Journey into Japanese Denim
a brief history on selvedge
I’ve always had one pair of jeans.
If someone ever gifted me a second, the old or new would fall to a tragic accident. Train tracks grow teeth, construction sites spray concrete everywhere, my kids splash paint everywhere. I’ve just accepted that life wont let me have more than one pair. It’s ok. What’s not ok is that the quality of what I considered decent jeans has lowered to a point where I’m having to buy two or three pairs a year. I used to make a pair last at least a year before I needed a replacement. Enter raw Japanese selvedge denim. A mouthful I know.
What the hell is selvedge?
It’s just a reference to the method used in the weaving process. Selvedge denim is made with a shuttle loom, the final product has a self-binding edge. Self(v)-edge. Note the unfrayed edge. Most clothing is made with projectile looms and require an overlock stitch to close the open end frayed edges. Take a look at the inside of something your wearing and you can see what I’m talking about up close.
So why Japan?
Simple answer, quality and shuttle looms. Get real selvedge denim. But honestly, anyone can make selvedge. Japan just owns the trend. If you’ve ever looked at the fashion culture in Japan, you know they go all out. They don’t just copy a style. They make it their own. In the 1950s Japan set their eyes on the iconic Levi’s. US military outposts were filled with old 501 jeans. Classic American selvedge denim. Something American denim producers would drift away from. High demand in the US lead to a shift from shuttle looms to projectile looms. I don’t blame them. Projectile looms can produce around 15 times more denim than shuttle looms. But it was ultimately the first step in sacrificing the quality mindset for mass production. Japan took the classic selvedge denim and started developing new methods and technology but only if it stayed true to the classic. They kept the shuttle looms alive and focused on quality. Even if it meant limited quantity and higher cost.
Everything I read warned me about a break in period. How uncomfortable they might feel. I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m in love. I slipped right in. They hold me close but not so close that they feel tight. I won’t lie. It feels like a lovers embrace. It’s warm and soft. I want to sleep with these jeans. And I don’t mean sleep in them, I mean take them to town and whisper sweet nothings into those pocket holes. Maybe slide a finger between the belt loops. They feel good to put on. But they’re jeans so I’ll have to settle for just wearing them.
Too long didn’t read
Japanese selvedge denim is usually made with quality and care in mind. My new jeans feel good. Try it out sometime.
Want to a little more info?
Take a look at heddels or even the rawdenim sub on reddit. Both are loaded with articles on raw denim, not just Japanese.