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Raw Japanese Denim: A Beginner’s Guide to Japan’s Biggest Labels

japanese-denim-brand-guide-01

Image via Paul Black and DC4

Stepping into the world of raw denim jeans can be a difficult process. Sizing, soaking, and sanforization—it’s all a different world when compared to simply trying on a pair of jeans in the mall. But if this website is a testament to anything, it’s that raw denim jeans are worth it. And once you’ve gone raw, you’re very unlikely to return to ‘normal’ jeans anytime soon.

As you will have gathered, Japan is the raw denim capital of the world. The Japanese have truly mastered the art of weaving the finest raw selvedge denim and crafting five-pocket jeans, so it comes as no surprise that most of the big labels in the raw denim scene are from Japan. In addition to producing jeans of paramount quality, Japanese raw denim brands have a level of mystique and flair that makes their jeans covetable by denim heads worldwide.

Japanese raw denim labels have a cult following that springs to life in forums like Superfuture, Styleforum, and Reddit, all of which can be very useful when researching raw denim jeans. But to a beginner, it can feel like seasoned denim heads talk in a language of their own. “The s710xx is great bro, a bit slimmer than Sugar Cane 1947s, but they’re 19oz. and loomstate!”.

For this reason, we’ve compiled a quick-stop guide to the big names in raw Japanese denim. From Samurai to Studio d’Artisan, we’ve identified the most discussed Japanese denim labels and their most commonly recommended models.

Burgus Plus

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Image via Okayama Denim

The in-house brand of Japanese denim and heritage superstore Hinoya, Burgus Plus offers high-quality, Japanese-made garments at an affordable price point.  Started in 1997 by Osamu Taniguchi, Burgus Plus prides itself on ‘ultimate basics’ and takes inspiration from mid-century American garments. With this in mind, the brand offers a solid range of raw denim jeans and jackets in a variety of silhouettes. Burgus Plus mainly use mid-weight denim, including a 14.5 oz. natural indigo denim. If you want a slim, or slim-straight jean, Burgus Plus will certainly have some options for you.

Burgus Plus Key Products

968-xx

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Image via Denimio

Fit: Slim Straight (circa 1968 Levi’s 501)

Fabric: 14oz. Natural Indigo Raw Selvedge Denim.

Details: Paper patch, Leather rivet-backings

Available for $180 at Denimio.

955-xx

burgus-plus-955x-clutch-cafe

Image via Clutch Cafe

Fit: Regular Straight (circa 1955 Levi’s 501)

Fabric: 14.5oz. Natural Indigo (with brown weft for a deeper tone).

Details: Leather patch, Leather rivet-backings

Available for £229 (~$290USD) Clutch Cafe.

Full Count

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Images via Okayama Denim

One of the famed Osaka 5 that formed the Japanese denim scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Full Count is one of the most reputable Japanese denim labels out there. Founded by Mikiharu Tsujita in 1993, Full Count is known for its use of Zimbabwean extra-long-staple cotton in the production of denim. This luxury fiber produces denim that is tough and durable but with a much softer hand. Tsujita believes that Zimbabwean cotton creates denim that emulates the American denim of the ’40s and ’50s that Full Count work so hard to reproduce. Price-wise, Full Count is up there with the more expensive labels, but if its vintage-style denim you’re after, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Full Count Key Products

1108

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Image via Clutch Cafe

Fit: Slim Straight (1960s Levi’s 501 repro)

Fabric: 13.75 oz.  Zimbabwean cotton raw selvedge denim

Details: Goatskin leather waist patch, custom hardware, made in Osaka

Available for ~$337 at Clutch Cafe

1101

Raw-Japanese-Denim-A-Beginner's-Guide-to-Japan's-biggest-labels-Image-via-Denimio

Image via Denimio

Fit: Regular straight

Fabric: 13.75 oz.  Zimbabwean cotton raw selvedge denim

Details: Goatskin leather waist patch, custom hardware, made in Osaka

Available for ~$336 at Son of a Stag.

0105

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Image via Clutch Cafe

Fit: Wide straight (1953 Levi’s 501 repro)

Fabric: 13.75 oz.  Zimbabwean cotton raw selvedge denim

Details: One of the widest raw denim jeans on the market, Goatskin leather waist patch, custom hardware, made in Osaka

Available at Clutch Cafe for $337

Iron Heart

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Images via Iron Heart

Initially founded in 2003 by Shinichi Haraki, Iron Heart appointed Englishman Giles Padmore in 2005 to manage their international sales. Soon after, Giles and Haraki formed a firm partnership that sees Iron Heart distributed widely in the western world, with a head office in Portsmouth, England. Iron Heart is known for its exceptionally built garments, but especially their heavyweight jeans that have seen the brand gain a cult following. If you’re after slim jeans made from exclusive heavyweight raw denim fabrics, then Iron Heart won’t disappoint. You only have to check our daily fade features to see how these beastly jeans produce stunning, high-contrast fades.

Iron Heart Key Products

IH-666S

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Image via Iron Heart

Fit: Slim straight

Fabric: Japanese 14 oz. red selvedge Iron Heart signature denim

Details: Grand indigo dyed, custom hardware, rear pocket embroidery

Available for $295 at Iron Heart.

IH-555-XHS

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Image via Iron Heart

Fit: Super slim Straight

Fabric: 25 oz. Japanese selvedge denim

Details: One of heaviest raw denim jeans on the market, grand indigo dyed, custom hardware, rear pocket embroidery

Available for $400 at Iron Heart.

IH-777-S

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Image via Iron Heart

Fit: Super slim tapered

Fabric: 21 oz. Japanese selvedge denim

Details: Heavyweight denim with great fade potential, very modern cut, custom hardware, rear pocket embroidery

Available for $345 at Iron Heart.

Japan Blue

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Image via Robin Denim

Founded in 2010 by the folks at COLLECT Mills in Kojima, Japan Blue is just one of the brands under the ‘Japan Blue Group’ umbrella, which also includes Setto, Soulive, and Momotaro. Japan Blue uses the vast experience of the COLLECT Mills to create contemporary products that blend heritage denim details with modern silhouettes. Japan Blue jeans are highly affordable, fundamental raw denim jeans without all the bells and whistles. Their motto ‘material is the key factor to jeans‘ says it all. Solid fabrics in a range of weights, colors, and silhouettes. If you’re just starting out with raw denim, Japan Blue is definitely a good brand to break that indigo seal.

Japan Blue Key Products

JB0412 Monster Selvedge

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Image via Denimio

Fit: Slim tapered

Fabric: 16.5 oz. Japanese raw selvedge denim

Details: Slubby denim, branded leather waist patch, striped pocket bags

Available for $148 at Denimio.

JB0601

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Image via Clutch Cafe

Fit: High tapered

Fabric: 14.8oz. American cotton Japanese raw selvedge denim

Details: Rope dyed indigo, gold inseam thread, custom embossed hardware

Available for ~$190USD at Clutch Cafe.

Momotaro Jeans

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Image via Selvedge (left) & Style Forum (right)

Momotaro Jeans was founded in 2006. Hailing from Kojima, Japan, Momotaro Jeans is named after ‘Momotaro‘, a peach-boy character from a famous Japanese fairytale. The legend of Momotaro has it that Momotaro was born from a peach floating down a river. For this reason, Momotaro Jeans use their namesake as their logo, featuring Momotaro busting out of a peach (wearing jeans).

Under the Japan Blue Group umbrella, Momotaro Jeans’ slogan is “made by hand, without compromise“. This motto rings true in the production of their jeans, which are handcrafted in the coastal district of Kojima to this very day. Momotaro jeans come in a range of fits, each using exclusive mid-weight denim that is woven on vintage Toyoda looms from Zimbabwean cotton. Momotaro separates its jeans into three different labels, Copper Label, Vintage Label, and Going To Battle. Each label has a range of fits with different styling details, i.e. the Going To Battle Label is the line that features the brand’s infamous ‘battle stripe’ pockets. With silhouettes ranging from heavily tapered options to good ol’ straight leg, Momotaro is a globally successful denim brand that you can rely on for a solid pair of raw denim jeans.

Momotaro Key Products

0705

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Image via Okayama Denim

Fit: Narrow Straight

Fabric: 15.7 oz. Sanforized Momotaro custom selvedge denim (100% Zimbabwean cotton)

Details: Pink peach-inspired inseam thread, one-washed in shores of Okayama, battle stripe pocket detail

Available for $210 from Okayama Denim.

0201

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Image via Okayama Denim

Fit: Slim straight

Fabric: 15.7 oz. Momotaro unsanforized selvedge denim (100% Zimbabwean cotton)

Details: Pink peach-inspired inseam thread, branded leather waist patch, pink selvedge ID

Available for $210 at Okayama Denim.

G019-MB

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Image via Okayama Denim

Fit: Classic straight

Fabric: 14.7 oz. sanforized Momotaro selvedge denim

Details: Indigo-dyed cotton flannel pocket bags, riveted cowhide leather waist patch, pink peach-inspired inseam thread

Available for $210 at Okayama Denim.

Oni

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Image via Denimio

A brand shrouded in mystery, Oni is also named after a character from the Japanese legend of Momotaro. The folklore describes that Momotaro himself traveled to a mysterious island to battle an Oni, which is the Japanese term for a supernatural demon or ogre. Handcrafted with deliberate wabi-sabi imperfections by one Fii San (old man), one could compare Oni jeans to a beastly creature. The brand is famed for its slubby, irregular, heavyweight denim that is genuinely unique. If you want a highly textured pair of raw denim jeans that will stand out in a crowd, then Oni is definitely worth considering.

Oni Key Products

612XX

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Image via Denimio

Fit: Relax tapered (heavy taper with roomy top block)

Fabric: 16.5 oz. unsanforized low tension slub raw Japnese selvedge denim

Details: super slubby and irregular fabric with unique character and feel, rope dyed indigo warp with white weft, vegetable-tanned leather waist patch

Available for $285 at Blue Owl Workshop.

668

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Image via Denimio

Fit: Super tight tapered

Fabric: 14 oz. Japanese selvedge denim exclusive to ONI

Details: One of the skinniest raw denim jeans on the market, slubby denim, vegetable-tanned leather waist patch

Available for $200 at Denimio

277

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Image via Denimio

Fit: Regular Straight

Fabric: 16.5 oz. Japanese raw selvedge denim

Details: Super slubby denim, vegetable-tanned leather waist patch, great fade potential

Available for $220 at Denimio.

Pure Blue Japan

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Right image via Okayama Denim

Seen as one of the most progressive and unique Japanese denim brands, Pure Blue Japan pushes the boundaries of raw denim with artisanal fabrics that look like no other in terms of color, texture, and weave. Based in Okayama, Pure Blue Japan has been operating since 1997. The brand uses yarn-dyeing—a process where the cotton yarns are dyed prior to weaving—to create their raw denim, which is notorious for its slubby texture. Often abbreviated as PBJ, Pure Blue Japan specializes in slim, contemporary fits with a small hem opening. Each pair of PBJs features their iconic embroidered emblem on the back pocket. If you’re looking for a pair of heavily tapered jeans with heaps of fading potential, balling out on a pair of PBJs will leave you very satisfied.

Pure Blue Japan Key Products

XX-013

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Image via BlackBlue

Fit: Slim Tapered

Fabric: 14 oz. raw selvedge denim from Okayama

Details: Signature Pure Blue Japan leaf embroidery on back right pocket, blue selvedge ID, highly coveted denim fabric

Available for $285 from BlackBlue

XX-019

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Fit: Relax tapered (roomier top block than the XX-013)

Fabric: 14oz unsanforized nep raw selvedge denim

Details: Signature Pure Blue Japan leaf embroidery on back right pocket, blue selvedge ID, highly coveted denim fabric

Available for $326 from Blue Owl Workshop

Samurai Jeans

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Founded in 1997 by Toru Nogami (Nogami-san), Samurai Jeans is one of the most revered Japanese raw denim brands in the scene. Despite not being part of the initial raw denim boom pioneered by the Osaka 5, Samurai Jeans has carved a reputation through its solid range of indigo goods that blend Americana influences with Japanese heritage. The brand uses a range of fabric weights, with the core offering being their 190z. raw denim with silver selvedge ID, representing a Samurai’s sword. Samurai takes huge pride in the identity of their jeans, constantly conjuring up different rivet details, arcuates, and leather waist patches for each model. If you’re looking for something heavyweight, robust, and distinctly Japanese, Samurai will tick those boxes.

Samurai Key Products

S710XX

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Fit: Slim Straight

Fabric: 19 oz. Japanese exclusive raw selvedge denim

Details: Silver selvedge ID, goatskin leather waist patch, tonal back-pocket arcuates, red pocket tab, heavyweight twill pocket bags

Available for $238 at Denimio.

S510xx

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Image via Denimio

Fit: Regular Straight

Fabric: 19 oz. exclusive Japanese raw selvedge denim

Details: Silver selvedge ID, goatskin leather waist patch, tonal back-pocket arcuates, red pocket tab, heavyweight twill pocket bags

Available for $248 at Denimio.

S0500XX

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Image via Samurai Jeans

Fit: Regular Straight (slightly slimmer than the s510xx)

Fabric: 15 oz. exclusive raw selvedge denim

Details: Silver selvedge ID, goatskin leather waist patch, tonal back-pocket arcuates, red pocket tab, heavyweight twill pocket bags

Available for ~$330USD at Samurai

Sugar Cane

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Image via Pinterest

Sitting under the Toyo Enterprises umbrella, Sugar Cane is a highly recognized Japanese repro-denim label appreciated by denim heads across the globe. Guided by Yuichi Fukutomi, Sugar Cane has meticulously researched workwear of a bygone era to inform its thoroughly built reproductions down to the smallest details like stitch count and rivet placement. Famed for their accessible 1947 cut jean that comes in under $200, Sugar Cane typically use mid-weight, ringspun Japanese selvedge denim, woven on original narrow shuttle looms that were commonplace in the 1930s. In addition, the brand produces a unique custom denim made from a 50/50 blend of cotton and actual sugar cane fibers that gives the fabric a slubby, irregular texture.

Sugar Cane Key Products

SC1947

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Image via Self Edge

Fit: Regular straight (1947 Levi’s 501 repro)

Fabric: 14 oz. double ring-spun raw selvedge denim

Details: Meticulous reproduction, copper rivets, button fly, branded leather waist patch

Available for $199 at Self Edge

Hawaii Jean

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Image via Self Edge

Fit: Regular straight

Fabric:  14.25 oz. Japanese one-wash selvedge, 50% cotton – 50% sugarcane fibers

Details: Unique denim, Horse Hide Patch from Hawaii, ornate rear pocket embroidery

Available for $220 at Self Edge

Studio d’Artisan

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Images via Fashion path Finder Tokyo and Red Cast Heritage Co.

Part of the famed Osaka 5, Studio d’Artisan is a playful Japanese denim brand with something for everyone. With its infamous buta (pig) branding, Studio d’Artisan manages to balance heritage designs with light-hearted details that breathe a new lease of life into archetypal mid-century designs. Founded in 1979, Studio D’Artisan was the first Japanese denim label to use deadstock hardware on their jeans and the first to create shuttle loom woven hank dyed jeans in Japan. Today, the brand offers a wide range of jeans ranging from super slim all the way to wide-straight.

Studio d’Artisan Key Products

SD-107

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Image via BlackBlue

Fit: Tight straight

Fabric: 15 oz. unsanforized Japanese selvedge denim

Details: Contemporary fit, button fly, branded leather waist patch, woven coin pocket tab, blue selvedge ID

Available for $290 at BlackBlue

SD-103

studio-dartisan-103-rivet-hide

Image via Rivet & Hide

Fit: Slim straight

Fabric: 15 oz. unsanforized Japanese selvedge denim

Details: Button fly, branded leather waist patch, woven coin pocket tab, blue selvedge ID

Available for $295 at Rivet & Hide.

SD-101

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Image via Denimio

Fit: Regular Straight

Fabric: 15 oz. unsanforized Japanese selvedge denim

Details: Button fly, branded leather waist patch, woven coin pocket tab, blue selvedge ID

Available for $218 at Denimio.

The Flat Head

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Right image via Supertalk

Founded in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, in 1996, The Flat Head is a no-expenses-spared love affair with Americana-style clothing. Brand director Kobayashi-san has a rich history of dealing with American denim and has honed his knowledge to create some of the most reputable raw denim jeans on the market. Kobayashi insists on paramount quality within each step of the brand’s production process, resulting in raw denim jeans that are built to last and age beautifully. In fact, Kobayashi has famously stated, “At the time of purchase the product is only 50% complete, but that this completeness level rises with repeated wearing as the product begins to meld itself to the unique shape of each individual.”

The Flat Head specializes in slimmer cuts, made from exclusive mid-weight denim that is famed for its potential to yield high-contrast fades. Each pair comes with a branded goat leather waist patch and custom hardware.

The Flat Head Key Products

3009

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Image via Rakuten

Fit: Regular straight

Fabric: 14.5oz unsanforized Japanese selvedge Denim

Details: Rope dyed warp yarns, goat leather waist patch, custom hardware, red selvedge ID

Available for $315 at Self Edge

3001

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Image via Rakuten

Fit: Slim straight

Fabric: 14.5oz unsanforized Japanese selvedge Denim

Details: Zipper fly, rope dyed warp yarns, goat leather waist patch, custom hardware, red selvedge ID

Available from Tate+Yoko for $325

TCB

Raw-Japanese-Denim-A-Beginner's-Guide-to-Japan's-biggest-labels-Image-via-Twitter

Image via Redcast Heritage

The youngest label in this guide, TCB is a Japanese denim label that has risen to success in the last decade. TCB— an abbreviation for both ‘taking care of business’ and ‘two cats brand’—was founded by Hajime Inoue in 2008. An ex-denim apprentice, Inoue-san used his knowledge of  Japanese denim craft and vintage American jeans to conceive his own brand. Today, TCB is known for its charming reproductions of classic American jeans, built with immense craftsmanship and Japanese flare.

What makes TCB so special is how small its range of jeans is. Separated into ’20s, ’50s, and ’60s styles, TCB has aimed to master the archetypal fits of those eras. If you’re after heavily tapered, contemporary jeans, TCB won’t be your solution. But if it’s high quality, classic straight-legged jeans you’re interested in, TCB has got you covered.

TCB Key Products

50s

tcb-50s-redcast-heritage

Image via Redcast Heritage

Fit: Wide straight (50s Levi’s 501 repro)

Fabric: 13.5 oz raw selvedge denim

Details: Accessible price-point,  charming reproduction product, paper waist patch, pink selvedge  ID, red pocket tab

Available for ~$185 at Redcast Heritage

60s

tcb-60s-redcast-heritage

Image via Redcast Heritage

Fit: Slim straight

Fabric: 13.5 oz selvedge denim

Details: Accessible price-point,  charming reproduction product, paper waist patch, pink selvedge  ID, red pocket tab

Available for ~$180USD at Redcast Heritage.

The Strike Gold

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Right image via Corlection

Established in Kojima, in Okayama Prefecture, The Strike Gold is produced by the Hamamoto family who has over twenty years of experience in the Japanese denim industry. The Strike Gold is largely inspired by 1950s silhouettes, updating their cuts only slightly to fit into the modern market. In terms of fabric, The Strike Gold is known for its heavyweight, slubby fabrics that have visible wabi-sabi imperfections that give the denim sn entirely unique look and feel. Due to the abrasive nature of The Strike Gold’s denim, it is lauded for quickly developing stark fading patterns.

Like The Flat Head, The Strike Gold’s jeans are slim-fitting options. The Strike Gold is limited to just a handful of stockists outside of Japan, making their products hard to come by. But if you’re looking for slim fit jeans with high fade potential, The Strike Gold is definitely worth the extra shipping!

The Strike Gold Key Products

SG1105

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Image via Self Edge

Fit: Slim straight

Fabric: 14.5oz unsanforized Japanese selvedge denim

Details: Golden sparkle selvedge ID, abrasive rough-textured denim, custom hardware, deerskin leather waist patch

Available for $315 at Self Edge

SG1109

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Image via Self Edge

Fit: Slim tapered

Fabric: 14.5oz unsanforized Japanese selvedge denim

Details: Golden sparkle selvedge ID, abrasive rough-textured denim, custom hardware, deerskin leather waist patch

Available for $315 at Self Edge

Warehouse & Co.

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Last, but only due to its alphabetical status, is Warehouse & Co. Founded by the Shiotani brothers in 1995, Warehouse was the last brand to become known as one of the Osaka 5. While other labels in that group focused on strict reproduction denim, Warehouse & Co. chose to fuse their own creative ideas with vintage American denim to bring a progressive product into the Japanese denim scene.

Today, Warehouse jeans can be found in a handful of carefully selected retailers who can honor the brand’s philosophy. In addition to their mainline jeans, Warehouse produces a separate ‘Duck Digger’ line that concentrates on workwear styles from the early-to-mid1900s. Warehouse & Co. offers a wide range of raw denim jeans, each boasting archetypal five-pocket details like copper rivets, iron buttons, red pocket tabs, and a branded waist patch.

Warehouse Key Products

Lot 800

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Fit: Slim straight

Fabric: Warehouse exclusive 14 oz. raw selvedge denim

Details: Yellow selvedge ID, steel rivets, neppy irregular fabric, deerskin leather patch

Available for $298 at Son of a Stag

Lot 900

warehouse-900-corlection

Image via Corlection

Fit: Slim tapered

Fabric: 13.5 oz. raw selvedge denim

Details: Yellow selvedge ID, copper rivets, iron buttons,  denim made from blend of Memphis cotton from the U.S.A.

Available for ~$230USD at Corlection