Takayuki Echigoya is an addict the likes I have never seen before. He spent years scouring the world for his fix, it’s forced him to sell nearly all of his possessions, it’s even taken over his entire home save for a small lofted bed. But his vice isn’t hunting exotic game, or gambling, or heroin; Echan (as his friends know him) is compelled to make jeans in a very, very specific way.
I had the pleasure of meeting Echan a little over five years ago. It was at Capsule New York, the first time I had visited the trade shows, and he was representing his brand Bowery Blues. In 2013, Bowery Blues was a ready-to-wear denim line drawing inspiration from those ever-present 501 cuts of the 1950s and 60s. It was named after the neighborhood in the lower east side of Manhattan where Echan had dealt vintage and heritage clothing since the late 90s.
The signature touch on Bowery Blues? A piece of vintage kimono fabric in lieu of denim behind the coin pocket.
They were some of the best jeans I saw at the show. But Echan was distant, pointing out details he wanted to change, stitching problems, the way a rivet really should be tufting.
That iteration of Bowery Blues never made it to market. I would see Echan every few months at tradeshows and vintage fairs for the next four years. He had thrown out all the early samples and was starting from scratch, but I had no idea of the extent to which ‘from scratch’ he meant. He gave me a new business card made of thin black metal. Its only markings, six cryptic holes punched in the center in the shape of an arrow.
At first, he only wanted to talk about sewing machines: a flatlock machine he found in an old Champion factory, a treadle Singer he had retrofitted with a motor with the exact right hum, and, of course, the requisite Union Special 43200G chainstitch hemmer. His Instagram account began posting closeup videos of spinning bobbins and old steam irons and the like. I imagined Echan as some Denim Don Quixote, supremely talented and dedicated but chasing such unbelievably high standards that nothing would ever materialize.
About a year ago, he proved me wrong. He announced quietly that he was ready for fitting appointments for Bowery Blue Makers, his new line of jeans, out of his studio in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn.
I caught up with him earlier this summer to see what he’s been working on all these years.
Echan’s dedication to his craft borders on the absurd. To understand his methods, one must consider one of those extreme time scale thought experiments, like emptying the Great Lakes by walking back and forth to Florida with a teaspoon.
Since I met him back in 2013, Echan bought several dozen vintage machines, sourced cotton from a specific farm in Tennessee and had it shipped to a denim mill run by one man in Okayama, Japan only to have it shipped back to his studio-cum-home in Brooklyn. Many of his sewing machines are so old and obscure that the only place to have them serviced is in his native Japan, so he travels across the Pacific several times a year with Singers and Union Specials in his checked luggage.
No detail has been overlooked and no expense has been forsaken to make jeans to his exacting standards. “I sold my car!” He exclaims, when I ask how he financed the operation (the car in question: a 1973 Porsche Carrera RS).
All of his tools are from the past: kick-presses, buttonholers, even the cutting table are all foraged from long abandoned factories. But forgoing the conveniences of modern machinery puts a lot more pressure on the maker. “A single pair takes me eight hours, maybe less if I make two at once.” Even for one man brands, this is an insane amount of time (Norman Porter estimates about two and Roy three, depending on the model).
With this degree of intensity, what exactly is Echan pursuing? “I want jeans that feel like the old way, that have the personality of the old way.” Mangled bits of vintage denim hang from the walls, he’s also a regular customer of Brit Eaton. To make jeans simply in “vintage style” is not enough for him; the means of production must also meet the same standard.
To look at the inside of a pair of his jeans is to look back in time. Overlocks are all done with thin white cotton thread, pockets are oversized and lined with extra reinforcement to prevent blowouts, the optional buckle-back even comes with your choice of vintage hardware.
Such dedication, however, comes at a cost. A pair of bespoke jeans from Bowery Blue will require a fitting visit, at least a month’s wait, and $650 (ready to wear options weigh in at $480). Expensive, even for the extremely dedicated, but what Echan is doing is extremely rare, and that price tag is just enough to keep him in his lofted bed above the machines.
What he’s achieved with Bowery Blue is the logical extreme of all that we cover on Heddels. No compromises, no shortcuts, no expenses spared, it’s the luxury you can only get from the creator forgoing every luxury of their own. Like I said, Echan’s got it bad.
You can find out more about Bowery Blue Makers on their website.
All images save Capsule images credit to Ryan Lindow. Catch his photography opening October 19-27 at W+K+ Gallery in Tokyo, Japan.