All You Need to Know About RAW Denim

January 25, 2017

 

Why Japanese Denim?  

Japan, more specifically, Okayama is said to be the denim capital of the world today. So what makes Okayama denim so special? 

 

Okayama has always had a strong workwear manufacturing industry. But it wasn’t until 1960’s that they entered into the denim business. In post WWII Japan, jeans were first introduced by American soldiers and quickly became a fashionable item. As imported American jeans gained in popularity, manufacturers in Okayama decided to try their hand at producing jeans locally. Thus giving birth to the Japanese denim industry.

Japanese denim was developed by mimicking the way American denim was made in the 60’s; with ring-spun and rope-dyed yarns woven on shuttle looms. While many American manufacturers moved onto more cost-efficient methods of mass production in the 70’s, Japanese manufacturers kept the old-school tradition alive valuing quality over quantity.  

Today, there is a limited amount of machinery and skilled craftsman who can still make denim the traditional way of which most are concentrated in the Okayama region. The knowledge and skill to make high quality denim combined with a passion and attention to detail truly make Japanese craftsmen the masters of denim. 

 

 

How it's Made

 

Selvedge denim is made using vintage low speed looms called shuttle looms.   A small wooden shuttle containing the weft yarns weaves the fabric as it is “shuttled” back and forth along the loom, on each pass the shuttle seals the edge of the fabric creating a “self edge”, hence Selvedge Denim.  Shuttle looms are slower, louder and require the skill of master artisans to operate.  The end result is a denim with a hand woven feel that cannot be mass produced. 

Rope Dying is core reason why Japanese raw denim is praised for its fading properties.  The process starts with cotton yarns bundled into a rope and then dipped in a sequence of indigo dye baths.  Between dips the yarns are exposed to the air and the absorbed indigo slowly oxidizes turning the yarns blue.  This process is then repeated multiple times in order to obtain the desired shade of blue.  What’s important is that the yarns are never left in the indigo dye long enough for the dye to penetrate to the core of the yarn.  As a result the outer circumference of the yarn is dyed with multiple layers of indigo dye, while the core remains white.  With wash and wear denim made from rope dyed yarns will gradually shed layers of indigo and slowly revealing the white core yarn underneath the result is a jean with excellent depth of color and personality that is unique to the wearer.

 

 

Know Your Weights

 

Denim weight is the weight of the fabric per square yard measured in ounce. The thickness of warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) yarns, and the density of weave determine the fabric weight.  

 

5-6oz

Featherweight

 

7-9oz

Lightweight 

The lightest weight denim available. Thin and comfortable, the perfect weight denim for hot climates and summer weather.  

 

10-13oz

Standard Weight

 

14-16oz

Midweight

Light enough for the spring and summer, yet heavy enough for the fall. Multi season jeans that are comfortable right off the bat. The most common weight used to make jeans.  Perfect for all seasons with a proper balance of durability and comfort. Heavier than your average denim, and quite rigid to start.  These jeans usually require a few weeks to break in.  Made for hardwearing, these jeans can handle just about anything you throw at them.  These jeans will produce distinct high contrast wear patterns. 

 

17-21oz

Heavyweight

 

22oz +

 Super Heavyweight

It’s like wearing a cardboard box shaped like pants. You must be willing to go through pain and suffering to conquer these jeans. 

 

32oz

World’s Heaviest jeans

Guaranteed uncomfortable. Courtesy of Naked & Famous Denim. You’re welcome!  

 

 

Wearing & Caring For Raw Denim

 

Raw denim jeans have the unique ability to conform to you, the wearer.  As you wear your jeans they will crease and mold to your body, fade at points of strain, wear and tear according to how you live your life, making your jeans that much more personal and unique.  Some denim enthusiasts even wear their jeans for months and sometimes years on end without wash to engrave their lifestyle into the jeans!

While there are no rules to wearing raw denim, here are few handy suggestions on how to get the most life out of your jeans.

Washing

Knowing the right time to wash your jeans isn’t dependant on how long you’ve been wearing your jeans, but how much you’ve been wearing your jeans.  Washing your jeans after a short period of wear will produce a more uniform color. While the more you wear your jeans, allowing them to crease and fade to your body, the more personalized the jeans will become after wash with high contrast fading at points of strain. 

When you’ve decided that your jeans are ready for a wash.

Turn the jeans inside out, and fasten the front buttons or zippers (this is to avoid abrasion to the denim while washing) soak the jeans in a tub using cold water to minimize indigo loss. (If the jeans are very dirty you can use a small amount of detergent)  Gently scrub the jeans and let them soak for about an hour.  Remove the jeans from the tub, and rinse the jeans with water to remove any leftover dirty, dye or detergent.  Ring out any excess water, and finally hang them to dry.  The jeans may feel a bit tight after wash, but will soon stretch back out to normal with wear.  

For an extreme approach try showering in your jeans, or even wearing your jeans to the beach and washing them in the ocean. 

Maintenance

Jeans are not indestructible, no other garment is worn as frequently or as hard as a pair of raw denim jeans.  The longer you wear your jeans between washing, sweat, oil and dirt build weakening the cotton fibers and holes can form.  So from time to time it’s important to do some regular maintenance, not only will it prolong the life of your jeans, it also adds great deal of character.  Patch up any small holes that from using a small piece of denim, patch the jeans from the inside for a cleaner look, patch the jeans from the outside for a more vintage look or try using a contrasting patterned fabric to add personality.

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