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Jeans Revolution

101104-6463 - Washed denim jackets at a Kouritsu factory in Okayama, STUDIO D’ARTISAN’s owner

The Japanese Jeans Revolution took place in a seemingly unlikely place, far away from Japan’s fashion capital Tokyo

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Almost all of Japan’s major fashion labels are based in the country’s capital. In Japan’s fashion world, Tokyo rules. But the vintage jeans boom that has swept the world the past twenty years originated in Osaka, 500 kilometres away from the fashion capital. It was started by five rebels, whose products are now renowned amongst the world’s most fanatic jeans lovers.

In Japan, Tokyo acts like a giant vacuum cleaner, it sucks up everybody and everything and never lets anything go. One fifth of Japan’s population now lives in Tokyo. Politics, commerce, the media, the arts, everything that matters in Japan centers in the capital.

There seems to be an imaginary line. Anything west of that line doesn’t really get much attention in Tokyo, is often even looked down upon. There is a definite East-West divide.

This is especially true for fashion. Virtually all of Japan’s fashion brands are headquartered in or nearby Tokyo. Even an established and internationally known designer like Hiroko Koshino, who grew up in Osaka and still has a beautiful villa nearby the city, is based in Tokyo.

A very small number of designers manage to stubbornly stay far away from the capital. Two examples are fashion designer Junya Tashiro who has settled in Fukuoka, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, and artist/designer Yukinori Maeda of Cosmic Wonder. Tokyo doesn’t allow him to concentrate, insists Maeda.

But people like Tashiro and Maeda are the exceptions, and even Tashiro makes the long and expensive trip to Tokyo twice a year to present his collections there.

Tokyo is where the action is, where the jobs are, where all the information is. Most young designers move to Tokyo as soon as they graduate from fashion colleges all over Japan.

60315-0108: Panoramic View of Osaka
Osaka, a seemingly unlikely place for a global jeans revolution

So it is extraordinary that the vintage jeans revolution that has swept the world over the past twenty years originated in Osaka.

A revolution it has truly been. By 2005, the vintage movement had made such an impact on the jeans market, that even staid business magazine Forbes was reporting on such jeans. The market for this once lowly working class item has grown huge. The EU jeans market alone is estimated to be over 14 billion euro.

The Osaka connection to replica jeans has become so obvious that jeans lovers outside Japan now often call the main companies pioneering vintage jeans the “Osaka 5.” To this day these five companies are still based in or near Osaka. STUDIO D’ARTISAN (1979), EVISU (1991), FULLCOUNT (1992) and Warehouse (1995) are from Osaka. Denime (1988) is from Kobe, a city neighboring Osaka.

It is no coincidence that the replica jeans movement started in Osaka. All the needed ingredients, including Japan’s largest denim manufacturer, Kurabo, were available here just when the time was ripe.

Here, a small group of fanatic jeans lovers working in the fashion industry had their fingers on their customers’ pulse. Here were companies that had technical know-how and funding at a time when original vintage jeans from the USA were becoming both popular and rare at the same time. And just a few hours away were countless small factories with dust-collecting old-fashioned looms that were jumping for new business.

Mix in the intense pride, individualism and competitive character of the Osaka 5 founders, and the region’s intense dedication to traditionally made products—as opposed to Tokyo’s love for the latest trend, and you have an explosive brew.

JAPANESE STREETS met up with the Osaka 5 and they recounted their early days.

Top photo: Washed denim jackets at a Kouritsu factory in Okayama, STUDIO D’ARTISAN’s owner

Kjeld Duits About the Author

Inspired by the stunningly creative street fashion that exploded on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the late 1990’s, photo-journalist Kjeld Duits launched JAPANESE STREETS in 2002. This makes JS one of the first fashion blogs on the net, and the very first to cover Japanese street fashion.

Recent articles by Kjeld Duits:

Comment (日本語もOK)

Yay Osaka! We need more photos and fash news on Osaka. Luv Osaka and it simply doesn’t seem to get the respect and notice it so richly deserves overseas [or so it seems].
Thank you for doing this.

As always, your pictures are a delight to peruse.
Tragic Angel
Jan 4, 2012 (3192 days ago)

@Tragic Angel: Thank you.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Jan 5, 2012 (3190 days ago)

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