vintage Japanese Reproduction Denim HERE