Got a very interesting and quirky pair of jeans to show you today!
These are souvenir jeans I picked up during my trip to Ryukyu/Okinawa in October this year, the 3rd iteration of the Champloo jeans from Studio D’Artisan.
I want to explore the geopolitical intrigues behind these jeans today, so apart from jeans gazing, settle in for some politics:
Okinawa is certainly an interesting place, a real oddity as far as East Asia goes. Surrounded nowadays by some of the biggest economic and military powerhouses of the world, these islands had been its own nation with its own culture – the Ryukyu Kingdom – until Japan annexed the nation by force in 1879.
Unfortunately for the Ryukyuans, throughout its civilised history, Ryukyu had always been under the sway of its powerful neighbours – it was too small, too sparse, too isolated and too poor for most of its history to really have a say in East Asia. For the first few hundred years, Ryukyu was a tributary state to Chinese dynasties. Things weren’t too bad back then though – pay homage, and you’re left alone to largely do as you like. The early Ryukyuans benefitted from Chinese knowledge and technology at the time too, which resulted in trade and cultural growths.
When the Satsuma samurais invaded in the 1600s, the situation began to decline rather rapidly for the local folks. Not three hundred years later, all Ryukyuans were Japanese.
Fast forward to the 21st century, there is relative peace in Ryukyu. The Ryukyuans have lost a bit of their language and culture, sure, but on the bright side modern Japanese racism towards the Ryukyuans is a lot more survivable than a samurai pointing his katana in your face, I suppose. Ryukyu remains poor, and is the poorest prefecture in Japan – not at all poor compared to many places in the world mind you, no East Asian area is poor by global standards – there is certainly inequality and continued grievances.
Calls for independence from Japan spring up constantly. It would seem the Ryukyuans had missed their chance… At the end of World War II, the nationalist government of China (Taiwan) had the opportunity to take over governance of the Ryukyu islands as part of Japan’s unconditional surrender, after a very gruesome campaign of murder, rape and simply absolute devastation against many of their Asian neighbours. The Chinese nationalists chose not to take up the American offer, and so Ryukyu remained Okinawa, under American administration until reversion back to Japan in 1971. The theme is consistent though, the Ryukyuans had no autonomy, and were once again at the mercy of much more powerful peoples.
World World II brought to Ryukyu horrendous destruction, with atrocities committed against civilians by Japanese & American soldiers. Masses of people perished, and the landscape of the islands were forever changed. The conflicts didn’t end with the war of course… US military bases and soldiers continue to plague the islands, and crimes committed by US soldiers against Ryukyuans remain a huge sociopolitical issue in Ryukyu today.
As a fellow East Asian islander – my birthplace of Taipei is only 45 minutes flight from the Yaeyama islands of Ryukyu – Ryukyu is literally Taiwan’s next door neighbour, and I have a lot of sympathies for the Ryukyuans. The unfortunate destiny of the Taiwanese aboriginals had followed a similar, but perhaps much more hopeless, path.
Visiting Ryukyu this year, the climate and plant-life were very familiar to me, and the Ryukyuans’ warmth and easy going nature reminds me of Taiwan too. Having been through so many difficulties in the past century – with World War II being the major trauma – I was impressed by how, despite the pain and the bitterness that they could rightly feel, the Ryukyuans were such peaceful and open people.
In many ways, these Champloo jeans as a souvenir remind me a lot about the islands of Ryukyu. Super sad history lessons aside, let’s take a look at these Champloo jeans.
The central concept behind these jeans is ‘Champloo’, which in Ryukyuan language refers to the modern local cuisine of mixed stir-fry, taking cues from Chinese, Japanese, American and sometimes even South American styles of cooking.
My favourite dish during the trip was the tofu, egg and bitter melon Champloo. Simply awesome~
Anyway, in the context of pants, the idea had been to combine the techniques of local craftsman to create a pair of jeans that showcase the different traditional arts of Ryukyu. With this iteration of the Champloo, Studio d’Artisan has gone over-the-top and invited four craftsmen to complete the jeans, with respective expertise in sewing, dyeing, embroidery and calligraphy.
The sewing was handled by Yu Kuniyoshi of Double Volante, a very well regarded jeans workshop.
Isao Tsuikobashigawa is a famed local embroider, and was responsible for the ‘A-sign’ embroidery.
Syoronin Zenryu, an award winning calligrapher, hand-painted the pocket bags.
Finally, Tsuyoshi Ohama, indigo grower and natural dye expert, created the fifth pocket by the natural plant dyeing of pigskin and the woven cloth label.
I actually purchased this pair of jeans from Tsuyoshi and his wife when I accidentally stumbled across their shop Shimaai on Ishigaki island. They grow their own indigo on their farm not 15 minutes from the shop – the Chinese varietal mostly, I believe – and create their own crafts through hand-dyeing with plant materials.
We’ll check out these details later on.
The pattern of these Champloo jeans is derived from Studio d’Artisan’s regular 103 models. These are old school ‘slim-straight’ jeans, cut for the smaller built Japanese folks.
On Westerners or bigger Asian blokes like myself, in order to obtain the correct fitting in the waist and hips by sizing up one or two sizes, the legs end up simply too wide for modern tastes – a wider stove-pipe style of fit results – and thus do not fit like they should, i.e. slim-straight.
As you can see in the photos here, there is next to no taper. The jeans are very long though, good news for tall people. It’s also nice to see SDA make size 38 and 40 in jeans now, given the frequent need to size up for SDA jeans in general.
This cut will work if you’re an average sized Asian person or an ectomorphic (slim-built) person from most other parts of the world. For exporting, Asian brands really need to have a staple of tapered jeans… the old ‘slim-straight’ cuts don’t look nice on people who are not thin.
The denim featured here is very high quality indeed, and a very ‘SDA style’ of denim.
It’s 15 oz, densely woven, synthetic indigo rope-dyed to an inky blue, mildly rough to the touch on the warp side and rather smooth on the weft side. Under natural sunlight, the denim has a strong red cast, appearing almost purple.
The denim is also moderately hairy. Combine the hairiness with the dense weave and mild slubbiness, the twill can be difficult to follow at times.
Like most denim used by Studio d’Artisan, the fading of indigo will likely be slow due to a high number of dips with indigo. This is a fabric to be enjoyed slowly, requiring more investment in time than most other Japanese denims.
The selvedge is red-line this time, which is a small shame, as I liked the purple line of the previous Champloo jeans, which represents Ryukyu’s unique purple sweet potatoes.
The natural goatskin leather patch is printed with graphics in the style of an export/immigration stamp. Naha is the capital of Ryukyu by the way.
This same stamp appears also on the right pocket cloth.
On the back-pockets, details abound. The ‘peace-dove’ arcuates feature three rows of stitching in two colours.
The A-sign embroidery is located on the top right corner of the right back-pocket. Once upon a time, the A-sign stood for ‘Army Approved’, and would be featured at bars and restaurants which were open for business to the many American soldiers stationed in Ryukyu.
The soldiers may not access bars without the A-sign, as a bar without the A-sign could mean two things – one, health & safety standards weren’t up to American standards, or two, the owner and the Okinawan men hanging out there would like nothing more than give the Americans an ass-kicking, if not worse.
To be fair, it was reported that drunk Americans sometimes caused a lot of problems, and sometimes violence – a huge issue when the local population did not (and still do not) consent to them being there – and two, many Ryukyuans didn’t want Americans around when they are trying to relax with family and friends, which is fair enough. The A-sign was eventually abolished as Ryukyu became Okinawa again in 1971.
I do wonder how Ryukyuans feel about having the A-sign on a pair of jeans, especially those who have lived through the hellish times of the most recent world war. I wasn’t brave enough to ask anyone about it while I was there.
Another feature on the right back pocket is the tag – sewn apart from the pocket itself, like a banner! Cute, and possibly a good work around with regards to Levi’s annoying legal threats.
The inside of the waist band features the new SDA tag – you’d have seen the same tag in beautiful_FrEaK’s Suvin Gold jeans review too.
The belt loops are raised, done in two tones of stitching.
The fifth pocket is a star feature here. Natural indigo dyed pig-skin is used to make the pocket, hand-dyed by the Shimaai workshop. Further, there is a woven tag on the pocket which is dyed with wood from a local tree and also natural indigo.
If you scroll up to the photos of Shimaai shop, you will notice the woven tag is the same as Shimaai’s logo.
Also, the rivets are very unique indeed, being off-centre in aged brass, with steel backs. These are apparently made by YKK in Okinawa.
The button fly features buttons from Studio d’Artisan and Double Volante, the SDA buttons being flat top and the DV buttons being doughnuts.
Of course, hidden rivets make appearances too!
Finally, the pocket cloth is pretty special.
The calligraphy work here is individual hand-painted for each pair of jeans. That’s pretty awesome. Each pair is numbered according to its place within the limited edition production.
The stitch-work is excellent overall, and one wouldn’t expect less as the sewing is handled by the well regarded Double Volante.
The stitches are regular, dense and neat throughout the jeans. 5 different stitch colours and what I count as 3 different thread thicknesses have been utilised.
Whether it’s bar-tacking the belt loops, sewing the button holes, lock-stitching the inseam or chainstitching the hem – all the sewing has been executed with precision & beauty.
The folding and finishing on both the inside and outside are clean and well done also.
Unfortunately, I did pick up one defect in the sewing. At one point along the leg, the chain-stitch has come apart on the inside, and as such you can see here that one segment of thread has come loose on the outside.
As far components handled by other craftsmen go, they are all nicely made.
The indigo dyed pigskin 5th pocket is gorgeous. The A-sign embroidery is solid and without loose threads. The hand-painted calligraphy on the pocket cloth is nicely executed too.
All in all, these Champloo jeans are certainly interesting and I applaud the various craftsmen involved with regards to the efforts they’ve invested in these limited edition jeans. These jeans are well made with high quality materials by very excellent workers in different fields.
Much tradition and pride is reflected in this pair of over-engineered jeans, and the many, many details serve it quite well for my own purposes as a collector’s item – these are my souvenir jeans for my trip to Okinawa after all.
As much as I really love Ryukyu and the concepts & craft techniques behind these Champloo jeans, two aspects stop me from actually wearing them, relegating this pair to my collection-only closet: the right back-pocket is simply too busy for everyday wear, and the 103 cut does not suit my body type.
In my very honest opinion, Studio d’Artisan has over-cooked these jeans as far as the Western market is concerned. I would think that placing the embroidery in another part of the jeans (maybe the pocket cloth like the previous Champloo) and toning down the back-pocket arcuates would make them more appealing.
With regards to the cut, I have seen SDA release a new relaxed tapered fit for their recent collaboration with Denimio, and I do think variations of the tapered fit would be the way to go for future export releases, rather than falling back on the old 103 and 107 cuts.
All the previously mentioned factors mean that the Champloo jeans is certainly an interesting product, but its relevance and appropriateness as an export product is – to be brutally honest – very limited. There needs to be a better balance between a streamlined aesthetic and the various local arts that are to be showcased. Studio d’Artisan has tried to cram too much stuff into one pair of jeans, and as a result the entirety of these pants is somewhat incoherent and too complicated.
My conclusion is that these Studio d’Artisan Champloo jeans is a creative and intensive product for the Japanese market. The level of Okinawan crafting expertise showcased here is astounding, but the jeans suffer from a fundamental design flaw of being way too busy at the back pockets. Denim hobbyists from outside of Japan would be better served by other jeans which have more updated cuts and more streamlined aesthetics.
I wouldn’t recommend buying this pair unless you have dozens of pairs of Japanese jeans and simply want to collect another one. If you’re looking for denim to actually wear everyday, I’d say you should look into SDA’s other offerings.
I’m sure, however, with a few tweaks and some consultations with consumers & stockists, a more export-oriented Champloo model could be a huge hit in the future. Let’s see what happens from here.