Japanese jeans: Past, Present, and Future

Tokyo’s twice yearly Japan Fashion Week takes place this week, which is actually interesting for not so typical reasons (no Posh sightings here). Instead, we give you a look at a rather technical exhibition on the denim industry in Japan, “Japan Blue,” held in conjunction with fashion week.

As you, internet reader of things Japanese are probably aware of, the country is a well-known producer of coveted, artisan jeans. The Japan Jeans Association would also like you to know that they are hard at working making your urban uniform more environmentally friendly. To that effect, textile manufacturer Nisshinbo displayed denim fabric that incorporates discarded banana stocks (left) while Nihonmenpu exhibited items naturally dyed with mulberry (center) and lavender (right).

There was also a section highlighting the work of manufacturers to eliminate harmful waste produced during the washing and dying process. Apparently creating an average pair of jeans takes 200 liters of water, and since an average of 45 million pairs of jeans are created annually in Japan, that means 9 million tons of water are used and then discharged into rivers and oceans. Howa Co. is working on a procedure called ozone de-colorization (or more commonly, air washing) that takes advantage of the oxidizing effects of ozone (O3), produced from air, to break down and remove color from dyes with out needing water. The result (pictured below) looks pretty good.

Of course one of the reasons that Japan took up denim manufacturer was to make use of its long history of indigo dying, as demonstrated in antique traditional workwear also on display.

While the exhibition was limited to JFW guests, there was an additional denim display, the Denim no Mimi Project, for the public at main venue in Tokyo Midtown. Denim no mimi (denim’s ear) is the Japanese word for selvedge, the unused edge of denim woven on large looms. This project, a collaboration between Kaihara, a textile corporation, and Edwin, uses selvedge and other waste materials to create artistic installations.

More manageable waste products are available at the new Edwin Denim Galaxy that opened in April in Arakawa-ku.

Actually we lied, there is a celebrity element: the Japan Jeans Association sponsors an annual Best Jeanest Award that goes to the public figure who is voted to “wear jeans the best.”

The top prize this year went to pop singer Koda Kumi (far left), for the third year in a row.

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About the Author

Rebecca Milner was a contributor at ShiftEast.com, and is currently a Japan correspondent for Lonely Planet.