Interview with pure blue japan in Harajuku, Tokyo

October 28, 2014

Interview with Kozue Tamura and Ken-ichi Iwaya of pure blue japan by Hanna Woo
Kozue Tamura of PBJ

How would you describe PBJ as a brand and what is your concept?

We like to focus on the natural, blue color of indigo. Our jeans embody the evolution of the blue indigo color through its fading. We want to be as close to natural as possible.

When did you start with the brand and what attracted you to work with PBJ?

I started working here in 2007, so for 7 years now. I had just completed by undergrad study in Textile production before starting at PBJ. I didn’t know about the brand at first, but I found information online which led me to their store in Harajuku. The employee at the store at the time was about to get married, so they needed someone to replace her. So the timing worked out well for me to start here. PBJ’s attention to detail and craftsmanship are what attracted me to work for them.

Jeans display at the Harajuku store


The women's collection

Vintage furniture is seen sprinkled throughout the display of the store

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

A normal day involves dealing with sales, contacting clients, shipping out products, photographing new products, updating the company blog, and repairing jeans. Back when I first started at PBJ, we all had a lot more free time, as things were slow with the business. Today, we are all extremely busy with barely any time for ourselves.

Kozue-san explains the current pair she is darning and repairing

Speaking of the past, how has the brand developed since you started working here?

There have been big changes. Like I said, it was really quiet and free in the beginning. I had a lot of personal time and I spent my free time during the workday reading books and researching online. But now, we’re so busy all the time. We have a lot more international work to deal with, which I am primarily responsible for.

The internet has been a huge pioneer in getting our brand out there, and raw denim in general is a lot more popular. Magazines and Internet discussions have snowballed the popularity of selvedge denim, so that in turn has developed our brand quite a bit.

Not only that, but the niche market for Japanese denim products grew through international interest. Online retailers began to develop and there were more places for customers to buy various brands. There was a reverse effect with selvedge denim, where popularity in international markets caused an increase in local popularity.

Kozue-san dropping knowledge on Okayama Denim Intern, Hanna

What’s it like being a female in menswear? Is it harder or easier to know what the audience wants?

I like menswear, so I know a lot about it. Obviously, the fitting is different, but I do like to wear the men’s’ jeans for the “boyfriend jeans” look. Also, other women who come to the store will see me wear baggy men’s’ jeans and ask to try the same look on.

But in terms of working in the business, I don’t think it matters if you’re female or male.

Looking at the development and growth of the brand, how do people interact with the product in a retail setting vs. a showcase setting?

They interact similarly whether it is the retail setting in Japan, or a showcase setting internationally. It always starts with a look, and then the touch. People always make sure to let us know that the denim and fabric is beautiful and amazing.

How about the differences in Japanese customers and Western customers when interacting with the products?

In both cultures, you have people who show varying interest in the product and culture. There are people who are more “otaku” or nerdy about denim, people who are more about the fashion, and some people who are just about the quality of the jeans. This stays consistent with both cultures. So it all depends on the type of consumer a person is.

How does the Japanese customer view denim; is it more like a clothing choice? A fashion statement?

They definitely don’t see it as a fashion trend the way Western customers do. It’s all about the quality and history of a product for the Japanese customer. It’s the reason why Japanese denim has the rich history it has. The customers stick with a brand or product rather than buying the cheapest and quickest manufactured garment. Customers want something more solid, it’s never about the current trend with our Japanese customers.

Why do foreign markets prefer raw denim while the Japanese market prefers One Wash denim?

I can’t say I exactly know the reason this is, but international customers seem to like to go through the process of soaking and fading. Foreign markets have always had both options available, but I think they started with and know more of the raw denim. It is also what is more readily available in the foreign markets, which has always been raw over rinsed denim.

The Japanese consider the One Wash option easier and hassle-free. You get the right size from the get go and do not have to worry about guessing your size after soaking for the first time. But it’s also common to see many international customers having both Raw and One Wash jeans in their collections.

Many brands, including PBJ, pride themselves in the history and story behind their denim. While the Japanese focus on creating a lifestyle out of a trend, America tends to fall in and out of love with their trends. What do you think in regards to raw denim’s potential as a lifestyle rather than just a fleeting trend internationally? Will selvedge denim continue to remain niche product or become mainstream?

Due to the quality of the jeans we manufacture, it’s impossible to us to become mass market. The quality that we pride ourselves on would be lost. The production output of the factory we work with is limited, with all the denim fabric rolling off a single loom.

There is definitely potential for international customers to adapt selvedge denim into their everyday lifestyle, but it is definitely unrealistic to expect jeans of this caliber to become mainstream. Like the Japanese, Western consumers are starting to stick with the brands and products they like. Naturally the audience will grow older with the brand, just like it is in Japan. Although selvedge denim is already mainstream, with major brands releasing their versions of raw selvedge denim, it would be impossible for garments produced at our level of quality to go mainstream because of the slow and accurate production process our jeans undergo.

There have also been questions regarding the recent denim collection entitled “Pure Blue Japan” by Uniqlo. Their new denim project was also called Pure Blue Japan. Any thoughts?

Let me start by saying, I don’t believe it was a coincidence.

It’s not like they copied our name, but because the words “pure”, “blue”, and “Japan” are in the end, just words, it’s hard to protect the brand. Being a small company, we don’t have lawyers to directly deal with the matter, but it’s hard to think that a company of that size didn’t do any research beforehand.

If anything, the move was more beneficial for Uniqlo than for our brand, as it caused mass confusion with our customers and wholesale accounts.

Founder and Head Designer of pure blue japan, Ken-ichi Iwaya

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