Understanding Denim Part 4: Japanese Reproductions

Those who watched the “Faded Blue Planet“, will know that Japanese denim originated as a reproduction of the American brand Levi Strauss. Levi’s are a mass produced, run of the mill denim, so what makes them so special?

As with all great things, there are often humble beginnings. Levi’s were one of the earliest makers of jeans in America. However, back then the appeal was for the workers, who required strong and durable work pants. Levi’s along with Jacob Davis came up with jeans that used copper rivets to strengthen points of strain on their work pants. Jump ahead a few decades and suddenly Levi’s were being worn by younger generation, where it became a fashion trend.

Levi’s were well known for a few key elements in their jeans:

The LEVI’S tab – the iconic red tab on the back pocket of all their jeans at the time. As many of you will know, the “Big E” Levi’s are those that were manufactured before 1971, being some of the originals, whilst the Levi’s made after that date have a lower case “e” on the back tab.

Big E tab

Small e tab

Pocket arcuates – the double arcs on the back pockets of Levi’s are the most commonly seen design today.

Levi’s Pocket Arcs

Rivets – what made the jeans so popular to begin with. Rivets were used to strengthen stress points.

Pocket Rivets

Button fly – the original, and what is considered to be the most proper. This is why most denim enthusiasts will opt for the button fly over a zip fly.

Leather patch – the patch on the back of the jeans with two horses pulling a pair of Levi’s in half.

Levi’s Leather Patch

Coin pocket –  that fifth pocket most commonly above the right pocket. One of the features every pair of jeans now has.

Coin pocket with selvedge lining

You will find ALL these features on the Japanese repro’s of today. Many companies have also faced legal action for copyright infringement of the Levi’s red tab, pocket arcs and even the leather patch, however you will still see many similarities between popular repro brands and the original Levi’s.

Studio D’artisan Patch

Old Ironheart Pocket Arcs

That said, the Levi’s jeans of today offer more form than functionality. They no longer have to cater to the labour work market and now mass produce their jeans using cost-effective methods and materials for greater profit margins.

This is where the Japanese repro’s come in. Many of the top tier repro’s will be handmade to an extent – some are even completely handmade.

Furthermore, they tend to use unique materials – offering high quality denim which are specially created for individual jeans. The construction of the fabric is what gives the denim the character and unique look when faded. The weaving process is very specific in creating the warp and weft and the tightness or looseness of the denim.

The dyed yarns run across the warp giving the denim the indigo colour, whilst the undyed yarns run across the weft creating “slub” in the denim. The thickness can also be varied for different weights as some of the Japanese brands have denim weighing over 26oz.

Slubby Naked & Famous x Oni “Big Slub” jean

The leather patch is also an important and overlooked aspect. A small feature which really helps to define a pair of jeans. Japanese repro’s take this one step further by offering a range of unique leathers and materials which age with the denim.

Last but not least, the repro’s often make use of the hidden rivets seen in the original Levi’s to reinforce areas such as the back pockets and the crotch to provide enthusiasts with the form and functionality that the original Levi’s were known for. Anyone with a quality repro will be able to agree that not only do they look great, they are also a lot more durable compared to other brands on the market today.

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