pondělí 29. července 2013

The Interview with Katsu Manabe and Kishimoto (Momotaro & Japan Blue)


Momotaro jeans at its best


the Czech version of this interview can be found HERE

More information about Momotaro HERE
More information about Japan Blue HERE
Latest news about Momotaro HERE
 and Japan Blue HERE


Kishi & Katsu. At that time Concept Qubus x Denim Heads was not opened yet


Son of the founder of the world famous companies and voice of denim revolution has been found city of Prague as his favorite place. He was here several times and always managed to enrich Denim Heads of interesting insights. During his last visit we had that pleasure to welcome him in our Fashion Monday serie.Due to the fact that our Concept will soon celebrate second year of existence give us a good reason for releasing of first part the interview, which originated in the picturesque surroundings of Letná area. The Denim Heads team on one side of the table discussed over the beers with the Japanese crew, Katsu Manabe and Kishi. The interview was made circa 2 years ago but we founf it maybe even more interesting now. The interview is quite long, contains a lot of interesting informations and we will be more than happy if we could get any feedback from you. Thanks!

DH: Could you tell me please something about your past and about your relation to denim? What was your reason to work in denim industry?

Katsu: Well, the past... When I was a kid, high school student first time I bought worn Levi's 501XX, it is beginning of my denim history like for many others. That time in Japan many shops were making Levi's replicas and people were getting crazy about making their own original fading in different places and enjoying wearing their jeans for whole days.

DH: How long ago it happen?

Katsu: Eighteen years ago.

DH: Eighteen years ago? Ok. It's a long time...

KM: Yeah, it's a long time. And then at the same time we also had some nice Red Wing boots came into market and people drove themselves crazy again to buy. It's always nice to wear Red Wing boots with jeans together. I love it also. So that time I didn't know my apparel style and about father job. I just didn't get that the fabric he made has something to do with apparel or fashion.

Cotton & denim


DH: But in a year of 1993 he did'nt make an denim, did he?

Katsu: Actually he made some denim, but he didn't tell me. I've found when I went first time to visit his office then I've found there exactly the same fabric what I bought. And I was surprised how expensive that denim fabric was. Most of my friends also start buying denim jeans at that time. Then it's started to be kind a trend.

DH: Is it still trend to have an nice quality denim in Japan? Or it's just slowing down?

Katsu: Actually it wasn't before. There was not so much of really premium thing they questioned before, normally were people buying in price of 100 euro like for example Levi's, Edwin or Big John (*japanese popular denim brand). But what I bought was something really different. This raw denim fashion became a new style and also the price had increased to expensive level of 200/300 euro. After I had realized that my father made that jeans which were that expensive, really crazy expensive for other people – most of the kids, my friends and others company's people said – you could not make it, you could not bring them to the market and nobody will want that jeans. Really too expensive. But my father wanted to try something different: high quality denim with real japanese touch. Denim with no compromise. My father did not look on the price primarily...
After we made that plan the situation turned out good in during of one year. We had really good sells to some brands. They were happy and they were coming back. They've really enjoyed our denim. Nobody knows how it came, but as my father made the best denim possible at the moment the customers started to follow and shared experience with others.

Mr.Manabe


DH: Of what does your father forward to be interested in such an american symbol like denim? Do you know that?

Katsu: I think the japanese denim has started in 1960. In the beginning, people were buying american second hand denim and then they were selling it at the market. After Second world war, there was a time of big changes of traditional life for common people and the import of western culture began in Japan and we really fell in love with American culture. In name of few it was authority of actors like James Dean, Marlon Brando, so the famous movie stars had to show how to wear denim. It was first time when denim became popular in Japan. Just a bit later people in my country Started to think about making their own denim.

Shuttle looms room


DH: Was it finished by Toyoda loom machines or american original selvedge hardware?

Katsu: First they've bought and used US vintage shuttle looms.

DH: Like from Cone Mills?

KM: Yeah, we took some from Cone Mills and from other suppliers. Toyoda or Suzuki followed line, these companies started to produce those machines. I mean first they started to produce shuttle looms and not until then they transform themselves into car companies. Maybe they shaped nice car models inspired by this idea. (laughing). In the mid of '60 the first japanese brand was coming it's been named Big John.

DH: We know that brand. They're still alive.

Katsu: Yeah still, they're living legend.

DH: Nowadays, do they produce a material on their own or they buy yours? They don't make, are they?

Katsu: They just produce jeans. They buy a fabric from the others and then they produce the jeans, but they're made up so you can see them sold themselves nowadays (actually, they sell started for last two years, we think - DH note). Not really suprisingly – Big John were first so it's needed to take them as the pioneers with their own market. It's the the way of many of japanese denim factories. Today seems normal following that way, also Edwin made up.

Přidat popisek


DH: Has it started in Tokyo? Or better asked – was that boom spread all over the area including Okayama?

Katsu: It's all started in Okayama. Not so many factories were running close or around Tokyo. There are more the shops to sell, real industrial areas are dislocated at north and west area of Japan. Okayama is the best in western area, there are so many factories there. Before we started with denim we were producers of uniforms, most of school uniforms are coming from Okayama.

DH: Kishi, would be so kind and tell me what was your reason to step into denim industry. What was your background? Did you study textile production technologies?

Kishi: No, I did not. I met my boss at college when I was 23. Katsu's father had founded a company, so I did enjoy being with him since that moment. My passion for jeans started at high school like for everyone else. It was my step into the world of fashion.

DH: So you have started work in company of Katsu's father and you still work there for so many years?

Kishi: I have never changed a company.

DH: First and final work then. That's nice, but it's quite common in Japan, isn't it?

Katsu: Let's say it's difficult to stay for 13 years, it is really long time. Of course, there are so many reasons. First thing is company, second reason is getting money and third reason? Actually, I do not need any. Our job is hard, very hard. We are working from 9 o'clock until midnight, normally. Sometimes we work until 2 or 3 am.

Kishi: My company is very free (laughing). If I want go to sell Momotaro overseas, my boss can accept one or two months for a trip  there. He gives that freedom to go..

Katsu: We make it free, but you take responsibility for yourselfs. Then you earn some money, then it'll work little for you…

DH: …you're free but they want to see the results, ok.

Katsu: You can do whatever you want, but you'll have to bring some money back to the company. If you think deep about this you will like it.

DH: Do you work as a sale manager for japanese market or you design jeans or ..?

Kishi: Two years ago I've started to sell denim fabric for japanese market...

Katsu: Kishi has worked 11 years on producing fabric and he also managed the factory to make all the denim fabric for all the other brands.

DH: Can we say that Kishi supervises all the denim production?

Katsu: He does know about the yarn, the cotton, the fades. He knows how to make it properly.

DH: Are you also responsible about the choosing the best cotton, right color, etc.?

Kishi: Everything what you can imagine about production and design.

DH: It's your job and you do good work, as we can see.

Katsu: People are up to linking all about old 50' Levi's, they're sending little pieces to him. And Kishi analyzes and prepares the production of exactly the same thing.

DH: Really?

Katsu: Yeah, he does his job.

Concealed rivets trying to get thru


DH: How important is for you guys the tradition or heritage when you create your denim? Are there any kinds of limitations or you just feel it kind a inspiration from Levi's stuff for example?

Kishi: We all were inspired by all Levis' vintage, especially those from 50s/60s.

Katsu: First we've tried to make an exact replica of 50' Levi's , because we saw it faded really nice , really nice look. Japanese people liked that very much, thus we liked that too, it was so cool. We wanted to reproduce exactly the same like mid-century models based on that legend. The way how to reproduce vintage denim is not that difficult if you focus just the color or shape. But after you wearing them for one two years the result is different. Then our company have tried think more deeply the way to feel the culture, learn from the books, go to the place or find the cotton exactly the same as original. And then we test and test and test again. Finally we realized that we made one of the finest vintage denim in all the world. But the thing is that you'll see the difference after 2 years and not immediately.

DH: It looks like a situation when Japanese started to complete the cars, doesn't it? They imported some Fords, some cars from Europe, they re-assembly them, have found how it works and then improve them.

Katsu: Sure, when we started we produced the copies. We found a nice textile we wanted to copy. After a while we got the same level of quality and then we got even better level and finally we make our own.

DH: And it's completely different than Chinese do. They're only about to make a copy as exact as possible.

Katsu: Could be, could be, but I don't know. There's a different mentality, completely different culture. It's crazy, Japanese go little closer to deep inside. One thing is that we can't make it in five or ten years, it takes a long time until the real quality shows up. We were established in 1992, but the first japanese denim was made in 60'. So it took 30 years! People keep studying and getting better and better. Now the whole effort is bringing the fruits..

DH: It shows that Japan people are going very deep hand to hand with patience and there is a will to improve everything. Maybe these facts bring Japanese to the top level of making the most esclusive denim?

Katsu: I'm here for selling to show the japanese denim to other countries' people now. But they still don't recognize which denim is mass production and which is made by craftsmans. The aspect of underrating is formed by watching by TV. They don't know yet the fact that japanese stuff is the best, that is top. Let's say it's getting better.

DH: They just don't know, right?

Katsu: In the Japan there's a tough market with so many quality brands trying to make their best. We also make competition ourselves that include dueling each other, that's maybe reason why we are so good, reaching the top levels. If you're not as top as Levi's, nobody will follow you. But, actually, then you don't need to think about competing, you can sell out directly of your hands. (laughing)



DH: That's maybe the reason why the japanese denim is better than american right now. Americans were sleeping for couple last years, right?

Katsu: I had heard that from our president (that is quite interesting that Katsu is talking about his father as about the president - note by DH). We're going up because of the inner competition, but now the world started to realize what is the japanese quality about. Why the Japanese try to make it better? That's because there's another competition is running. The American denim scene is difficult to beat, we can't compete on the quantity levels. They work on the huge machines, with huge volumes, they have to sell massively to so many customers. We work exactly the opposite way, we produce small quantity with the old technology machines, we're focused on real quality. It's hard to change it in this moment. For us there is  more interesting fact: Turkish or Italians produce the denim fabric more by hands in smaller factories, maybe it could help change situation one day.

DH: What a paradox! Now the situation stands like the traditional american producer of jeans LEE buys japanese denim for completing top models under their own brand. Is it your fabric they're buying for?

Katsu: Yeah, it's very interesting, but they buy from some others. Our fabric is too expensive, I've tried to sell them but unfortunately with no result.

DH: What are the three most important elements of the japanese denim products?

Katsu: When I have to describe the first it's most exclusive (and expensive) fabric and it's most difficult fabric to copy. It would take so much time to copy that level of quality. Second important point is the sewing. We don't produce such huge quantities then we can use vintage sewing machines to sew our vintage denim. It's really slow process when comparing to the other countries. (Now we know that there are small jeans brands in a lot of countries than Japan - USA, UK, Netherdlands, Germany, Sweden etc, etc. - ed.note) We folded the way it feels more softly, roughly as a natural. Also important i that fact that we use natural cotton threads. Denim is a fabric which shrinks, if we make this kind of tension to solve then it goes well after wearing then it feels more natural garment. That part is also important for old natural fade jeans. The third part is taste. If fabric and sewing match together it works if doesn't match you can't have that beautiful denim. Third part couldn't be just described with words it has to be felt.



DH: Of course you work with vintage sewing machines, ain't you? Are these a japanese machines or does it depends?

Katsu: The hand parts are made by american Union Special from era of 30', other machines are japanese – Juki, Seiko, Japanese Brown etc. If we sew like a really speedy then you have normal flat then after you wear fat denim which is called japanese vintage premium denim. So we cannot produce jeans very quickly. You can't work fast on old machines.

NOTE: you can see more pictures and information from the manufacturing on Momotaro site.

DH: All those Momotaro jeans are made from Zimbabwe cotton exclusively?

Katsu: Yes, all are made from Zimbawbe cotton and the fabric is woven always on selvedge looms.

DH: Why did you bring Japan Blue jeans on the market? Why is it a little bit cheaper? Is there any loss of quality?

Katsu: Actually, we keep similar quality as a Momotaro original, but we just change sewing parts to get more simple. We can feel it almost every time we trade with customer, brands or designer, not really everyone understands what happens when you use low (old) technique or making that slow and what is the difference from the other fabric. Momotaro Jeans were meant for japanese customer. For sure they can understand, but for most of overseas customer is little bit too much detailed points, it's too much precise to have an objective view. That's why we decided to have something more simple, easier to understand, something to start to learn about vintage japanese denim. Japan Blue focuses more to the  fabric, which we made on our own. We just place lower type of denim to people. For them who wash the denim the price of raw denim is too high and also there's no reason to buy expansive fabric and then put it into washing machine.

DH: You'd have to fade it to yourself, because then you get real. One thing is buy new raw jeans, but the best jeans you can get are those which you use for one or more years..

Katsu: Mainly, that's way how to enjoy denim. You wear your own denim, you worn your own denim. You make your jeans very personal and unique. That's the way we enjoy, the way we like for long time already.

Japan Blue make not only jeans but also chinos, badanas etc.


DH: For example I've mentioned on JapanBlue jeans that there are no hidden rivets on the back pocket, probably those are cheaper and thus more acceptable for market outside of Japan?

Katsu: The question of rivets… Actually, it was really difficult part to have leave these details or not. Exactly the same as in case of other rivets. No really question of fashion, people can really choose cheaper or premium jeans. Japan Blue or Momotaro.

DH: Can you tell us, were there any influences of japanese denim to japanese culture?

Katsu: I think the denim business runs in circles. The trends are always returning. You can see sixties, seventies, eighties fashion got back repeatingly. And it's same for denim too.

DH: So who is the japanese James Dean? (laughing)

Katsu: Ehm… Akagi Keiichiro. There has been one TV star who had wear the jeans, white shirt, leather jacket. You're laughing, but next big denim boom is coming. The big american festival Woodstock is inspiring so many of young people in Japan who want to express themselves want to do something for themselves are following the culture of hippies. They're produce their own culture, young japanese want to express the same way as the other people around the world do. It is really cool fashion at the moment and it became into the huge trend.

DH: Do they still use bellbottoms jeans?

Katsu: Yeah, it's true. It was influential fashion trend – you know – bellbottom jeans, long hair, guitars…

DH: …and flowers everywhere (laughing).



DH: As far as I know there's Lightning magazine from Japan. ( Now we know very well, there is a nice collection of Lightning Magazine, Clutch, Workwear etc.- note by DH). There are some issues which are only about the denim. It is almost impossible to find something similar in Europe. (Nowadays there is for example The Heritage Post which can be described kind of similar..)

Katsu: This is good example of typical japanese thinking. One of editors who really loved heritage,  liked to move thing forward too. He is able to make an issue just about that fabric. Why? Because he loves denim! He really wants to know the culture behind. He looks for particular details, reaching everything behind the common scene. If there's some Europeans curious about denim they could focus and find out, but this is the best magazine in whole world. So, maybe Japanese are crazy.

DH: It's the big market, very big market. Here in Europe is so many nations with different languages, different tastes. That's maybe reason why you are so special?

Katsu: There are more differences. For me it is interesting to watch disproportion in between European and Japanese fashion. In Europe are people more focused about design, in Japan it is more focusing about material and history. That means we have such a large maniac communities for example talking about denim, other people learning, searching for histories. Something different starts different points of view: one is from the history and second comes with fashion.

DH: These two ways are sometimes crossing, right?

Katsu: That's why the japanese people like you're looking bounced. We love European culture a lot, we're buying Luis Vuitton, Channel, Armani, Adidas, Puma. We love because we don't have it.

DH: From opposite stand, we love japanese limited editions which look very crazy as well…

Katsu: Me is loving Japanese design too. We like it a lot of different.

DH: Can you describe just shortly differences in denim industry in Japan in opposite to Europe or U.S.A. in your opinion? Isn't it little all behind and quite similar?

Katsu: There still distance between the mind and a kind of thinking. Main reason is how we take the question of business, how we manage it and how we feel marketing. Our small denim brands we established, first thing first we think about how to prepare a best denim which we wanted to make, not primarily focused on business itself. But after that we make up a small group of customers and maybe some small companies. Then after that when we built the quality product we are sure about then we think about business or how to show to the public. Of course there are companies more focused on profit first but we need to have quality to sell.

DH: Let's suppose it is quite right attitude, because no one can imagine that huge impact that Levi's used to have with a series of working wear while the other people were still wearing suits. If we simple that, when we meet the guy from 1910 we can say he's got a proper clothing he would be look quite normal… What do you think about future of denim, where will it go? I'm not asking about stupid painting on back pocket, brilliants on jeans etc. I'm just talking about good quality denim and I'm wondering if it's possible to make it even better?

Katsu: I think so, it is possible! I feel that during that confrontation when I show our denim to the people in outside countries. People respect and understand when it's a good quality or when it's different and of course some of them feel passion we put inside. Then they could share those informations with the others and then they make communities (hopefully we already to start to build such a community here, on our relatively small Czech market - note by DH).

DH: So does it mean that the future depends on sharing the experience within the small communities of denim lovers? Or is that you cannot say, because it is very hard to see to the future…

Katsu: I can guess that after 5 years there will be cheaper denim and cheaper brands will still sell very well and many many people will still wear that "low level" denim every day. But I also believe that at the same time people which never wear denim before they will start to have an interest in a raw
 denim then. In Japan it happens by Uniqlo, we thought that people which never put on denim now they shop in Uniqlo, we never know, they're some. Now people which never care about fashion, they spend some money to buy cheaper raw denim. And then? They will move forward to us.

DH: In our country they will come to us hopefully, of course they should there's no so much other choices. Otherwise they could go to spend their money to so called fashion boutiques or whatsoever… So, you see your future that more and more people will be involved in a high quality raw denim. Do you think is possible that your product will be better than it is now? Can it be improved by cut, by fabric itself?

Katsu: I think by the fabric for sure. We have to think about everyday improving, it's our company concept. We never stop evolving. We never think we are best in the world.

DH: You won't do the same mistake as american did, will you? (laughing)

Katsu: I hope not, hahah. For Momotaro Jeans not, we want to keep the highest quality until the next generation. We keep a lot of japanese tradition, japanese mindset, we have it inside. Yeah, we are expensive, but the products we make are the best quality made in a traditional way.



DH: One question came into my mind…  How about the japanese girls? Do they appreciate your raw denim or not?

Katsu: Raw denim? Still not. (laughing)

DH: Because I've tried pursuit my lady to wear raw denim also. She didn't like the idea of wearing raw denim for few months and not to wash it…

Katsu: Ladies are very difficult to approach for raw denim market. They need the comfortable fit and on first place is a style, cutting is the most important. In Japan, the women buy Momotaro jeans, they understand quality denim and they want buy.

DH: But they wash it...

Katsu: Of course they wash it. They don't want dirty jeans.

Kishi: When boy has bought the Momotaro jeans, she bought the jeans too. And she tried to wash jeans same way.

Katsu: The boy teaches girlfriend.

DH: But boy doesn't wash them. Or after few months.

Kishi: He does not wash, he just wears.

Katsu: When girlfriend really loves the boy she follows. (laughing)

DH: For example, when I'm coming get back from party outside in my Momotaro jeans, the morning after when I wake up, my jeans are already outside to get fresh air because bad smell. (at least she says so)

Katsu: That's the way to go..

DH: But I still cannot persuade my girl to do the same. That's why I'm asking.  Do the japanese girls act different way or they are same like in Europe if they need to wash jeans. Sometimes is quest of loyality with the boy, but european girls are more emancipated here.

Katsu: Pull out all of smell. The girls hate bad smell or dirt. If they think this not dirty or this does not have crazy aroma they accept. Which turn us say they're no pollutions or dirty wheels inside...

DH: Well, but in our bars and clubs is everyone smoking, someone pours beer over jeans so it can smell really badly after the night. Could be also good test of proper girlfriend when you show half year unwashed jeans…You can see.

Katsu: But the smell would be disappearing during of one or two days if you put it outside. Especially in case of indigo fabric. If not you can use the water. Or wash them, in the worst scenario...

-Job- & Amph


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