ODPBJ002 Dissertation | The OD+PBJ "Kakishibu" Jeans Review by Ali Mirza

August 09, 2019

We were so enamoured with alitxtile’s breakdown of the Fox Cotton items that he picked up from our site last year, that we wanted to create the opportunity for further review-magic. Thus, we gave him a pair of our OD+PBJ 18oz. "Kakishibu" Selvedge Jeans, our newest and most extensive collaboration to date, and what resulted is the thorough analysis of the jeans and it's composition.

Persimmons, Fall, and Fabric Dyes

While the pumpkin is famous in the west for its association with the Fall season, it is not a fruit-plant well suited for colder weather. Pumpkins must be planted in the summer if they are to be healthy and ready for Halloween. They are commonly connected to Fall weather yet do not thrive in it. I think we need a better symbolic fruit for representing the coming Fall times: I nominate the persimmon. The persimmon not only likes but requires the coldness of the Fall to ripen and to change it from an astringent green fruit to a delicious orange one--it is to its core a Fall fruit. And part of the enjoyment of eating a ripe persimmon is the slight stickiness one feels when biting into it. This green to orange/red color shift as well as astringency are also what have given it an importance in the history of textiles.

It is when comparing the use of the persimmon in Japan and Korea, as Soon Ja Park (2011) has, that I think we get the best starting place for seeing how flexible the fruit is. Park highlights how both nations have approached the persimmon for textiles in radically divergent ways. In Korea, the unripe persimmon is first picked, juiced, and then mixed with water to make the dye to which the fabric desired to be dyed must be applied immediately. This method helps take the preservative properties of unripe persimmons, such as their anti-microbiality, and imparts it into the textile along with the persimmon colorants. This fabric known as "garot" would commonly be used for the robes of monks. One consequence of this method however, is that the items must be dyed immediately meaning that the dye could not be stored for long periods.

Japan on the other hand, went with a very different route with persimmon dyeing. Rather than mixing water with the picked and juiced persimmons and dyeing immediately, the juice underwent a complex process of fermentation that resulted in a thick viscous extract that could be left for years in storage! This “kakishibu” dye would not spoil and could then be applied to fabric to preserve it. The difference however, was that the fermentation process would create a very strong astringent odor. Partly for this reason, the dye was applied to ropes for fisherman and furniture more-so than clothing. The Korean persimmon method did not create any smell but also was not as flexible (as clothes needed to be dyed immediately). What’s interesting about this fermented juice was that, like indigo, it was one of the few natural dyes that did not require a mordant to attach onto the fabric. It could literally be painted on like a layer on top of the base textile. In this regard, such persimmon coats were not unlike synthetic rope-dyed indigo that we denim fans so adore. Undergoing wear and tear, the layer of persimmon juice would erode leaving fades in the fabric. The one difference between indigo and this kakishibu however, is the strong astringent smell--this smell could be strong enough to deter even the dyers themselves.

Fast forwarding to the modern day, advancements in certain areas of biology and chemistry have removed some of these negatives. Persimmon juice has a strong astringent smell because of the acid contained within it. This acid, however, has been treated in Japan with enzymes resulting in a relatively odor free Persimmon dye. Moreover, as Lee An Rye & Eunjou (2018) have shown, persimmon powder can be used as a dye as well. The methods used for dyeing clothing have expanded greatly in the last few decades and represent a development that may push not only the clothing industry but the denim industry as a whole towards new language. Conventionally, one of the most commonly used dyes have been reactive dyes, which bind to the fabric directly changing its substance (rather than sitting on top and fading). However, the dyeing process effluent requires complex treatment before being released into nature. Natural dyes are more easily biodegradable but require a powerful mordant (not always sustainable) to connect the pigment to the fabric and the end result of such dyeing can be unideal for commercial clothing due to its variation. This combined with the current demand for more environmentally friendly clothing has created a market for research on identifying dyeing methods that use pigments derived from nature, along with stabilizers and reactions for a more polished and rigorously safe product--see Fubang Wang (2018) and M.M. El-Molla & R. Schneider (2006). For instance, in the printing of pigments the best binders are sometimes non-natural, such as polyurethane acrylate which does not release volatile compounds. What do we call the plethora of textiles that result? Naked and Famous used the term “semi-natural dye-stuff” to describe their red pomegranate dyed jeans as it used a natural colorant with a stabilizer added. This is exciting to me because it shows us to be at a nexus where natural and synthetic are. Probably for the better. Blending these together should open up the doors for denim that we had not imagined yet strike at the center of our oldest denim fantasies. It is with these initial thoughts in the background that I want to now turn to exploring the ODPBJ002.

Celebration x Timing

Bizarrely, what I have been thinking about the most regarding the ODPBJ002 is the timing of it. As August gives way to September and September to October, the leaves will turn from their forest green into gorgeous shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown. Surely it is not a coincidence that just as persimmon trees are being prepared in fields around the world so that they will blossom and produce fruit in the next three to six months, these 18oz PBJ’s with their red-cast indigo warp and orange-red kakishibu warp are being shipped out? That as the leaves of the trees around us turn brown and wither the indigo weft of many pairs will fade and turn from purple to blue. That as the green persimmons ripen and turn bright orange the PBJ’s orange-red weft will appear from underneath. So as the chlorophyll in the leaves disappears making visible the red pigments that were hiding underneath, the warp will give way to the weft. This is perhaps too metaphorical but I think the falling of the leaves not only marks the season but genuinely symbolizes the celebration of it: it conjures memories of home-cooked meals, costume parties, and gifts. In that regard, I think what Okayama Denim intended with these was to celebrate this season of raw denim inside the fabric by imbuing it with Fall color-change and externally by juxtaposing this denim with productions by long-time fans of Pure Blue Japan. The leather patch and the pocket-bag motif were designed by artist Nathan Spoor after which the leather was coated with the aforementioned kakishibu juice by Mike Falkner of Wild Frontier Goods. Celebrations never happen individually and I think the fact that these jeans are a collaboration between Pure Blue Japan and Okayama Denim as well as Mike and Nathan, reinforce this as not just being a collaboration but really a seasonal celebration of raw denim. Let’s start with the fabric.

Fabric/Material

Color

The weft of the ODPBJ002 is identical to that of the XX-18oz-013. The core of the yarn is undyed and one can see the indigo only around the outer edge--it is redcast and seems ready to flake off at any moment. The weft, which differentiates this fabric from all others, is between a maroonish tint and reddish-orange depending on the lighting. What’s interesting about the weft is that it contains color to its core--looking at the closeup photo of a bit of cotton extracted from the weft you can see that each cotton lint is coated with a reddish hue looking almost like saffron. This means that as the indigo warp fades from blue to white and starts to break, the red weft will only appear with greater and greater intensity. This should lead to some very unique fading characteristics. If the kakishibu only coated the exterior of the yarn both would fade together and the most interesting tonal element of the jeans would be increasingly lost, but because modern dyeing processes have both stabilized the kakishibu tone and electrified its color, the weft serves as a backdrop for highlighting the change in the weft. It imparts such a tone to the indigo warp that the denim seems even more red than red-cast and results in a darker color overall. In day-light there are bright shades of purple surrounding the indigo and, looking closely, the reddish-orange weft can easily be seen through the warp threads. 

Texture

The manner in which the cotton was spun and the denim woven is easily apparent: The warp thread, as is Pure Blue Japan’s signature, is slubby, allowing some areas of the denim threads to rise higher so that the resulting wear has verticality to it. The weft thread? Turned up to 11. The change in diameter of the weft thread is extreme and the level of slubbiness unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. I’ve included a close up of the weft where you can see a section of cotton that has been spun to be 3-4 times as thick as those adjacent to it. This rising and falling of the weft pushes areas of the warp to be higher than they would otherwise and creates a second wave of texture--in other words, not only does the warp contain texture, this is bootstrapped to an even more textured undersurface. Think of mountains that contains multiple hills on top and then miniaturize it.

The weaving also seems to contain a lot of loom-chatter. Pieces of the warp will fold over onto themselves and get trapped between the weft (pictured also) adding miniature loops of slubby cotton thread. And on top of that, the fabric has neps sometimes produced by the weft releasing bursts of kakishibu cotton and sometimes from what is seemingly cotton debris. I am unaware of the cotton used, but from the hairiness and length of the staple, seems to be of medium length (I’ll update this as more information becomes available). The weave of the fabric also seems to be low tension; the fabric isn’t too stiff. The texture also imparts the aforementioned heterogeneity to the color of the fabric--the weft pops through the weft and the different angles at which the threads catch the light causes shades of blue, purple, even black, along with the reds and dark-orange.

Comfort

Despite the textured surface of the cotton, the jeans don’t feel abrasive on the legs. The slubs and loom chatter seem to hide the twill structure of which it is composed. It's almost like a hand-loomed rug--and I mean that in a good way, in that it feels substantive and weighty. I’ve worn it all-day long this entire week and it rarely calls negative attention to itself, but as soon as I touch the pocket to retrieve my card I immediately feel the assault of texture. I have the one-washed version and in my subjective view the fabric requires little break-in. Because I’m historically inept at determining how “warm” fabrics feel so I will leave such questions to other reviewers--I should say though, that it should at minimum be great for the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons. 

Fit

The fit is always the most subjective area and should be taken with a grain of salt. However, the following notes might be helpful. I’m about 5’ 11” and fluctuate from a 130 pounds to 145. I decided to go with a size 32 Slim Tapered (one-wash) which is a size up from the Studio D’Artisan SD-108 Relax Tapered I normally wear (31). The size (32) ODPBJ002 is tighter in the waist than my D’Artisans--I need a belt with the latter but not with the former. Regarding the cut, despite being skinny I usually prefer a relaxed tapered, as I need to have some room to breathe in hotter weather. I was initially worried that these being 18oz and slim tapered the PBJ’s might attack the crotch more than I am used to. Thus far however, I’ve found them to be pretty much ideal for a slim tapered--the rise is just right to give me some room to breathe while still looking like a nice trim stylish pair of jeans. 

Construction/Details

PBJ is known for using large threads for the construction of their jeans and this one is no exception. The large threads with extra-spaced stitches create the folds in the fabric that cause fades to set in deeper. The chainstitching on these jeans is some of the thickest I’ve ever seen--the loops of thread seemingly blending into one. Most of the threads are indigo tone so they don’t contrast with the fabric of the jeans. In addition to the thick chainstitching both the crotch and the pocket bags are stitched with an extra-chunky thread. It’s a subtle detail that nonetheless elevates their rugged construction. The leather patch is stitched with an ecru thread and the pocket bags and rear pockets are stitched on with smaller threads that can be found elsewhere on the jeans. Everything is stitched neatly and I couldn’t find any broken stitches. There is an overlock on the inseam which is ideal with heavyweight fabric, as well as an overlock that stops as soon as the pocket bags end with the threads being tied into a neat knot.

The minor details on this pair include a light blue selvedge line as well as metal buttons that are stamped with PBJ’s leaf on both ends and and seem to have a copper core (probably my favorite button design). The rivets are unmarked but they have not been hammered down so they remain somewhat pointy. The rear pockets have hidden rivets and while they are left unlined the pocket opening has a raised edge. The raised belt loops along with the rear pockets are bar-tacked nicely. The rear-left belt-loop is stitched with Okayama Denim’s signature red and white threads. The coin pocket also contains selvedge inside the opening while the cuffs are neatly chainstitched for roping effects.

Major details include the left pocket bag which contains a print of Nathan Spoor’s freehand art design that celebrates the combination of Indigo x Kakishibu, Okayama Denim and Pure Blue Japan. Both of the pocket bags however, are made of a smooth cotton that is of medium thickness. The aforementioned leather patch on the rear represents another collaboration, between Nathan Spoor and Mike Falkner. Nathan’s artistic style here was given an extra injection of kakishibu, with Mike Falkner using kakishibu juice extract to both color the veg-tanned patch and subsequently paint it with wood-grain-like stripes that pay homage to kakishibu’s traditional use on furniture. Because of this, the jeans contain kakishibu in both a modern application (the weft) as well as a traditional one (the leather patch). 

Conclusion

The well-thought out details and party texture, combined with the permutations of collaborations that are part of it - including Okayama Denim x Pure Blue Japan, Indigo x Kakishibu, and Nathan Spoor x Mike Falkner, result in a product that feels celebratory in its spirit. There is always something to notice: the OD red and white threads on the belt loop, the fading indigo warp and the stable kakishibu weft, the slubs of the weft undergirding the slubs of the warp, the wood-grain-like kakishibu fading on the embossed veg-tanned leather patch, the PBJ embroidered leaf with a kakishibu vein, the smooth printed canvas pocket bag contrasting with the textured denim fabric. Each of these elements should age in their own way, creating greater contrast and numerous focal points to notice and appreciate.

Stylistically speaking, I think the darker tone of the denim - a product of its weft, allows it to fit well with most colors and items from a variety of seasons: from the classic indigo warp x undyed weft denim shirts/jackets, to white or black knitted tees, to navy sweaters. Even more so than the orange persimmons that will ripen throughout the winter, these jeans should be practical through most of the year. For now, as the leaves fall and the world around us turns to earthly shades of brown, the red contrasting with the indigo nights and clear-blue days; as the vacations of summer give way to reuniting friends, families, and new acquaintances - I think our pants, in their own small way, will fit the changing world ahead of us.

 

Mike Falkner protected the veg-tanned leather patch (embossed with Nathan Spoor‘s artwork) with kakishibu dye in a wood-grain pattern that pays homage to its historical use. This should evolve in interesting ways.

The OD signature colors with a backdrop of Indigo x Kakishibu.

Note: this photo shows the hairiness and texture of the yarn better than most.

Warp and weft slubs.

Kakishibu weft.

Zoomed out close-up.

The selvedge is a lighter tone of blue that accentuates just how indigo the warp is.

Note how the size of the thread on the bottom left and how it slims to the top.

Pure Blue Japan’s metal buttons.

Nathan Spoor’s artwork for the pocket bag celebrating the collaboration between Pure Blue Japan, Okayama Denim, Indigo, and Kakishibu.

Thick lockstitch on the pocket bags—same thread can be found on the crotch area.

Chain-stitching is clean yet feels substantial.

ODPBJ002 Slim Tapered cut 3/4 view. 

ODPBJ Rear-view. The cut is slim but not skinny. The taper is modest and not extreme.

The cuffed weft looks good to me with most shoe color-ways.

ODPBJ pictured with a wool sweater for a winter/fall outfit.

While the rope-dyeing of the warp results in fades, the dyeing of the weft serves as a more stable backdrop becoming increasingly visible.

Many thanks to Ali Mirza (@alitxtile/u/alitxtile) for allowing us to share his review of the OD+PBJ 18oz. "Kakishibu" Selvedge Jeans! You can view the original album here.

 

Citations:

El-Molla, M. M., and R. Schneider. "Development of ecofriendly binders for pigment printing of all types of textile fabrics." Dyes and Pigments 71, no. 2 (2006): 130-137.

 

Lee, An Rye, and Eunjou Yi. "Dyeing of cotton fabrics with persimmon extract powder-focused on dyeability and mechanical properties depending on color characteristics." Korean Journal of Human Ecology 22, no. 5 (2013): 461-476.

 

Park, Soon-Ja. "Comparative study on the manufacturing process of persimmon juice, persimmon dyeing method, and transfiguration of persimmon-dyed items in Korea and Japan." The Korean Journal of Community Living Science 22, no. 1 (2011): 77-94.

 

Wang, Fubang, Jixian Gong, Yanfei Ren, and Jianfei Zhang. "Eco-dyeing with biocolourant based on natural compounds." Royal Society Open Science 5, no. 1 (2018): 171134.


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