By Robin | February 22, 2017

The History of Japanese denim


In the world of denim, Japan has the reputation as being the best producer of selvedge denim. Although denim is produced all over the world and some countries have far more years of experience, most ‘Denimheads’ consider Japan as the ‘Promised Land’ when it comes to Raw Denim. In this article we want to dive into the History of Japanese denim.


The Birth of Selvedge Denim

The fabric of denim goes way back. One of the first references of denim in the USA was seen in 1789. In that year a newspaper reported on the local production of the fabric. Before the denim fabric could be used for a 5 pocket jeans, there was a lot of development needed because in the first years, the fabric wasn’t strong enough. In 1873 Levi Strauss presented his first jeans strengthened with copper rivets and from that moment jeans start to grow in popularity.

When the market for jeans exploded, the denim mills in the USA started to use a modern loom (non-selvedge) because these looms are very fast, precise and efficient. For this reason, the old Shuttle Looms became unwanted.  In the 1950s American culture and vintage clothing became very popular in Japan. This obsession for American jeans caused the Japanese denim production and Japan started to import the, no longer needed, shuttle looms from the USA. Kojima, a district located in the Okayama region, was already famous for its traditional techniques and high quality textiles. So it wasn’t a big surprise that the denim production in Japan was located in Kojima.



In 1968 Big John produced their own jeans with fabric from the famous American Cone Mills. While the jeans were a big success, Japan was still waiting for their own Selvedge Denim. It took the Japanese industry some more years of practicing and refining, but in 1972, after 8 tries, Kurabo Mills finally managed to produce the first even Japanese Selvedge Denim (named Kurabo KD-8).

In 1973 all those pieces came together, when Big John presented the M series. Big John managed to construct a jeans of the KD-8 fabric and the first 100% made in Japan jeans was a fact. This is now known as the start of the Japanese Selvedge Denim revolution.

More and more brands and mills where founded in Japan. In the span of a few decades Japan has established itself as the denim producer in the world.



The denim from Japan nowadays is famous for a couple of reasons. Besides the extremely high quality and durability, the texture and colour are some recognizable Japanese signatures. Because Japanese Denim is woven on old Shuttle Looms there is a lot of variety in the texture. The fabric is also more rough and hairy than fabrics from other countries.

Of course not all denim from Japan is manufactured at the same way. There are still a lot of varieties between different brands, mills and jeans, but we can safely say that Japanese manufactures took denim to another level.


Photo Credit: Momotaro Jeans