We already know Japan makes some of the world’s best denim. It’s got a level of craftsmanship that honours traditional production techniques and is unmatched in modern designs. It’s all about the selvedge, raw denim. That’s fabric that has been created on an old-fashioned loom, which takes a tonne more time and requires artisans to create. Mass production isn’t really an option in the world of high-quality denim, hence the high price point to match, but each piece is built for life. But what are the brands that you should be looking out for? We’ve collected a list of our favourite Japanese denim brands that aren’t to be missed.
You can’t mention Japanese denim brands without mentioning Evisu. They’re a powerhouse of the country’s jeans, and have had global acclaim in streetwear for years with the iconic hand-painted seagull logo that’s usually found on the back pockets. Created in the nineties by designer Hidehiko Yamane, Evisu is dedicated to producing high quality denim using vintage looms. Being included in songs by Jay Z and Kanye West must count for something too.
Founded in 2006 in what is considered the “birthplace of Japanese denim” Kojima Okayama, Momotaro jeans are handmade and boast their own tones of indigo dye that you won’t find in other brands. They use selvedge denim, following the super high standard that most of Japan’s brands have, which is hand-woven by artisans on a loom. The little peach emblems on the back leather patch and embossed into the buttons are a reference to their name – based on the country’s famous fable of the peach boy.
Samurai Jeans are the Japanese denim brand that have mastered the fade. Founder Tohru Nogami was heavily inspired by classic Levi’s styles and has experimented with creating their own fabrics and dyes to achieve a finish that will adapt and fade depending on the wearer, so everyone gets something unique.
Oni Jeans have managed to keep their production techniques a secret since they began. The rumour is that it’s just one artisan weaving the denim for each pair on the only machine left in the world that can handle their fabric. Whether that’s true or not, the mystery is exciting and the final product is famed for its slubbiness – or rougher, raw texture – which is a mark of quality among the Japanese denim brands.
Hiroki Kishimoto started Japan Blue in 2010, so it’s fairly young compared to its contemporaries. Their USP is offering a more affordable range of selvedge denim, which still comes in at around £150, but feels like a bargain compared to some of the other price ranges. Also based in Kojima, the Japanese denim brand’s collections are very curated, offering a small range of carefully designed and produced pieces.
This Japanese denim brand pride themselves on their unique dyeing techniques. They use either indigo or Ai dye – the indigo is dyed at yarn stage, allowing for a deeper tone and higher contrast with the white yarn. Ai is a natural plant dye that is considered the brand’s signature colour. The yarns are dyed twice a day for two weeks by 45RPM’s in-house ‘Ai dye masters’. It takes time and skill and leaves you with a pair of jeans that will fade beautifully and can be treasured.
This brand can be considered the OG. They were the first to make 100 per cent Japanese denim and can be credited with starting the whole denim trend off in Japan. They were formed after the war as a response to the demand for Western-style jeans the soldiers were wearing while stationed in the country, and so the brand comes with the most American-sounding name they could think of too!
Founder and designer of The Flat Head Masayoshi Kobayashi believes that jeans are better once they’ve had some wear and have developed that patina and fit that suits whoever is wearing them. He has said that at the time of purchase, the jeans are “only 50 per cent complete”. They’re designed to give a soft, vertical fade over time and to really last. Their slightly more rigid, mid-weight denim and cuts are inspired by Californian style.
A baby among the Japanese denim brands, Tanuki was founded in 2016 by experienced craftsmen. They’re involved in the entire production process and only use denim that hasn’t been pre-shrunk, like most jeans have. It can lead to variations with sizing but is also considered the purest form of denim and a covetable buy for superfans.
Once a fiercely guarded secret, SugarCane and Co have gone global with their unique collections made from none other than sugarcane and cotton. This brand is all about research, after comparing styles and production across all the major Japanese denim brands, they reached their optimum style of creating selvedge denim using the vintage looms that are synonymous with the best denim. Their jeans are much rarer and harder to track down, giving them a covetable quality if you can get your hands on a pair.