By Derek Guy

Much of denim culture today owes itself to Japan. There are many theories about how this quintessentially American garment was introduced to the Far East, but it’s most widely believed that they came with the American soldiers who decided to stay in Japan after the Second World War. By that time, jeans had evolved from being a workwear garment to a fashion item. Hollywood stars such as James Dean and Marlon Brando gave them a new sense of young, rebellious cool, and they became a symbol of the counterculture that stood against the button-down, sack suit of old. With this new appeal, American soldiers found it easy to sell imported jeans to the fashionable Japanese youth.

At some point, the Japanese developed their unique denim subculture, rather than just follow the one in America. It might have started with Mauro Clothing, who began by importing Lees and Levis in the 1950s. They found they had to recut these garments so they’d fit the average Japanese customer, and in doing so, they learned how they were made. Thus, when the country’s restrictions on denim fabric imports were lifted in 1963, Mauro began manufacturing jeans with Cone Mills denim for the American label Canton. These were the world’s first Japanese produced jeans, though they were sold under an American brand name.

Having gotten the hang of manufacturing, Mauro launched their own line: Big John. The first Big John jeans were also made with Cone Mills denim, but shortly after, Mauro worked with a Japanese mill to weave the world’s first Japanese denim fabric. This made their model – the M1002, first made in 1973 – the first fully Japanese produced line of jeans, from fabrics to construction. It may be curious to reader to know that Big John was also the first to ever make pre-washed jeans. At the time, Japanese customers were used to second-hand jeans from America, and they wanted their Japanese jeans to have the same soft, broken-in feel.  

Of course, today, Japan is mostly known for their raw, selvedge jeans, which are meant to be broken in with time. These often draw from the vintage-repro movement that started in Japan during the 1980s, but Japanese denim culture in general – and denim culture today at large – owes a great debt to early Japanese pioneers such as Bobson, Edwin, Evisu, and Big John.