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Kojima, Japan’s denim capital

The global denim market was valued at $56,178.1 million in 2017 and is forecasted to witness a CAGR of 5.8% during 2018–2023. Changing the Asian retail clothing industry and growing global e-commerce industry buoyed the overall denim market.

Kojima, Japan Denim
Figure 1: Kojima is dedicated to jeans. Courtesy: Collected

Japan’s denim production has a long history, not just in the mid-1960s and early ’70s, when jeans became a sought-after fashion item for Hollywood. Japanese textile companies have begun weaving denim fabrics to recreate popular American ingredients at home.

Amazingly, denim production centers were developed in the textile-producing region, Kojima, Fukuyama and Ibara and Hiroshima provinces. Japan always survived in apparel sector.

Kojima has been known as the ‘Denim Capital of Japan’ for almost a decade and a half. Kojima’s introduction is mainly due to the marketing of the city’s tourism board, as well as its Jeans Street, where visitors can find the perfect pair.

There are about 40 specialist shops to browse the birthplace of denim in Japan and get insights about the history and craftsmen behind the world’s best jeans. At present, there are over 38 firms producing finished jeans in the area, and over 200 companies in related industries, together comprising around 40% of all domestic production in this sector.

In a country where craftsmen are so highly prized, it is not surprising that public goods like jeans have also grown into an art form. Japan’s minimum wage per hour is $7.88. Apart from that Japanese denim has the status of ‘convertible denim heads’, who are ready to pay $ 274 or more for the pair.

Kojima jeans street japan blue jeans
Figure 2: Japan Blue Jeans shop exterior

It isn’t difficult find out why Japan is so popular with their denim, during World War II one of the side effects of US occupation was the affection for Japanese among Japanese youths, which embraced American pop culture and created a healthy black market in used Levi’s and Lee jeans.

Kojima textile factories were famous school uniforms and workwear for decades, then they saw a business opportunity. The first Japanese denim company chose the most American-sounding name it could come up with: Big John and then it did the same for its women’s brand: Betty Smith.

In 1970 Big John began to create its own denim using old shuttle looms and traditional indigo blue and Japanese jeans were born.

Big John is still king of jeans in Japan followed by Café Wage opened in 1969 first jeans maker of Japan, Momotaro Jeans, Japan Blue Jeans, Collect, Soulive, and Setto. Denim makers – such as Kaihar, Japan’s largest denim maker, which accounts for at least 50% of the local market – are leveraging innovation to entice more customers and boost sales.

Like other textiles, Japan’s denim industry is also threatened by increasing production in other countries, where fabrics can be made more affordable. But companies like Japan Blue and Kuroki aren’t too concerned, because they know that there are certain qualities, especially unique shades that can’t be reproduced elsewhere.

This is not only due to each company’s own dyeing recipes but also due to factors such as minerals in the water in the production area. President Tatsushi Kuroki says, “Shades of the same color could not be made in factories anywhere else in the world. All of our products are things that can’t be made anywhere else.”

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