The Birth of Japanese Denim

Humble beginnings

Post World War II, when Japan was occupied by the United States, a new generation of American-inspired culture and lifestyle began. At the heart of America's influence on Japan, fashion stood out as a significant transformation to Japanese society. Japanese people began to idolize American film and pop stars of the 50’s and 60’s, and the clothes they wore became a symbol for the stylish and chic. Thus began the history of Japanese selvedge denim and its path to becoming the symbol for fashion and quality in Japan.

Before Japan became the face of denim, a thriving black market introduced second-hand denim to Japanese society. As a means to earn some extra money, many American servicemen sold their denim jeans to stores and markets near military bases and large cities. As American culture converged with Japan, a rise in the popularity of denim Jeans began, and retailers began to import American-made jeans. With the vogue of denim rising in tandem with consumer demand, Japanese entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to make profit. Surprisingly, the bustling streets of Tokyo were not the first to strike, but a small district known as Kojima in Okayama prefecture. This remote area eventually became the origin of Japanese selvedge denim.

Kojima was the center of Japan’s cotton industry in the 1930’s, producing mainly work wear and school uniforms. But an opportunity called - to become the hub for Japanese Selvedge denim. At first, material and equipment were brought from the U.S to replicate the products retailers were importing. Japan had yet to figure out how to dye denim with their traditional Japanese Indigo while keeping in line with what America was producing. As dyeing techniques developed and the denim fabrics evolved to become more and more “Japan made,” the Japanese denim industry became self-sustaining and no longer had to import material from America to make jeans. With globalization of American products on the rise, leading to a loss of quality, the Japanese selvedge denim industry seized the chance to take center stage as the home for premium denim products. 

This blog post is written in reference to the original blog post we had written 5 years ago. Using readily available public sources and our knowledge of Japanese denim, we created a new, more digestible post, which can hopefully teach a thing or two about the birth of Japanese denim.

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Written by Alex Wako