Heyou Handmade – Sailor belt review

You might remember seeing some photos of Heyou Art and Craft Department on this blog a little earlier, as part of a collection of photos taken during my trip to Taiwan last year. A small but very cool space full of vintage and vintage-style garments & goods near the centre of Taipei, Heyou is run by Jordan and Penny.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, besides trading in vintage and work-style goods, Jordan himself is a leather craftsman. He creates a variety of carry goods and accessories under the house brand of Heyou Handmade, influenced by early century work-styles.

Jordan’s belts, in particular, caught my eye whilst I was shopping for some Adjustable Costume work pants in his store. In particular, the belts utilise high quality and somewhat unusual buckles, with unique designs to complement to flavour of the hardware.

So once again, to continue this blog’s tradition of introducing to you high quality made-in-Taiwan leather goods, we’ll be taking a look at Heyou’s Sailor belt today!

 

Packaging

This Sailor belt came nicely packaged in a solid box, further protected by plastic casing and paper shavings.

How the product is packed is not the most important aspect of the belt by any means, but these smaller details to give hints as to the level of craftsmanship.

I did appreciate the sturdiness of the packaging this time, as it was shipped to me by family members via SeaMail, and so the belt has spent a bumpy couple of months at sea – as you can see, no damage whatsoever!

 

Leather

Let’s take a look at the leather first.

The Sailor belt is available in many different leathers, the one being reviewed here is the waxy brown leather. Whilst I don’t have the exact details as to the origin of this leather, it does seem like a English Bridle type of leather to me.

Indeed, Heyou uses leathers usually either from England or Italy.

Measuring around 3.6 mm (9 oz), this is not the thickest strap, but the high density of the leather makes it sturdy nevertheless.

The colour varies from hazelnut to coffee, depending on the lighting, which works nicely with the waxy bloom on the grain. Like any English Bridle, the bloom is not permanent, and does fall away with heat and friction.

Direct sunlight gives a nutty colour.

The grain is very tight, and the pores are not visible to the naked eye. The strap is supple but not overly soft, with enough rigidity and weight to give the leather some heft.

You can also see that, under the wax bloom, there’s a fine variegation in the colour tone of this leather.

All things considered, this waxy brown leather is smooth and sturdy. Certainly, higher quality than what you might find on an average Americana style belt.

 

Styling, Hardware, Details & Construct

The Sailor belt has a very unique design; I don’t believe I’ve seen anything like it before.

There’s a curious combination of visual factors: huge hardware juxtaposing a relatively thin (32 mm) strap, vintage gun-belt style design, and well-framed edges.

The buckle is probably the major feature of the belt – a solid brass hook-buckle measuing almost 10 cm in length!

This isn’t just any buckle from the local craft store. This is solid, un-plated brass that will patina nicely with wear.

The hook opens with movement at a single joint, and is closed by slipping through a brass ring.

The lateral pulling force as the belt is worn secures the buckle by ensuring the the flared portion at the end of the hook secures the ring tightly.

The Sailor belt comes at a standard length which will accommodate waist sizes between 30 to 36 inclusive.

My waist size is between 35  to 36, and you can see here I’m using the final hole – no ice cream for me!

This juggernaut of a buckle is attached to the strap via a narrowing in the strap which passes through the ring on the buckle.

The resulting shape of the buckle fold is quite unusual but elegant nevertheless.

The buckle fold is secured by a solid brass screw.

The brass screw used here is much nicer and sturdier compared with the average Chicago screw.

The strap itself features full-length edge creasing, which is very neatly executed.

Edge creasing helps to frame and focus the leather, and creates a peculiar aesthetic on narrower belts.

The edge creasing also features on the secondary strap, which weaves through the main strap to create a series of looped holes which allow the buckle to be attached and secured.

The length of this secondary strap is carefully cut so that there is only enough extra length for one loop to protrude and be used as a buckle hole.

Precision in cutting and measuring is important here, as loose loops would make the belt look sloppy. Jordan has done fine work here.

Again, you’ll notice brass studs/screws securing this secondary strap.

The screw which will sit under the buckle is a flat screw rather than a stud, so as not to clash with the buckle when the belt is worn.

The tip of the belt is curvy and neatly cut – there’s good symmetry in the finish of the tip.

I like how the creasing runs off as the strap curves into the tip, creating a cleaner look.

Notice, however, that unlike conventional belts, the strap does not go over the buckle, and hence the tip of the belt is tucked below the buckle fold and cannot be seen when the belt is worn.

The flesh side of the leather is compactly finished and show traces of waxy bloom too.

Heyou’s logo is neatly stamped.

The edges of this belt is very nicely burnished, and features gentle beveling too, creating a smooth and slightly rounded look.

Overall, the detailing and finishing at the edges are very well executed, and certainly contribute to the elegance and refinement of this Sailor belt.

Keep in mind to that Jordan does a version of the Sailor belt that’s fully machine stitched rather than edge creased, if a stitched-belt is more your style.

 

Thoughts

In this hobby of ours, despite the proliferation of leather crafting in Western countries over the past few years, the top end of this hobby remains Japanese. However, if you’re a long time reader of this blog, you’ll remember that I’ve had many good experiences with Taiwanese leather crafters – guys including Angelos, Ken, Tim, etc, all offer well priced leather goods that are exceedingly well made.

Stylistically, the leathers coming out of Taiwan are very mature and the designs are mostly quite advanced – unlike rougher products that you might sometimes encounter coming out from other regions. One factor here is that leather craftmen from Taiwan have been, in general, inspired by the Japanese masters, who have elevated Americana and work-style leather goods to a level that has never been seen even during the heydays of American manufacture that inspired these styles of clothing.

The market in Taiwan for work-style leathers is small and competitive, and local hobbyists have been following Japanese trends closely for many years now, so in general you’re unlikely to find roughly or poorly made leathers in Taiwan. Jordan, who has entered the market relatively late in 2012, continues this fine tradition of excellent leathers being crafted in Taiwan.

All in all, I’m very impressed with my first Heyou Handmade belt. Not only is the belt very well made, but the design is spectacularly unique. Almost anyone can cut a strap and attach it to a buckle, but to come up with new belt design that is aesthetically pleasing and functionally uncompromising is truly an achievement. My hat’s off to Jordan for this very cool belt.

Whilst many of Heyou’s products would be very suitable with a matching wardrobe of more “gentlemen’s style” of work wear (i.e. early century rather than mid-century Americana), they are nevertheless compatible with denim in general.

Focusing specifically on this Sailor belt, not only is the workmanship impeccable, Jordan has utilised some of the best materials available. The solid, un-plated brass hook buckle is simply incredible, and of course the waxy bridle leather is uniquely suitable for belting – being strong, resistant and flexible – being much more luxurious compared with the average veg tan or latigo style leathers that you’d find on a basic work belt.

Would you believe that this belt has a RRP of only $2680 NTD (~$92 USD)?

The value offered here is incredible – this Heyou Handmade belt is one of the most well made sub-$100 belts I’ve ever seen.

There’s certainly no more excuses for wearing a roughly made, $50 strap for a belt, when, for a few extra bucks, Jordan can make for you a truly artisan-crafted belt that will become a centerpiece in your outfit.

If you’re a work-wear fan or interested in vintage style clothing, you’ll certainly want to have a look at Heyou Handmade’s leather goods. Check out Heyou’s website to see the Sailor belt as well as their other really interesting offerings.

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Vanitas Japan – Ego wallet update

The second run of the Ego wallet by Matsumura-san of Vanitas Japan has sold out before Denimio had a chance to put them up on their website!

It’s good to see that there’re folks who’d still rock a long wallet.

If you missed my original review, read it here!

I’ve been using my own Ego wallet on and off over the past 2 months, with approximately one month of effective wear. The natural vegetable tanned leather from Himeji has aged very well indeed.

Here’s what the wallet looked like during the first few days:

Even with just a few days, the Australian summer heat and sunshine really does hasten the oxidation of the leather fibres:

The shine on the leather also continues to improve, highlighting the great importance of glazing vegetable tanned leather so that it does not become overly dull with use.

Not all vegetable tanned leathers are created equal. The cheaper stuff usually don’t age well – the grain could be too fuzzy, the browning could occur in unpleasant shades of brown and certainly the surface could appear dull & lifeless.

Not a problem with this natural leather from Himeji.

After a month, the depth and intensity of the caramel colour was quite amazing.

This leather becomes golden and toasty with time, and the shine continues to improve with wear.

I think the resulting colours here is a good benchmark for mixed veg tan leather. Certainly this Himjei leather is a little more responsive compared with similar offerings from Wickett & Criag, and IMO has better glow and depth compared with similar carving leathers from Hermann Oak.

It’s probably almost twice as expensive outside Japan though…

I’m glad M-san chose to go with a high end Japanese leather, whereas originally there were thoughts to use Hermann Oak, which is a gold standard as far as carving work is concerned.

Simply brilliant stuff; can’t wait to see the new work that M-san will be creating this year. I’ve seen draft designs of a interesting collaboration wallet with another of Japanese denim brand, which looked very cool indeed!

Anyway, give the guys at Denimio a shout out if you’re interest in the Ego wallet. I think the upcoming third run will have 3 wallets up for grabs.

The Rite Stuff – ‘Harvester’ henley, regular edition

You might remember the Harvester henley shirt from The Rite Stuff, the prototype of which I reviewed here at the meeting with brand owner Bryan in Taipei last year.

It’s proved one of the most versatile pieces in my work-wear wardrobe, and I wore it consistently during the Australian spring season, and even into our summer too. Well, I’ve been testing out the retail version of the Harvester henley, so I’ll give you guys some updates regarding some changes that have been made since the prototyping stage.

Let’s take a look.

 

Fit

Both my regular and prototype version are size XXL, and you’ll notice that the regular version fits a little closer and slimmer in the body, much more like a sports undergarment – check out the historical background in the review of the prototype linked above.

Excuse the razor sharp nipples.

Mind you, in the fits here, I’ve lost a few more kilograms compared to my chubbier self in the photos from the previous review. For reference, my chest size is 44, and the shirt is XXL.

Not only is the body of the shirt a little trimmer compared with the prototype, the arms are also narrower from the shoulder down to the wrist. The regular edition Harvester is a bit more fitted, in other words.

Of course, the Harvest was also designed to serve as an undershirt. In colder climates, it would slip easily under a leather jacket.

 

Materials

Just like the prototype, the regular edition of the Harvester henley is made with a medium weight, all-cotton knit consisting of unbleached, ecru cotton. The knitted jersey, like the shirt itself, is made in Japan.

The all-seasons weight and the very natural colour contribute greatly to the versatility of this henley shirt.

The brown little flecks within the fabric are also interesting – they’re actually small pieces of the cotton plant!

The ribbings and cuffs feature the exact same cotton, in a tight twill.

The 14 mm cat’s eye buttons are made of brown mother-of-pearl, and remain of the the core features of the Harvester. Right click to enlarge the photo above – the shine, colours and variegated tones of these MoP buttons are very cool.

 

Details & Construct

It’s mostly in the details where the regular version of the Harvester differs from the prototype. It’s still the same shirt for sure – the alterations are in the finer aspects of detailing.

Firstly, Bryan is still experimenting with tags and labels, and the current label design is different from that on the prototype or the Heracles chambray shirt.

The curved placket facings is are featured again – this was one of my favourite details on the prototype – improving the appearance of the henley when worn.

Lock-stitching is extensively used throughout the shirt and is neatly executed.

Another change in details would be the use of tonal brown thread for sewing the MoP buttons – old school indeed.

You might also have noticed that the button holes are now vertical, making the buttons easier to use and giving a neater appearance to the henley.

The inner threads of the shoulder and side seams again feature contrast blue stitching – looks great with the cuff rolled up – though in the regular version of the Harvester the circumferential wrist seams no longer feature the blue thread.

What the wrist seams now have, however, is added elastic banding. This makes the Harvester much more comfortable to wear for those with thicker wrists.

 

Thoughts

It seems like Bryan never stops working on his The Rite Stuff brand. Certainly, he’s gone back to the Harvester henley shirt and made several upgrades to it since I first looked over the prototype with him in Taiwan.

I reflected in the previous review that the Harvester was a well priced, well made and very versatile piece that would find a place in the wardrobe of anyone who is interested in work or vintage-style clothing. Of course, born of sportswear in the same era as denim was born of workwear, the Harvester will combine nicely with denim jeans too.

Bryan wearing his Harvester prototype, during my visit to Taipei in 2017

Importantly, if you have a larger build than the average Japanese man, the Harvester does offer the advantage of being fitted for larger and more muscular physiques at the larger sizes, going up to XXL. In comparison, most henley shirts made by Japanese denim and workwear brands are much too tight for me around the chest and traps at the largest sizing.

With The Rite Stuff, Bryan puts in tremendous effort to research and refine his garments, and has them made by some of the best workshops in Japan through John Lofgren. Each piece is something special.

He releases one garment after the next, gradually, spending much time on each to get the details just right, and it’s fascinating to follow Bryan’s thoughts on his brand blog too.

At $95 USD, the Harvester is great value, considering the Japanese materials & construct, and the small batch release. You’ll get heaps of wear out of it too, the Harvester being “very high yield”, and perhaps like Bryan or myself, you’ll be wearing it most days during the spring and autumn seasons.

All in all, the Harvester is a very detailed, well though-out, and worthwhile henley shirt. Check it out at The Rite Stuff!

Dr. Sole rebuilds some English shoes

After a couple of months, Dr. Sole has finished rebuilding some of my English footwear, and here they are!

I’m a work-wear fan, and so with these rebuilds, I had hoped to shift the aesthetics of these British style country footwear to something a little bit more ‘work’. That means, really, a combination of natural leathers and rugged synthetic soles.

I’ll let the photos do most of the talking today.

A pair of Tricker’s Stow boots, a pair of Tricker’s Grasmere boots, and a pair of Barker shoes.

They forgot to fix up the internal components of my RM Williams boots, so I’ve got to send that one back, hence no photos of it today.

 

Tricker’s Grasmere rebuild

The Grasmere had a full sole rebuild, with natural storm welt, natural leather midsole, olive nitrile cork heels and soles.

The Norvogese stitching at the back is pretty awesome!

The old laces were nearly broken, so I bought new laces in a few colours, here’s the red:

Tricker’s Stow rebuild

The Stow boots came out really awesome too, having undergone a similar rebuild, the differences being in the outsole and the leather heel-stacks:

Out of all the pairs, I reckon the Stows came out nicest…

To be fair though, IMO, the Stow is a better pair at baseline compared with the Grasmere or Barker shoes anyway.

The stitching and execution on the edges, weltings and midsoles are simply fantastic!

The outsole components feature Dr. Sole Original products of course. Second to none.

9 nails per half sale, count them on the heels too!

Barker rebuild

Finally, the pair of Barker’s, same rebuild specifications as the Stow boots.

I bought these Barker’s originally as cheaper, daily beaters which were still Goodyear welt constructed. Had been bit of a ‘meh’ kinda shoe, something for work, nothing worth looking at, but with this rebuild they are much more distinguished.

Now they’ve become proper hobby shoes!

Compare the photos so far with Tricker’s own factory finish on my monkey boots:

Thoughts

Overall, I’m really impressed with the job that Dr. Sole has done in terms of rebuilding these three pairs.

It makes a huge difference when your cobbler is interested in vintage and work shoes, and has invested in techniques and equipment which allow your boots to be upgraded and further customised. Dr. Sole, in my opinion, make the nicest synthetic sole components in the world for work boots, so the materials utilized here cannot be beat.

The finishing on the sole units of these three pairs, I dare say, is better than factory default – two of the pairs being Tricker’s, this is no easy feat. Certainly, at one point or another, I’ll be bringing all my American boots to Dr. Sole for rebuilding too. Priority number one would be my poorly stitched pair of Nick’s Boots Manito shoes.

In some ways, I think the quality of Dr. Sole’s work here really highlights the recent decline in the build quality of many of our favourite work boot brands, and represent a benchmark for what we should expect in terms of the quality of detailing coming out of the factories. In particular, over the past few years, the stitch-down on many American boots I’ve come across has been disappointing.

Definitely, if you’re a work boot fan, get to know the fellas at Dr. Sole. Whether you’re looking to rebuild your trusted pair of White’s boots or wanting to upgrade the poopy sole unit on your Red Wing boots, bring them into Dr. Sole!

Visit Dr. Sole’s website here.

Full Grain Creations – ‘The Lexington’ card wallet review

Got an interesting little piece to show you today – ‘The Lexington’ card wallet from the one-person workshop, Full Grain Creations.

The man behind Full Grain Creations is Morgan Timmann, and he creates from his workshop based in Florida, USA. His signature is the refinement and permutation of old leather work techniques – a revolution of sorts, if you like. And so it is that Morgan’s most unique work yet, The Lexington, is named after the first engagements of the American Revolutionary War.

I first came across Morgan’s work on his Instagram page, and whilst there is no shortage of card wallets on Instagram – more than I can reasonably pay attention to, in fact – his Lexington wallet is outstanding to me because it is the first wallet I’ve seen that features multi-tone saddle-stitching.

The combination of streamlined aesthetics, visually impeccable crafting and new twists on old techniques that is showcased through The Lexington made me very interested in taking a look at Morgan’s work in person.

So let’s check it out!

 

Design

The Lexington is a flat card wallet in terms of basic design.

I measure it at 8.1 cm tall and 10.5 cm wide, resulting in a surface area that is approximately palm sized.

There are three compartments in total.

One quick access card slot and one regular card slot feature on the front facing aspect of the wallet. Each card slot will hold up to three cards, though only up to two without distorting the shape of the wallet. The quick access slot works best with just one card inserted, the curve of the accent panel facilitating right-handed thumb swiping for quick retrieval of the front card.

A deeper storage compartment sits in between the two main panels of the wallet, able to accommodate folded notes without any money showing. It may be used to hold additional cards or cheques and other papers if required.

Four pieces of leather make up this wallet, but through clever paneling, the wallet is only three layers thick along the edges. The thinner edges compared with the raised body creates a framing effect around the wallet.

When empty, The Lexington is 5.2 mm at the thickest portion near the vertical center line.

Grossly speaking, the back facing aspect of the wallet is comparatively unadorned, most of the visual interest being generated by the paneling work and stamped logo at the front.

 

Leather

The entirety of The Lexington is made from Conceria Walpier’s famous Buttero leather at 1.2 mm (3 oz) thickness, in the Natural colour.

You’d have seen natural Buttero on this blog a couple of times already: it is a drum tanned and heat finished Italian vegetable tanned leather, known for its durability, slippery & somewhat glossy surface, and rigid temper. The key qualities of a dense grain, solid & firm handle and the ability to stay relatively ‘clean’ with use makes this an almost ideal carry goods leather – easy to work with, and produces good results – indeed, Buttero is very popular among craftsman who specializes in finer wallets.

The consistency and depth of colour is very good compared with most Italian leathers, but like all vegetable tanned leathers, natural scars and grain variegation do show through with some wear or a layer of conditioner. The baseline colour is also a shade darker compared to the true, unfinished colour of most hides.

Of interest, Buttero has a light, creamy smell. Very different from pure bark tanned leathers which tend do have a much more astringent scent.

Overall, Buttero is a very refined leather that has a decent tannage. Perhaps a little more ‘finished’ and lacking in grain growth compared to the highest tier of natural leathers, which are pit-tanned over much longer periods of time, but Buttero does add elegance to the streamlined design of The Lexington. Natural Buttero will age quite gracefully over time too.

 

Construction

Apart from the distinctive design, the star feature of The Lexington is Morgan’s signature multi-coloured saddle-stitching. Sewn with Fil Au Chinois waxed cable linen thread, Morgan has created a complication of saddle-stitching which allows him to place parallel, ordered threads within the one line of punched holes.

The precision and evenness of the 6SPI sewing here is something else entirely – many crafters would struggle to achieve this level of hand-stitching with just one row of saddle-stitching, let alone the triple-saddle-stitch you see here.

The colours of the threads here pay homage to the flags of USA and France, allies in the American Revolutionary War.

The edge work on The Lexington is remarkable and some of the best I’ve seen: the creasing is thorough and even, and the transparent wax burnish is slippery smooth.

I was surprised to learn that Morgan had created his own burnishing wax at the Full Grain Creations studio, after previously experimenting with painted edges – these wax burnished edges should be some of the longest lasting that could be created by hand.

Every visible edge of every panel is thus detailed. The work is some of the most careful and elegant I’ve come across.

The Full Grain Creations logo is nicely stamped too.

The panelling and cutting are, of course, without errors. Wouldn’t expect any less from Morgan once you’ve seen his stitch work, really.

Overall, the hand crafting here is truly artisan-level.

 

Thoughts

Looking through Instagram, Etsy or whatever your preferred platform of window shopping, I’ve seen more card wallets than I could count, but ultimately most are forgettable, and many are roughly made or unremarkable in terms of aesthetics. Further, and to be very honest, I’m not a fan of flat card wallets in general, as their carrying capacity is much below what I need on a daily basis and the vast majority seem quite boring to me. I’d much prefer a well built bifold or a statement mid-wallet.

Yet, The Lexington wallet from Morgan at Full Grain Creations is truly an unique piece of hand craft, and one of the most distinctive card wallets I’ve ever seen.

In terms of storage, The Lexington does surpass many of its peers due to the ability to effectively store notes, though the carrying capacity relatively to its footprint is average. However, maximum carriage and weight:capacity engineering is not the focus here.

The Lexington is about technique, aesthetics and durability.

Indeed, just by virtue of Morgan’s pioneering multi-tone saddle stitching, The Lexington would rightly be a collector’s piece. The overall elegance and refinement of the wallet is icing on the cake, and makes The Lexington a statement wallet for the gentleman who travels lightly.

I really can’t say enough about the careful and detailed hand-craft showcased here.

The Lexington is small as far as wallets go, yes, but the hand-work featured here is incredible.

This variation of The Lexington is priced at $125 USD, accounting for the extensive amount of time and work that goes into each wallet. A basic version of the same design which omits the multi-tone saddle-stitching, The Saratoga, is available too at just $60. All of Morgan’s work can be customised too, simply check out the Full Gain Creations Instagram page for some ideas, and get in touch with Morgan via his webpage.

Overall, I can highly recommend Morgan’s work, especially to leather enthusiasts who are looking to upgrade their existing carry goods or people who are interested in more refined pieces than workwear style leathers. I’d love to see the same styling and techniques applied to larger wallets, and I can’t wait to see what other designs Morgan might come up with this year.

 

Oni Denim – 122ZR-S Shin Secret Denim jeans review

The very first pair of Japanese jeans ever made was the result of a three way partnership between an American mill, a Japanese sewing factory and a Japanese trading firm: In 1965, Maruo Clothing sewed the first Japanese jeans, branded “Canton”, using American denim made by Canton Mills and imported into Japan by Oishi Trading.

Masao Oishi, son of the founder of Oishi Trading Company, became an industry heavyweight in the ensuing decades and later on established his own jeans brand, Oni. Being a respected industry veteran, Mr. Oishi has the influence and know-how to create many weird and wonderful denims – fabrics which the conservative Japanese denim mills would never consider weaving, if not for his instructions.

So it is that since the beginning of the raw/selvedge denim revival, Oni’s jeans have consistently featured some of the world’s most interesting and cutting edge denims. Whilst other Japanese brands would variously focus on lifestyle (Iron Heart for motorcyclists, for example) or reproduction (Warehouse and friends), Mr. Oishi’s direction with regards to his own brand had always been to focus heavily on fabrics.

I remember back when I first became interested in Japanese denim over a decade ago, Oni jeans came in only two fits (Red & Blue), but close to a dozen fabric options. Over the past 10 years, Oni’s jeans have become more minimalist in appearance and more modern in fitting, yet the focus on fabrics has never shifted.

Indeed, one of the most important denims in recent years has been Oni’s Secret Denim, first launched in 2012. The 20 oz Secret Denim represented a significant upgrade in most aspects of fabric quality compared with its 18/19 oz predecessors such as the ‘devil armor’ and ‘devil spiral’ denims. The Secret Denim was more comfortable, more slubby, more natural, and more intense compared with most other heavy weight Japanese denims available, and till this day no other  heavy weight denim comes close to matching its incredible softness or texture.

Oni has utilised a few different variations of the Secret Denim in the past five years, from a black version to a natural indigo Tanuki Inc. collaboration, but the physical structure of the denim itself remained mostly unchanged. Recently, however, after some further years of trial & error, Mr. Oishi has come up with Shin (‘new’, ‘true’) Secret Denim, the next major step in the evolution of Oni’s denims.

Today, I want to discuss this Shin Secret Denim. We’ll look at the entirety of these 122ZR-S relax tapered jeans of course, but the major focus will be on the fabric!

Fit

A long time ago Oni jeans only came in either stove-pipe or wide-leg fits, so I am very glad to see that Oni is producing many more modern cuts nowadays.

This relax tapered cut features a medium-low rise, relatively roomy hips & thighs, and a strong taper from the knee down, finishing in a 7 inch hem.

Day 0 test fit ~

At 7 inches across, the hem width is on the narrow side for sure, relative to the size 35 waist. Due to the very long inseam length however, once rolled into a single or double cuff, the hem is closer to 7.5 inches, which is much more sensible.

These jeans come in one-wash after an industrial wash and shade drying, so there’s no guess work with regards to shrink-to-fit.

Day 2, denim settling in.

I managed to size down one to a size 35, and I could have gone down even further to a size 34 for a snug fit, but that’s not my style.

Day 4, break-in complete!

Due to the nature of this denim, break-in is very fast, and the range of motions from the hip down remain uninhibited despite the narrower legs and heavier fabric. Read on below to find out more!

Fabric

The Shin Secret Denim is very similar to the regular Secret Denim – both are 20 oz, both are woven with ultra-low tension and both have pure (synthetic) indigo rope-dyed warp and beige-dyed weft. Further, both denims are mildly hairy, mildly neppy, moderately rough & slubby, heavily variegated in texture and extremely knotty.

Due to the combination of heavy fabric and extremely loose weave, both the Shin Secret Denim and the regular Secret Denim are unbelievably soft (for 20 oz that is) and handle more like wool cloth rather than cotton twills.

A comparison of different indigo blues.

The only visual difference I could readily discern is that the Shin Secret Denim has a stronger green-grey cast under certain lighting conditions compared with the older version.

What if I were to tell you that this Shin Secret Denim is actually a stretch denim containing 2% elastane?

Wait, what?! Stretch jeans on Indigoshrimp??? What???

In actual fact, making stretch selvedge denim that looks and feels exactly the same as regular pure cotton selvedge denim has been hot topic in the Japanese denim industry in the past couple of years, with many mills and many brands trying to create true stretch selvedge denim. The more experimental brands such as PBJ, Oni, Tanuki and Japan Blue Group are all in on the action, with the industry predicting some of the biggest growths will occur in more form fitting stretch jeans in the next few years, as far as the raw denim hobby goes.

I know, I know, outrageous right?

This concept hasn’t sunk in fully for me as yet either, but bear with me as I explore this topic a little bit.

The old Secret Denim is as cutting edge as it gets when it comes to shuttle-loomed, all cotton artisan denim. It’s the edge of the observable universe as far as Japanese denim is concerned – the hand feel and surface textures don’t get much better than this. But heavy weight artisan denim has its limits right? As a stiff cotton twill, denim does not drape well. Further, Japanese denim really aren’t the most comfortable, not compared with many other cotton fabrics such as terry cloth or corduroy. These two short-comings very much limit the fit and style of garments that Japanese denim could be used to make.

How could you make denim more comfortable and drape more naturally without sacrificing the beautiful colour tones and interesting hand-feel & surface appearance? This is the question that some of the forward thinking brands are asking, and Mr. Oishi’s answer was to recreate the Secret Denim with added 2% elastane in the weft yarns, so that the Shin Secret Denim would be indistinguishable in terms of aesthetics and texture compared with the old Secret Denim – warp threads still being pure cotton and rope dyed – but has the added advantages of increased comfort and the possibility of a more contoured fit.

The new secret here is not the added elastane however – stretch denim is nothing new after all. The trick is how to eliminate the plastic texture, artificial appearance and the dull fading that usually comes part and parcel with stretch denim. Restricting the elastane to only the weft has helped, and also the fact that during the manufacturing of the denim no heating processes have been used, as opposed to most stretch denim manufacturing. I’m sure there are others secrets to this Secret Denim…

As far as making a true stretch selvedge denim, I think the Shin Secret Denim has managed to do this very well, as, like I mentioned earlier, apart from a more pronounced green cast (unrelated to the elastane), I could not distinguish the stretch from the non-stretch based on visual appearance or finger tip feel. It is only when I pull the fabrics and wear the jeans that the differences are noticeable.

Further, Oni states that the Shin Secret Denim will actually be more durable than the older versions… I can’t vouch for this just yet, but in order to maximize the durability of this denim, strong heat must be avoided, so definitely avoid using the dryer.

Details

Similar to Oni’s other current offerings, the 122ZR-S features a very nice deerskin patch that washes and wears very nicely. The design of the patch is relatively understated compared with some of Oni’s patches in past years.

The leather has shrunk up a little and looks somewhat toasty with the industrial wash.

Like most Oni jeans since 2010/2011, we’ve got a woven tag on the inside of the waistband, directly behind the leather patch.

The Demon Spiral arcs are standard fair of course. Did you know the arcs have become slimmer and more streamlined over the years?

To be very honest, Oni’s arcs remain my least favourite aspect of their jeans, but the new arcs are much better looking than the ones on my older pairs (which I’ve removed or modified with seam rippers!)

The back-pockets are slanted so that they appear horizontally aligned when worn.

Oni has been upgrading it’s hardware in the past few years, and now, other than the hidden rivets, all the buttons and rivets are customised!

Featured on the button fly are very nicely textured doughnut buttons.

The punch through copper rivets are solid too, and are now further embossed.

The hidden rivets, whilst not customised, are high quality Universal’s which feature on pretty much every pair of high end Japanese jeans.

The belt loops are on the wider side, being rugged and sturdy.

If you look closely, you can see and feel the raised centre ridge of the loops, setting up for some vintage style wear & fade in the future.

Overall, the basic bells and whistles of high end Japanese denim are all there, but as these are not reproduction jeans, era specific combinations of vintage style detailing are not present – the overall presentation is fairly streamlined and, well, Japanese.

Construct

The sewing on the 122ZR-S is neat, dense and rather precise.

Keep in mind the photos you see here are of the jeans post-wash, so some distortions in the sewing in terms of straightness and visibility is natural.

Dual tone poly-core threading is featured throughout, the lemon-tea combo imparting a vintage feel.

Bar-tacks have been neatly placed at points of strain.

Even at the heaviest points of overlay, where four layers of 20 oz denim meet, the stitch-work remains clean and consistent.

It seems only two different thread sizes have been used, however, resulting in a overall more streamlined look.

Personally, I would have preferred thicker threads for the chain-stitching at the waist and hems. This is only a matter of aesthetics, however, as polyester-core threads are being used – there is no need, structurally, for the use of thicker threads given the inherent strength of polyester relative to cotton.

The chain-stitching, overall, is neatly done but a little wimpy.

Considering the jeans as a whole, the sewing is dense & neat, and there are no discernible flaws in construct.

Thoughts

Before discussing anything, I have to acknowledge that for me (and many others in this hobby), stretch denim is a rather controversial topic. Up until now, I haven’t seen any stretch selvedge denim done right, so in my opinion one would rightly be skeptical about stretch selvedge denim.

Ultimately, our raw denim hobby will continue to evolve as the years pass, such is the inevitable and unstoppable momentum of change. Thinking back on what our hobby had been like back when I first became interested in denim in the mid-2000’s, many aspects of denim are dramatically different now: Japanese brands doing tapered fits!? White Oak closing down!?

It’s hard to say what denim will look like in another 15 years time. Perhaps we’ll be 3D printing our own denims? Maybe denim will be made with an entirely new synthetic fibre that is superior to cotton in every way? I’m no futurist, so far be it for me to predict trends – I am certain only that things will change.

Stretch denim may very well represent one of the next steps in selvedge or raw denim.

Or it may not.

The success of Oni’s Shin Secret Denim will be a central thread in the stretch selvedge story, no doubt. From what I hear, these 122ZR-S jeans are flying off the shelves in Japan, though I do wonder whether its domestic success will be similarly matched in the Western markets.

For me, it comes down to the two ways of looking at a central question:

Why should I wear the Shin Secret Denim when I am perfectly happy with the old Secret Denim?

Why shouldn’t I wear the Shin Secret Denim if it’s just as good as the old Secret Denim, only more comfortable?

Now, I can’t fully answer these questions yet. I need a few more months to really wear in these Shin Secret Denim jeans, as there remain questions regarding durability and fading/aging potential that only time will tell.

At this point in time, however, I will say that Shin Secret Denim offers comfort and mobility that far surpasses pure cotton denim when combined with more modern fits. In my wardrobe, the only pants more comfortable than this pair of 122ZR-S jeans are my pajamas; this comfort factor alone is enough to make me open to the idea of wearing more stretch selvedge denims in the future.

Regardless of which side of this stretch debate you’re on, be prepared to see more and more stretch denims from your favouriate Japanese denim brands. PBJ has already released one version of stretch, Tanuki also has one that’s ready for release this year, and no doubt you’ll see more and more Japan Blue models in stretch as well. I hear from industry folks that Samurai may be doing super heavy weight stretch very soon also.

So get ready! Like it or not, stretch is coming!

But will stretch denim be staying? We’ll have a better idea in the next one to two years.

Yep, stacking is still possible.

Disregarding the fabric for a moment, the Oni 122ZR-S relax tapered jeans features a nice cut, fantastic details and represents a more fashion-forward version of Oni compared to my other Oni jeans which were made between 2009 and 2011. There are, of course, no flaws in the construct, though some vintage detailing such as varied thread sizes have been omitted for a more streamlined aesthetic.

Oni has certainly proved itself to be highly adaptable and forward thinking, and I admire this brand because of its focus in pushing the boundaries of Japanese denim. It’s brands like Oni and Tanuki that drive growth and innovation, and I find these trail-blazing makers to be infinitely more interesting compared to their reproduction-focused peers. Reproduction denim has its place of course, but for me, after more than 10 years into this hobby, 501 repops do taste a bit stale. Horses for courses, and trees for apes, and all that, though the focus on interesting fabrics and modern fits certainly mean that Oni Denim is more relevant for more people compared with many of its peers.

Anyway, don’t just take my word for it, check out the Shin Secret Denim in person as it’s rolled out at Oni retailers world wide. You’ll find the best pricing, and the world’s most extensive range of Oni jeans, at Denimio: these Shin Secret Denim jeans are offered at just USD $212 shipped worldwide, which is incredible value for Japanese denim of this calibre. Check it out here.

 

Waxwing Leather – bifold wallet review

Crafting out of Seattle, USA, Jiten Amin is relatively new to the leather scene and has just branded his Waxwing Leather workshop, but I’ve been hoping to check out his work for some time now.

I started following Waxwing Leather’s IG account at some point last year. The first time I saw Jiten’s photos I noted his crafts had a certain charm which drew me in – his bifold wallets, in particular, I thought were very unique and rather beautiful.

After a couple of months of materials selection and tool upgrades, Jiten sent along this fantastic little guy – the ‘classic’ bifold. I’ve been able to test the wallet out over this month, and I want to share with you some of my thoughts about Jiten’s work.

Let’s take a look at this Waxwing Leather ‘classic’ bifold wallet.

Design

This wallet is a traditionally sized bifold, built to work-wear levels of sturdiness.

Fitting easily in the palm of my hands, this bifold is designed to carry a moderate amount of notes and cards.

When folded, this wallet measures approximately 12 cm in length and 8.25 cm in width.

The appearance is fairly minimalist, the outer featuring only one set of stitching along two edges on each side.

The basic rectangular shape is supplemented by curved corners and a curved outer edge.

This wallet is curvy indeed, and the inner layout and design is perhaps my favourite aspect of this wallet, and one of the nicest I’ve seen on a bifold. In fact, there are only two angled corners in the entire wallet.

There are four quick access card slots in total, two on each side. Additionally, there is one storage compartment on both sides, just underneath the card slots, which are open from the top and inner edges. Finally, there is one bill compartment.

The bill compartment will fit any notes comfortably. It is unlined.

I measured an average thickness of approximately 1.3 cm when loaded.

Certainly, this classic bifold is not a slim wallet, but also not too hefty either. Carried in the back pocket, I barely notice its presence.

Overall, the design is symmetrical and relative minimalist, though the very nice curves do add a lot of flavour and uniqueness to this bifold.

Function

In terms of the practicalities of everyday wear, this wallet is user friendly and rather easy to carry & use.

It is true that it’s hard to screw up a bifold unless one were to introduce really weird elements to the inner. What is difficult, however, is to produce a good looking bifold that is interesting to look upon. Jiten’s design is notable as it allows quite a good carrying capacity for a medium sized bilfold without sacrificing aesthetics.

With only four cards visible when fully loaded, the visual emphasis is very much on the accent panels, and thus the leather is featured nicely.

The card slots are sized generously, so each quick access slot can potentially take in up to 3 cards. The storage compartments can hold a bit more too. I usually carry between 6 to 8 cards, so this wallet more than sufficiently meets my needs – this bifold will hold a dozen cards without losing shape.

Leather

The leather that Jiten has utilised for this wallet is Badalassi Carlo’s Minerva, in the Liscio (smooth) finish and Noce (walnut) colour. The Minerva is my favourite Italian vegetable tanned leather so far.

You might have read about the Minerva on my blog in the past, but here’s a recap if you missed it – and so I quote myself:

“Badalassi’s Minerva leather is their top of the range vegetable tanned, full grain leather. It is hand-dyed after tanning, and finished by hand-stuffing with a currying mix containing high amounts of neatsfoot oil. The result is a leather that has a brilliant but natural colour and a fine grain, with the character of the hide on full display. The ‘Liscio’ (‘Smooth’) version is featured, instead of the ‘Box’ version (where the grain is shrunk post tanning).

The hand is smooth but not slippery, with moderate rigidity when new. The oil content appears to be medium to high.”

It has a softer, more fluid temper compared with other similar vegetable tanned leathers (Buttero, for example) – this does pose design and construct challenges, but allows for the utilisation of greater thicknesses in the wallet without sacrificing comfort.

I measured the thickness of this leather at 1.30 mm, or ~ 3 oz, uniformly throughout the wallet.

Buttero is perhaps a little more popular than Minerva, but I do prefer Minerva’s handfeel and evolution. The photo above shows the leather after 3 days of use, the colour already darkened somewhat and the lustre increasing.

Construct

For a young craftsman, Jiten’s work on this classic bifold is pretty spectacular, I must say.

I am very impressed by how neatly he has cut and matched the individual panels. Also, the consistent spacing of the stitching even along the curved edges is remarkable.

Vinymo polyester threads via Japan has been saddle stitched at 7 SPI.

The stitch work is neat and clean, with the tonal thread colour complementing the leather and overall design.

Again, the consistent stitch work along the curved edges is testament to the concentration and effort invested into this wallet.

The cutting of the panels is well done too, considering the curves involved…a small mismatch will have an amplified affect, but there are no issues here.

All the edges of each panel are nicely burnished. There’s no fluffiness or rough portions.

The backside of the leather is not further finished, but is rather smooth nevertheless.

Finally, the outer edges are smoothly burnished with gum, showing off the layering of the panels. The burnishing is nicely done – not a mirror surface by any means, but given the Minerva soft temper and oiliness, this is probably as good as it gets without the use of machinery.

Thoughts

This is my first piece of leathercraft from Jiten at Waxwing Leather, and I am very impressed!

The most remarkable aspect of this classic bifold is the refined overall presentation and the considered use of curved edges and corners to give this wallet a lot of personality and uniqueness. Anyone can make a sexy mid-wallet, but a good looking bifold is a real challenge: Bifolds are usually quite boring, and when people attempt to spice up the designs they mostly end up comprising either carrying capacity or user friendliness, but Jiten’s inner layering on this classic bifold suffers no such issues.

Indeed, this classic bifold strikes a great balance between a streamlined, minimalist overall appearance and being a statement/signature piece. Again, bifolds are tricky because you only have so much space to work with, and yet a boring wallet is just no good – I still think the wallet is the most telling piece that a man can wear, more so than his tie, jeans or boots. The aesthetics here will go nicely with either formal wear or work wear, mostly influenced by the thickness of leather utilised.

Jiten offers this bifold at an amazing price of $90 USD

I actually think that this is probably too cheap for the level of workmanship and the quality of material At this tier of pricing, this classic bifold is practically flawless. For my own preferences, I would love to see a thicker leather (~ 2 mm or 5 oz) being utilised for the outer or to have the outer lined with another leather – in the long run this might help the wallet keep a better shape – but of course this will increase the pricing of this wallet.

Regardless of pricing tier, this bifold from Waxwing Leather is pretty awesome. Jiten has a real knack for curves, and his bifold is one of the cleanest and most beautiful I’ve seen.

Overall?

At $90, I’d say you should try a wallet from Jiten regardless of whether you need a new wallet or not. Despite the ever increasing number of private label leather workers out there, it is still very rare to see a nicely executed bifold, and so I definitely recommend having a look at Waxwing Leather.

You can contact Jiten easily through Instagram through the link above – let him know Mike sent you!