Unlike the United States, which has only one remaining manufacturer of raw denim, Cone Mills, Japan is home to many active denim mills that churn out the cream of the world’s premium denim around the clock.
Japanese denim is renowned for both its quality and durability. The combination of processes used by the majority of the mills, including rope-dying and weaving on vintage shuttle looms, makes the denim produced in Japan so desirable and sought-after. In the close up images you can see some of the subtleties that set the Japanese mills apart from each other as well as apart from the rest of the world.
The Kurabo Mills was founded over 110 years ago and it stands as one of the oldest manufactures of Japanese textiles today. The Kurabo Mill was the birthplace of Japanese selvedge denim and has pioneered many denim manufacturing practices that are in common use today.
These include using natural indigo dyes as well as a unique denim spinning and dyeing process that creates a very resilient denim with unique fading patterns. The quality of Kurabo Mills denim has earned them the respect of denim aficionados around the world.
Kurabo is most famous as being the denim that supplied Japan’s first denim brand, BIG JOHN. Today, Kurabo continues to works with many top of the denim brands in the industry including Baldwin, Epaulet, and many more.
Nisshinbo Mill was founded in 1907 with a focus on combining traditional Japanese textile manufacturing techniques and modern techniques with the aim producing only the finest products. Today they produce a wide range of textiles, but their most popular remains their ring-spun selvedge denim which is consistently regarded by denim enthusiasts to be second-to-none in terms of both quality and durability.
The company, previously focused on expansion, recently announced in a statement it is beginning to scale-down production choosing to focus more on the quality of their products rather than the quantity that they can produce.
Kaihara is a relative newcomer to the world of Japanese textiles. They were founded in 1951, some 50 years later than Kurabo or Nisshinbo, but they’ve managed to compete with the older mills through their innovations, particularly in rope dyeing.
Kaihara has a unique in-house rope dyeing technique not commonly used by other denim brands, allowing them to provide a unique high quality product that they export to a variety of brands in over 20 countries. In the 1990’s Kaihara acquired vintage shuttle looms and begin producing ring-spun selvedge denim on them, a product which remains one of their most popular favrics today.
Japan Blue Group
The Japan Blue Group was founded only in 2005 and is comprised of various companies that represent different parts of the denim production process. Collect is the denim mill and fabric supplier; Rampuya is the dyeing division; and Japan Blue and Momotaro Jeans are the denim brands comprised of the components that Collect and Rampuya produce.
By integrating all elements of production into one company, the Japan Blue Group is able to tightly control every part of their process, guaranteeing the quality of the final products.
Momotaro is known for its high quality, and high priced denim, and Japan Blue is the more entry level, affordable line. As a whole, the Japan Blue Group has a philosophy that focuses on providing quality goods that combine old-world craftsmanship with modern designs rather than profits.
The Kuroki Mill, located in the textile rich area of Okayama, Japan, is another relatively new denim mill which was founded in 1984. The company is divided into three parts that all focus on a different element of the production process in a similar structure to the Japan Blue Group.
The first department is called the dyeing department and it is where the denim is rope-dyed and sized for production. In the next department the denim is woven on shuttle looms which create the higly sought after selvedge lines. Finally, some denim is finished and washed while the majority of it is sold raw either sanforized or unsanforized.