What’s so special about Japanese Selvedge denim?

Created Date: 2015-01-26

What’s so special about Japanese Selvedge denim?

Japanese denim textile skills developed over a period of time, stemming from Japan's Edo period (from 1603 to 1868), when strict feudal rule prevented the use of silk.  This resulted in Japan planting cotton in territories such as Okayama for clothing and textile needs.  Cotton fibre was difficult to dye, unless using indigo, which is also the classic dye colour for denim. Natural indigo dye is derived from plants such as the strobilanthes variety native to places such as Japan's Ryukyu Islands. 

The Meiji Restoration in 1868 brought about the end to Japan's Edo period and was responsible for the emergence of Japan as a modernised growing nation. With this growth, the Okayama region further established itself as a leading textile producer in the country, being in close proximity to the cotton growing areas, with foundations laid from the cotton indigo dyeing traditions formed back in the Edo period.

Modern industrialisation improved the processes and machinery used to weave cloth, culminating in the development of the Model G Automatic Selvage Loom by Sakichi Toyoda, who founded the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works.  Forbes notes that Sakichi Toyoda sold the patent of his machine to a British company, donating the funds to his son to start up a motor car company, otherwise known as Toyota.  Fabrics produced on such shuttle looms are made with tightly woven strips typically one metre wide.  The edges on these strips are finished with woven bands running down each side to prevent the fabric from fraying, unravelling, or curling.  The edges of the cloth are finished on the loom as part of the weaving process and referred to as having a “self-edge”, deriving the name “selvedge”.

With the passing of the Second World War and evolution of American youth cult, epitomised by the jeans wearing James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, American culture quickly became very popular in Japan.  This popularity spawned a hunger for American jeans, so prompting the development of Japanese denim manufacture.

In the Western World, denim manufacture was following the mass market and moving away from traditional selvedge finishes to weaving the fabric more cheaply on projectile looms.   However, with the demand for denim in Japan and in particular the desire for the high quality artisan Americana feel, there was a drive to perfect the technique of producing selvedge denim locally.  It made sense to use the Toyoda shuttle looms available in the Okayama region and with the historical skills in indigo dyeing to give the denim its familiar colour, the first Japanese selvedge denim was successfully woven in 1972 by the Kurabo Mill.  Since then the skills have evolved leading to Japanese denim manufacturers becoming the world’s best in terms of knowledge and production.

The Japanese Selvedge denim we use is rope dyed carded cotton yarn, woven by the Kuroki Company, Okayama on Toyoda shuttle looms to create the self-edge.  Rope dyeing ensures less tension is placed on the yarn during the dyeing process than the faster sheet dyeing method of the mass market.  It costs more, but the lower tension in the dyeing process ensures a higher quality and stronger yarn.  This coupled with the selvedge weave ensures our Quantock denim is made from high quality artisan cloth that will wear gracefully over the long lifetime of the garment.

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