We are pleased that we were once again able to convince Tilmann Wröbel, creative director and founder of the Monsieur-T. Denim lifestyle studio, to serve as a guest author. Here he writes about his experiences and the insights he gained during his last trip to Japan. 

Japan, proud to be one of the last countries with fully functional ancient denim dyeing and weaving methods, organized a trip for a few denim experts who wanted to know more. Motio Hotta and the local Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) team prepared everything for a few exciting days in the Ibara, Kurashiki and Fukuyama areas.



Takeyari technicians getting the yarn ready
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Takeyari technicians getting the yarn ready

Coming in straight from Paris, Laurent Schneider (Balmain) and I had a few hours in Tokyo to do a fast shopping trip in the snowy streets of Shibuya/Harajuku. Early in the next morning, the Shinkansen train took us to Fukuyama, where we joined the rest of the team.

Grace Koh from New York (Alexander Wang), Elena Benetti from Italy (Giada/Jacob Cohen) and Laura Brown and Jacqueline Buchanan from London (both from Mih-Jeans), were ready and waiting for us on the Jetro bus. After some extremely brief introductions, we were on the way to our first meeting.

First stop Takeyari:

Takeyari is a Kurashiki-based canvas-weaving unit. It’s not a proper indigo destination, but a fantastic factory to discover the extreme quality levels in traditional Japanese cotton weave and finishing.

 Finished traditional Takeyari cotton canvas
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Finished traditional Takeyari cotton canvas

Second stop Showa denim:

I had visited the Showa facilities just a few weeks earlier and knew that the Showa team wasn’t specialized in big marketing presentations, but this time Tetsuro Takasugi had prepared a proper company presentation to warm things up. It was also great to see his machines weaving “the real thing,” but I admit, I would have loved to see some of his famous silk-denim developments in action.

 At Showa with Tetsuro Takasugi
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
At Showa with Tetsuro Takasugi

At the end of the day, it became clear to all of us that this travel would not be about enjoying and relaxing but would have a very intense Japanese working pace.

Well, denim was first a workwear fabrication, so working is what it’s about!

After a delicious seafood “denim-business dinner,” we were all happy to take some well deserved rest in our Kurashiki Hotel, which offered us a fantastic view on the bay and the sea.

Kurashiki bay view
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Kurashiki bay view

The next morning different press and TV teams, and especially my friends from the denim-invested KSB TV, joined us at the next stop:

Kuroki

Each and every step and move we made was filmed now, and photographers and cameras were all over the place.

Mr. Tatsushi Kuroki welcomed us in his very warm and friendly manner. Being a very smart man, he took us to the halls of his factories where no competitor logos from other luxury brands, or any confidential developments could be seen by the international designers.

Kuroki shuttle looms
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Kuroki shuttle looms

(L to R) Laurent, Elena, myself, Mr. Kuroki, Grace, Jacqueline & Laura pose in front of the Kuroki rope-dyeing machine
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
(L to R) Laurent, Elena, myself, Mr. Kuroki, Grace, Jacqueline & Laura pose in front of the Kuroki rope-dyeing machine

One of the things I noticed during the travel was the very natural way of the Japanese Jetro team and manufacturers to present this extremely unique and excellent way of crafting denim, as if there was no other less excellent, less heritage way in denim fabric dyeing and manufacturing.

So I made myself available to the Jetro team to provide more information and points on comparable, more price-pointed denim manufacturing processes one can find across the world.

Our bus took us then to Fukushima, where our fourth stop was a mini fabric fair organized especially for us, in the seminar space of our Fukushima Hotel.

The designers held short company presentations for the Japanese manufacturers, and then 13 mills and manufacturers showed their ranges in separate booths, in different meeting rooms. What an efficient idea! And it was a pleasure to go through the hangers and prototypes of that selected group of Japanese manufacturers in just one afternoon.

MiH Jeans team working at the mini fabric fair
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
MiH Jeans team working at the mini fabric fair

Alexander Wang team working at the mini fabric fair
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Alexander Wang team working at the mini fabric fair

The last day brought us to our fourth stop:

Senyo Senko:

Senyo Senko is highly specialized in printing and more notably in indigo piece dyeing. With this process being a key asset with current trends, it was extremely interesting to see the indigo blue rotary machines working.

Jetro then prepared a lovely noodle lunch in the temple of the Numakumacho Castle. A few minutes of zen and heartwarming noodles, and of we were off to the next and last stop.

 Very traditional chunky noodles and big chopsticks
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Very traditional chunky noodles and big chopsticks

Sakamoto denim:

Sakamoto Denim is an ancient indigo dyeing facility in Fukuyama. At Sakamoto Denim, indigo thread has been dyed for generations. In the factory we discovered traditional rope-dyeing with modern-day ecological features such as electrolysis.

After that…. we had the chance to see the private museum of Sakamoto Denim and the ancient denim-dyeing fixtures from back in the day, when denim was still dyed by grandfather Sakamoto by hand, in XXL terracotta bowls.

 Ancient indigo dyeing bowls at Sakamoto Denim
Photo: xxx
Ancient indigo dyeing bowls at Sakamoto Denim

Sakamoto Denim: Rare & ancient hand-dyed indigo yarn
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Sakamoto Denim: Rare & ancient hand-dyed indigo yarn

This was the end of the official JETRO part, and we all split up, happy to have witnessed authentic denim know-how and to have ordered hangers and fabrics from Japanese denim manufacturers whom we might not have met at regular fabric fairs.

But for me the day was not over…. I had a personal meeting with Mr. Yoshi KAIHARA, organized by my Japanese friends.

We went to the latest facility build by Mr. Kaihara a few years ago. It’s a mind-blowing, fully robotized factory, where raw cotton enters on one side, and a few million meters leave on the other side….

“No photos allowed! Especially not on Facebook or Instagram,” stressed Mr. Kaihara.

And I can understand; it was the first time I had seen Swiss robots doing such a fantastic work, at such a large scale, for a huge amount of future jeans.

Mr. Kaihara
Photo: Tilmann Wröbel
Mr. Kaihara

On my way back (directly to Bluezone Munich, where more denim adventures were coming up) I thought to myself: Japan is always a great destination to know a lot more about how to properly make denim!



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