5/15/2013

Denim Mills: Japan Blue Group Denim (Collect, Rampuya, Momotaro, Japan Blue)

Nestled between sea and hillside on the southern side of Honshu lies the heart of the denim world in Japan. The Kojima district in Okayama, housing just less than 16,000 people, is home to every major denim mill in the Land of the Rising Sun. It is here that Japan Blue Group, the makers of Momotaro and Japan Blue Jeans reside. Japan Blue Group, a conglomerate of Collect Co., Rampuya, and Momotaro, is not one of the oldest mills in the area but it is held in the highest esteem by both Japan's denim enthusiasts and those around the world. In 1992 a denim salesman named Hisao Manabe collaborated with his friend Masahiro Suwaki to form Collect Co. This venture, named for Manabe's passion for collecting fabrics and denim, was created with the vision to sell fabrics that would withstand the test of time. While the company originally intended to buy fabrics from weave makers and sell to garment makers, Manabe quickly found that the textile market was dominated by larger companies. At this time the vintage denim revival was well underway but, despite his connections, Manabe found it difficult to source selvedge fabric as a small company. To combat this, he began creating his own fabrics, and in 1993 he purchased his own shuttle looms. 
It was a rocky start: In order to create artisan textiles according to their vision they needed to become experts with the machines and the materials. In 1994 they began using Zimbabwe cotton, widely considered to be the highest quality with a lustrous and flexible character. Manabe was worried that the denim wouldn't sell because of the high price, but to his surprise it was very popular. The quality of the denim they were producing began to change the view of denim to that of a fine material, and Manabe cites this change as one of his proudest accomplishments. In 1995 they teamed up with a company named Aizome (the Japanese word for indigo dye) and created their first natural indigo fabric. This fabric, which they named Japan Blue, was the namesake for the Japan Blue Group and the Japan Blue jeans line. At this point Collect Co. was still a mostly wholesaler for high quality textiles. However, in 1996 Rampuya split from the main company to focus on the creation of high quality denims.
Manabe bought his own fields to grow indigo specifically for the Rampuya denim, and purchased more shuttle looms. Meanwhile Collect Co. began to explore new fabrics such as army tents and sacks with oil finishes.  Through the next decade the two companies expanded and became highly reputable, but they were still focused on the creation and selling of fabrics. It was not until 2005 that Manabe and Suwaki decided to create their own denim line. They felt that the understanding of high quality denim in Japan was on the decline, and the best way to explain it to the public was to get it in their hands. With the goal to create the highest quality jeans in the world Momotaro was formed, and the Japan Blue Group as we know it today was born.
With careful attention to every detail Momotaro quickly became one of the most reputable denim brands in the world. The beauty of Momotaro is its roots in the culture of the area. From its namesake in the peach boy folktale, to the history of textile manufacture in Okayama, to the artisan spirit of Japanese manufacturing, everything about Momotaro collaborates to create one of the finest brands available. In 2010 the Japan Blue line was created under Momotaro as a place to experiment with new denim, leaving the purest and highest quality creation to Momotaro. Today, they are the only label which creates their product from the beginning, allowing tight control of quality and consistency every step of the way. Collect Co. now has offices and showrooms in Tokyo, and sells over 100 different types of fabrics and works with more than 1000 different companies around the world.  Blue Owl is proud to carry a wide selection of Momotaro and Japan Blue jeans for not only the quality and craftsmanship that goes into them, but to support their vision of fabrics that will withstand the test of time.