The umbrella that sits over some of the most revered names in the game including Sugar Cane and Buzz Rickson’s, Toyo Enterprise has formulated some of the most respected garments in our niche of repro workwear, sportswear, and militaria. We’re taking a look at the Japanese heritage clothing giant and the brands that make it so prominent in our culture.
Toyo Enterprise History
The Toyo story starts with its predecessor company, Kosho & Co., an import/export company for clothing fabric that was founded in the wake of World War II. American soldiers who remained stationed in Japan after the war were keen to obtain traditional Japanese garments as souvenirs, such as obi and kimonos. In response to this demand, Japanese clothiers began making garments with oriental embroidery that were sold to the flocks of American soldiers in Japanese markets.
Japan’s love affair with baseball saw the oriental embroidery applied to baseball-style jackets, which birthed what we now know as the “Sukajan” a.k.a “Souvenir Jacket”. Toyo Enterprise claims that a then-employee of Kosho & Co. conceived the idea of the Sukajan jacket, producing them under the name TAILOR TOYO.
Kosho & Co. sold these jackets on the street stalls in Ginza, Tokyo, embroidering soldier’s unit names, base names, and oriental motifs. They proved so popular that they spread to US military bases all over Japan, and eventually, the US itself. Throughout the 50s, Kosho & Co. continued to import/export fabrics and garments, including rayon and aloha shirts, later to be replicated by Toyo Enterprise’s Sun Surf brand.
Toyo Enterprise was officially established in Tokyo, in November of 1965 by an important member of the Kosho Company, Susumu Kobayashi. The purpose of Toyo Enterprise was to manufacture clothing for the US military bases in Japan, after the US military’s full-scale intervention in the Vietnam War. It would initially only make jeans upon special request from military base exchanges.
It wasn’t until after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 that Toyo Enterprise would become a fully domestic clothing manufacturer. It was then that Toyo’s most recognizable brand, Sugar Cane, was born. Specializing in work clothing and denim jeans, Toyo’s domestic brand was heavily influenced by the company’s long standing association with America. It also brought a new type of denim fabric to the industry, blending sugar cane fibers with cotton to produce a unique ‘Sugar Cane denim’.
By the mid 1980s, Toyo Enterprise had flourished into an outstanding clothing manufacturer, borrowing heavily from the vintage Americana and workwear to create its reproductions and designs. Sugar Cane continued as the main clothing label, while Toyo Enterprise began to introduce new labels like Buzz Rickson’s in 1993, and acquired image rights to the US workwear brands Cat’s Paw and Headlight Overalls.
Toyo Enterprise Today
Toyo Enterprise continues to be a multi-faceted heritage clothing brand based in Japan. Its focus remains on quality clothing that is true to original designs, built using vintage sewing machines and time-honored construction techniques.
Sugar Cane is a mainstay in the world of selvedge denim, stocked in dozens of retailers around the globe, with its 1947 and 1966 raw denim jeans being among the most accessible in the raw denim market. The recent boom of 50s style shirts has also landed Sun Surf and the rest of the Toyo gang in a handful of retailers outside of Japan, including Self Edge, Clutch Cafe, and Franklin & Poe
Toyo also appears to have image rights for a number of now-defunct or extremely small American brands, which are outlined in the below list of brands under the Toyo Enterprise umbrella.
Brands/ Lines Under the Toyo Umbrella
There are many brands, lines, and labels under the Toyo Enterprise name. Many are American brands that Toyo have obtained image rights for, such as Star of Hollywood and Indian Motorcycle.
Established in 1975, Sugar Cane was Toyo’s premier domestic clothing brand, specializing in work clothing and denim jeans. Heavily influences by American workwear, Sugar Cane is centered on denim goods and is known worldwide as one of Japan’s most iconic raw denim labels. As well as producing stellar five-pocket jeans and denim trucker jackets, Sugar Cane is also praised for its use of actual sugar cane fibers in its denim, which creates a unique, rough texture.
Whitesville is another American sportswear brand of the 1940s – 1960s, resurrected by Toyo Enterprise to reproduce iconic American garments. Known for its quality 2-packs of circular-knit t-shirts, Whitesville also produces a range of charming Letterman and Baseball Jackets.
Cat’s Paw was founded in Baltimore as Cat’s Paw Rubber Co. in 1904. Toyo seems to have image rights to apply the iconic Cat’s Paw branding to a range of basic workwear clothing. Toyo also uses the original Cat’s paw soles on all the boots from its Lone Wolf brand.
Style Eyes & Co.
Style Eyes & Co. is an original Toyo Enterprise label, to reimagine the charm of American sportswear from the 1930s and 1950s. Rayon shirts, baseball jackets, and plaid shirts are items produced by Style Eyes each year.
Lone Wolf Boots is Toyo Enterprise’s sole footwear label, made by the hands of a few skilled Japanese craftsmen who take pride in quality manufacturing of vintage-style work boots used by Engineers and Loggers. Each Lone Wolf boot is made with Horween leather, Goodyear welt construction, and comes with a Cat’s Paw rubber sole.
Established in 1993, Buzz Rickon’s is Toyo’s famed military reproduction label and probably the most well-known Toyo brand along with Sugar Cane. Using dead-stock components and custom re-commissioned fabrics which are all constructed on original vintage sewing machines, Buzz Rickson’s meticulously reproduces military apparel from flight jackets to chambray shirts and Boonie hats. The brand also produces five-pocket jeans and denim trucker jackets.
The first Toyo brand conceived prior to the establishing of Toyo Enterprise, Tailor Toyo produces Sukajan (souvenir) jackets, an enduring style icon of the turbulent relationship between Japan and America.
Crafted from silk or rayon, Tailor Toyo’s Sukajan jackets are second to none and feature stunning embroidery that harkens back to when American soldiers would have Japanese tailors decorate baseball jackets with their base or unit names.
Sun Surf (incl. Keoni of Hawaii)
Sun Surf is Toyo’s revered Hawaiian shirt label. Famed for its beautifully crafted aloha shirts with traditional Hawaiian prints, Sun Surf uses top-class Rayon and coconut shell buttons, as well as a range of custom and reproduced prints.
Keoni of Hawaii is Sun Surf’s line of aloha shirts using original prints designed by the legendary John Meigs. Meigs began his career designing aloha shirts while living in Honolulu prior to World War II and is credited with designing over 300 iconic Hawaiian textile prints.
Cheswick was an American sportswear brand between the 1940s and 1960s. Toyo Enterprise resurrected this brand to produce a range of sportswear, predominantly t-shirts and sweats. Most of the Cheswick Sportswear range is made in the USA or Canada.
King Louie was a bowling shirt brand manufactured by Holiday Sportswear, a Kansas-based American brand present between the 1940 and 1970s. This label has been resurrected by Toyo to reproduce iconic bowling shirts with chainstitch embroidery and time-honored presentation boxes.
Headlight is an early twentieth-century workwear brand resurrected by Toyo that now produces a range of traditional railroading workwear like coveralls, overalls, and denim pants.
Star of Hollywood
Another defunct 50s American brand resurrected by Toyo, known for unique open-collar shirts with animal prints.
Founded in 1901, Toyo’s Indian Motorcycle is a spinoff of the American motorcycle brand that was licensed by Toyo and offers rugged, biker style goods with a questionably problematic logo.