Few people would associate Japan with denim but speak to those in the denim industry or on the online forums and one town in West Japan consistently comes up – Kojima. Historically a centre for the production of kimono and dyeing the town has a long standing clothing industry.
It developed into the primary centre for school uniforms but after the destruction of WW2 the town dyers, fabric makers and stitchers needed a new market. Seeing the American soldiers and their blue-jeans so the story goes the producers in the town started to produce this western import.
Fast forward 60 years and now some of the highest quality jeans anywhere are made in Kojima with a cluster of small producers in the area led by local champion Momotaro. From the moment one arrives in Kojima it’s obvious what the local industry is!
Cottoning-on (sorry!) to the potential of this the local producers clubbed together to create a ‘denim-street’ where they have shops along with some museums explaining how jeans are made.
The ‘selvedge’ jeans made here represent how traditional denim was before mass production – the material is heavier and more rigid and may involve ‘raw’ denim – which hasn’t been pre-shrunk (called sanforization) or washed. Denim aficionados seek out this type of denim at it will shape and create ‘fades’ unique to the wearer.
I was able to pop my head aroundthe doors into some of the workshops for stitching and dyeing. I didn’t know this but natural Indigo gives off a right pong!
On display in Momotaro was a loom which I was lucky enough to get a demonstration of. Apparently in 8 hours a person would make around 70-80cm of fabric and this goes to making their most expensive pair of jeans which retail for around $2000! I was content with a pair of well-fitting black jeans for a more reasonable sum!