Oni 02100 limited edition shirts

Oni and Denimio have released the long-awaited 02100 check twill shirts to celebrate Denimio’s new website!

For long time denim heads and Oni fans, these fabrics should prove quite nostalgic and of collection value.

The 8 oz check twill fabrics featured on these shirts are dead stock  fabric which used to feature on some of Oni’s  jeans as pocket cloth around a decade ago.

The colours and patterning on this fabric was slightly difficult to capture, but this fabric is denser, heavier and more variegated in print compared with most check twills used for work-shirting.

These shirts are best described as shirt-jackets, or over-shirts, in terms of density, cut and construct.

Woven tags feature at the neck and also the hem.

The hardware consist of black-coated Oni buttons in two different sizes, as featured on some of their jeans.

Whether as a stand-alone shirt or a light jacket, these 02100 shirts are pretty versatile.

Because of the density of this twill cloth, this shirt will prove to be durable, but unsuitable for hot weather.

As mentioned previously, this fabric is dead-stock, available in red/black and yellow/blue.

No further productions or colours are forthcoming – once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Check them out at Denimio [red shirt] [yellow shirt]

Ekn – Max Herre desert boots

Type: review

Status: sponsored

Maker: Ekn

Item: Boots, leather

Price: $270 AUD

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a boot review up on the blog – indeed, I’ve been on a bit of a sneaker bender in the last months.

Courtesy of the folks at Keoma store, I’ve had the opportunity to re-visit the type of footwear that got me into the boot hobby in the first place – natural vegetable tanned leather shoes.

These are the Max Herre collaboration desert boots from the German footwear brand Ekn. A little bit different from the usual heritage style boots that attract denim heads, these desert boots presents a slightly different concept in that they are natural, environmentally friendly, and made with sustainability in mind.

The Ekn brand places an emphasis on its shoes being hand-made and organic. Let’s see how they stack up against the more traditional, heritage-style shoemakers.

 

Style

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, the desert boot was made popular by British soldiers fighting in Africa during WWII, being made in Egypt on custom requests, based on a South African design. It was claimed that the desert boot was a more practical & durable footwear compared with military issued boots at the time.

This pair we’re looking at today was made in the style of Clark’s mid-century interpretation of the desert boot: Two eyelets, crepe sole, and a flattened toe box.

Ekn’s version represents an upgrade on the original, however, with the additions of a backstay piece and a leather midsole. The leather is also thicker, and of a superior tannage, compared with Clark’s.

The crepe used here on the outsole is also a finer, more natural version of what is found on more mass-market desert boots; similar to Yuketen’s older style of crepe soles.

 

Leather 

The 2.2 mm (5.5 oz) natural vegetable tanned leather – the star of the show – was tanned in Portugal. I am told that the tannery runs an environmentally friendly operation, with the waste water from the tannery being drinking quality.

Unfortunately, no particular details regarding the tannage or the tannery are available.

As far as I can discern, this leather is similar in characteristic to the American natural saddle leathers with which we are more familiar – tanned using bark powder within perhaps weeks.

The grain has moderate growth with good consistency and no major scarring.

The colour is fleshy pale, almost pink, which is easily oiled & buffed to a warm caramel tone.

Overall, I would say this is a modern veg tan with good aging potential.

 

Construct

These Ekn desert boots are made in Portugal with a stitch-down method not too dissimilar to the traditional Clark’s construct.

The clicking on this pair is done really well, especially given the fact that natural leather can show the flaws and inconsistencies in the hide much more easily.

The recycled threads stitches the upper through the midsole into the first layer of the crepe sole.

The first layer of crepe is then bonded to the bottom layer of crepe. This makes the outsole potentially replaceable, as the bottom layer of crepe can be renewed.

A finer stitch is used to construct the upper, attaching the four pieces of leather that make up the body of the boots.

I have been told that gluing was minimized in the construct of these boots, to reduce the impact on the environment.

The stitching is regular and neat.

The metal eyelets are firmly attached.

The tonal cotton laces used here are organic and also made in Portugal.

The edges of the sole unit have been burnished nicely, and the consistency of finish here is pretty good as far as a stitch-down desert boot construct is concerned.

Like most desert boots, a layer of foam pads the heel. Ekn has chosen, however, to place their white-coloured biofoam between the body and the mid-sole (instead of the traditional placement within the body, underneath the insole).

The Ekn branding is embossed onto the outside edge of the backstay.

Interestingly, in the style of American workboots, the top of the backstay has been folded into a pull-loop.

The insole is natural vegetable tanned calf leather with the collaboration logo embossed onto the heel.

As you can see, these boots are unlined.

Finally, the crepe is made from natural tree rubber.

 

Thoughts

The Ekn Max Herre boots, to me, embodies several interesting talking points for hobbyists.

From a branding perspective, the aspects of sustainability and environmental friendliness are core to the Ekn identity. In this age of global warming and Extinction Rebellions all over the world, the heritage menswear scene has been slow to respond to one of the essential demands of the 21st century – that its products be Earth-friendly.

Indeed, Ekn tries its very best to ensure all the individual components and processes are organic and sustainable. From the leather to the laces, each part of these desert boots make a smaller impact on our environment compared with what is usual found in our hobby (let alone mass market footwear).

My own opinion is that, as time goes on, environmental friendliness must increasingly be an essential consideration when it comes to selecting garments or boots, regardless of the styles or eras which interest us. We can hardly take nice photos for Instagram if the world burns up, after all?

A consequence of the mostly organic and non-toxic make of this pair of boots is that it can be worn barefoot, which is what I shall be doing in the upcoming Australian summer.

The natural leather construct of these boots make it a very interesting hobby boot, though this is a double edged sword. There is great potential for patina development and I’m sure leather nerds like myself will have a lot of fun with this pair.

The natural leather here seems to be on par, in terms of quality, with modern American veg tans from tanneries like Wicket & Craig or Hermann Oak. This is not enthusiast-level bark tanned leather, but remains much superior to the chrome or oil-tanned leathers used by brands like Clark’s or Red Wing.

However, I am pretty picky when it comes to the types of patina I find attractive on natural vegetable tanned leathers, and as such these boots, for me, cannot be worn in the rain or used for hard work. In working towards the type of patina I prefer, I’ve had to prep these boots before wear by oiling & buffing, and will only be wearing them as casual boots on the weekend.

Natural leather boots are not meant for the uninitiated, in my opinion.

In terms of the quality of construct, I would say that the Ekn desert boots are somewhere between the ubiquitous Clark’s and the more upmarket desert boots offerings from brands such as John Lofgren (a finer stitch-down), RM Williams or Tricker’s (Goodyear welted).

The sewing of the uppers and the configuration of the sole unit are superior to the original Clark’s. However, I am not a fan of the exposed foam layer at the heel. In consideration of the boots overall, I would say they are nicely made, but are not yet enthusiast quality as far as the niche of heritage footwear are concerned.

I have to say, however, at the asking price of $270 AUD, these Ekn boots are probably the nicest desert boots I’ve seen within the lower-end price tier. The aforementioned prestige brands are pricing their desert boots at two to three times the retail price  of this pair.

So, would I recommend these Ekn desert boots?

If you feel that environmental friendliness and sustainability are some of your core values, then yes, Ekn’s offerings would be right up your alley. If you are interested in exploring a patina project of natural veg tanned shoes, these desert boots would be perfect vehicles too. If you have a limited budget, but are looking for something more substantial than Clark’s mass market products, then Ekn’s alternatives are excellent choices.

However, if you’re looking for the best-made desert boots, these aren’t it. These Ekn Max Herre desert boots are firmly in the beginner’s tier as far as hobbyist footwear is concerned.

To summarize, these Ekn veg tanned desert boots differentiates itself from other hobbyist footwear by focusing on sustainability and patina potential. The quality of construct and pricing place it in the beginner’s tier of hobbyist footwear, though the upgrade in terms of materials and make are easily discernible compared with mass market offerings from Clark’s.

Check out Keoma store for Ekn’s boots & sneakers.

Tanuki Inc. Japan – Kaze draft tapered (KDT) jeans

Type: review

Status: sponsored

Maker: Tanuki Inc. Japan

Item: Jeans, denim

Price: ¥24,000 JPY

Tanuki Inc. returns to the blog in 2019, and this time we’ll be having a look at a fairly interesting pair of jeans.

Tanuki will be no stranger to regular readers, having established itself as the trailblazer of the current generation of Japanese denim brands through innovative fabrics and modern fits.

With the demise of several keystones and institutions within our hobby in the past couple of years, the industry in Japan has caught onto the need for evolution in their denim jeans. Tanuki has, in rapid succession, developed a series of denims and cuts that have become well known among Western heritage wear circles in a remarkably short period of time.

Yet, the folks at Tanuki continue to push into new territory, earlier this year releasing their newest headliner cut, the Draft Tapered. Available in the Kaze and Zetto fabrics, today we’ll be having a look at the Kaze Draft Tapered jeans in detail. (I’ll have the Zetto fabric up on the blog next month.) The denim is slightly crinkled in the photos here, as I’ve opted for the once-washed option for these jeans.

Let’s check out these KDT jeans, designed for synergy with sneakers.

 

The Cut

The Draft Tapered (DT) cut is a new development at Tanuki headquarters.

Venturing away from heritage wear, the DT has been patterned with sneakerheads and street-style outfits in mind.

Simplistically speaking, the DT is a tapered, ankle length fit.

The top block is similar to Tanuki’s classic High Tapered (HT) cut, featuring a medium-high rise and good room in the pelvis and hips.

Below the hips, the thigh area is relatively roomy, with the taper coming in hard from the knee down.

The thighs are just wide enough for free movement and comfort whilst sitting, but not too wide as to create the dreaded thigh flair.

The taper here is a little more intense than the HT, ending with a 18 cm hem at a 75 cm inseam length.

The jeans sit at ankle length for me(185 cm tall) – my sneakers are 95% visible.

The back pockets are slanted and nicely sized, placed a little lower than the HT.

The slanted pockets allow horizontal alignment when worn.

The jeans can be double cuffed to show-case sneakers (and socks) even more.

The DT, as cautioned by Tanuki, has not been designed to combine with boots.

 

The Denim

The Kaze denim is one of the more unusual yet memorable fabrics of late – a new development by Tanuki’s denim weavers in 2018.

I have previously showcased the Kaze on the blog; the recap:

“Literally translated as “wind” from Japanese, the Kaze is a stand-out due to its unusual shade of indigo.

At 13 oz unsanforised, the Kaze is the headline of Tanuki’s light-weight offerings. It is breathable, medium weight and brilliantly coloured.

The lighter shade of indigo is due to a number of different factors, including decrease in the number of rope dye dips, decrease in the time of each dip and quicker exposure to oxygen after each dip.

The green in the blue becomes more prominent under warm sunlight…

The denim features a light indigo warp, and cheese-dyed beige weft.

The warp side is deceptively irregular, with frequent slubbing of small to moderate sizes. Thanks to the bulky & voluminous Peruvian Aspero cotton used in the warp and the extra low-tension weaving, the handle of this denim is textured but not rough.

The combination of shorter staple Californian cotton and longer staple Supima cotton in the weft creates a balance between crispness and comfort.

The weave is set to extra low tension on a Toyota loom, though the density of the fabric is well maintained. The result is a good balance of texture & strength with lightness & permeability, and a hand-feel that is crisp, slightly dry but comfortable.”

This iteration of the Kaze denim, under direct sunlight, seems slightly less green to me compared with the previous version on my Kaze jacket from 2018.

The denim seems even more luminescent and scaly than I remember too.

The red selvedge with the continuous ID thread returns.

 

The Details

Despite creating the DT with the street-wear enthusiast in mind, the KDT retains the sewing details and specifications that a heritage-wear geek would expect on a pair of Japanese jeans.

The deerskin patch returns, once again featuring the “ni” embossing (Chinese character for ‘two’).

This patch wears and washes very nicely, as long as excessive heat is avoided.

The back pockets remain rectangular and slightly flared at the top – very usable, and will hold a bulkier mid wallet without issue.

The half-lined construct feature too, sewn with tonal threads.

An embroidery of “ni” is sewn on the left edge of the back right pocket, in the colours of the Japanese flag.

Tanuki’s woven label feature inside the waistband, sewn behind the leather patch.

Lemon colour thread dominates the jeans, and contrasts nicely with the brilliant blue of the denim.

Orange coloured thread is used sparingly for the occasional detail and outline.

The signature thread colour on the KDT is blue, seen on the coin pocket and along the inseams.

Custom embossed buttons with the figure of a Tanuki is used on the five button fly.

The fly is neatly locked with lemon thread.

The metal buttons are high quality, and will develop a graphite coloured patina with time.

Even the back stud of the buttons has been customised; again, the “ni” character features.

You’ll also appreciate the V-stitching and the continuous waist-band chain-stitch.

The buttons holes are cut then sewn with black thread.

The rivets used are customised and punch-thru, made with darkened copper.

I must say, these Universal rivets are extremely nice.

The hidden rivets are Universal too – high quality but not customised.

The belt loops are raised and double-bar-tacked.

A sturdy blue herringbone fabric is used for pocket cloth.

The pockets are deep enough for smart phones; very usable.

The sewing is dense and varied – a variety of vintage and specialist machines have been used.

This is not to mention the 7 different thread colours being used.

Even the busiest areas, such as the crotch reinforcement, is sewn neatly.

Keep in mind these photos are taken after the factory wash – the sewing remains orderly even with the shrinking & twisting of the unsanforised Kaze fabric.

The neatness and density of the sewing does not vary across fabric thicknesses either – there is great consistency throughout.

The sky-blue signature thread actually blends into the Kaze denim.

Despite not being heritage or reproduction focused, the sewing here retains the neatness and machine-utilization of the first and second generation Japanese denim brands.

The sewing in all aspects is extremely dense and clean – no faults discovered.

The hem is chain-stitched and slightly scalloped, to create the sneaker-friendly 18 cm width.

Overall, the KDT retains the upgraded details from Tanuki’s 2018 and 2019 jeans, representing their latest specifications.

 

Thoughts

Tanuki’s release of the KDT jeans marks a point in our hobby, just before 2020, when Japanese denim transitions into its next phase – truly integrating with 21st century wardrobes.

Now, I’m not predicting that heritage menswear will die out; in fact, my view is that there will always be a small but somewhat influential hobbyist base as far as vintage-style is concerned.

However, my observations in this past decade have led me to believe that heritage or vintage styles have not grown significantly, and heritage denim has actually been cycling out of fashion in the past couple of years. The old brands are dead or dying, and the heritage wear market inside AND outside of Japan has slowed.

Jeans have been firmly entrenched in casual and streetwear outfits for decades now, and this trend will further solidfy in the 2020’s. Unfortunately, for hobbyists like myself, we have passed the minor resurgence of heritage style clothing & denim, from the mid-2000’s to the mid-2010’s, and our next come-back may not be for decades. To survive and even thrive, the bigger Japanese denim brands must venture outside the heritage wear realm, as uncomfortable as this may be. 

Therefore, as we enter the 2020’s, I do think that street-style is an important consumer base which the major Japanese denim brands must conquer. Otherwise, more of the bigger brands will go bankrupt. I know many people in the industry think the same.

Onto the KDT then…

To be honest, I had my reservations when I first discussed the Draft Tapered cut with Tanuki: seeing the size chart, my immediate thought had been that this cut is too short and too weird for me.

I’m glad that my narrow-minded reaction has turned out to be unwarranted.

The DT works very well – nay, extremely well – with sneakers and canvas trainers.

For the majority of denim lovers who have mostly casual-style or street-wear wardrobes, the DT is definitely a cut which must be considered.

The DT produces a streamlined fit for modern physiques, from the waist down to the ankles. It flows remarkably well when worn – achieving mobility very close to work-wear fits, yet having a silhouette pleasing to 21st century eyes.

As far as modern aesthetics are concerned, if you want to combine Japanese denim with modern clothing, you must try the DT. The silhouette, length and hem finish of this cut is far superior to heritage or vintage style cuts if you’re going to be wearing sneakers, muscle Ts, etc.

On a meatier dude like myself, the DT proves to be neutral, balancing our my larger upper-body very nicely without being too wide in the legs. The taper is well executed, without the carrot-legs appearance which earlier high-tapered Japanese jeans (such as Japan Blue’s HT cut) tend to produce.

I’d be interested to see how the DT fits on slimmer/shorter bodies back in Tanuki’s home of Japan, given that a Japanese retailer has told me the DT is selling extremely well domestically.

Different effects with regards to showcasing sneakers can be achieved through cuffing the jeans. I’m keen to try the high-water style cuff in combination with louder sneakers, but its too cold for that in Australia at this time.

I must acknowledge the risk-taking exercise that Tanuki has undertaken with the KDT, in a dramatic attempt at innovation. Whilst other Japanese brands are still trying to optimize their own versions of the high tapered cut, Tanuki has already moved on into the next realm.

As mentioned previously, casual and street styles is where the vast majority of consumers are to be found, and taking old-school Japanese craftsmanship into sneaker territory could produce big pay-offs for Tanuki.

No other Japanese brand is moving forward at such a rapid pace – if the current trend continues, I would not be surprised to see Tanuki being bigger than its Osaka-5 forebears by the middle of the next decade.

The fit & the forecasting aside, the Kaze denim on the KDT is a real gem.

When the Kaze was first released in 2018, it was viewed as a polarizing denim, due to its brilliant, green-tinged shade of blue. Without a doubt, it has done very well in the past year, and has been utilized by Tanuki on both jackets & several different cuts of jeans.

This 13 oz fabric is great for the warmer months, being comfortable for daily wear right from the start due to considered use of three different cottons, and a low-tension but dense weave. The colour, although not a typical shade of indigo for the heritage wear wardrobe, combines extremely well with casual tops, such as modern T-shirts, and footwear of lighter colours.

I first thought the Kaze denim to be very versatile as a jacket, having worn the KJKT3 blueprint jacket extensively during my travels in South America last year. Having now tried it as a pair of jeans, I’d say the Kaze makes for a great pair of bottoms to combine with spring/summer shirts and colours.

The Kaze denim is also very geeky, a great study of fabric engineering for hardcore denimheads. So many factors have gone into the texture & colour you see here – shortening the rope dyeing and air exposure protocols, the cheese-dyeing of the weft yarns, the use of contrasting cottons in the weft, the short but fat Peruvian cotton in the warp…

The fact that the Kaze denim was conceived in homage to the vintage denims of the 1960’s to the 1980’s has been overlooked by many. Again, only a handful of brands have the capacity to engineer a denim from the cotton up – regardless of cuts and fits, Tanuki’s thoughtful denims will always be interesting to true fabric nerds.

Despite its modern appearance, the KDT retains all the detailing I love about Japanese jeans: the varied thread colours & sizes, the dense & careful sewing, the high quality metals and leathers…

…the aspects of jeans which may be difficult to perceive at first, and yet if they were missing, the jeans are appreciably lesser.

The small details add up to a refined whole, putting the KDT a tier or two above its street-style oriented peers such as Japan Blue or Naked & Famous. I think it would not be controversial for me to state that the KDT is one of the best made pair of street-style jeans available right now.

To summarize then, the KDT is a new kind of Japanese denim – it’s one of the first pairs of artisanal Japanese jeans that is designed for the 2020’s. A pair of street-wear jeans that is crafted to denim head standards, without the terrible Evisu-esque details which have plagued Japanese street-denim in the decades past.

I’d recommend the KDT to folks who mostly wear sneakers, people who want to build upon their casual or street wardrobes, existing Tanuki fans, beginners upgrading into the >$200 tier, and advanced hobbyists who want to freshen up their look.

Hardcore reproduction nerds, era-specific cosplayers and people who have an extensive leather boots hobby will likely not find the new DT cut attractive. The DT, I have found, is very hit-&-miss with boots. Tanuki’s HT cut, and their newly re-launched Regular cut, will be better options.

Also, due to the lighter denim and the short inseam, the KDT will likely not see action during winter months in most parts of the world.

Well, a brave new world in Japanese denim is upon us!

More than a simple recommendation from me, the KDT has been a thought provoking experience for me, as a long-time Japanese denim fan. I wonder if the KDT will alter my wardrobe in a fundamental way in the next couple of years? Which brands will follow with more sneaker jeans? Will DT-style cuts overtake HT cuts in the next year or two?

If you’d like to come along for the ride, visit the Tanuki website [link here] and check out the available DT cuts. Also available via Denimio, and your local Tanuki retailer.

The End of the American 501

Levi’s 501 blue denim jeans is perhaps the most influential and recognized garment in modern history, and a true icon of the glory days of American culture during the 20th century.

Recent industry leaks have indicated that there will be no more 501 model jeans made in the USA – that is, the Levi’s Vintage Clothing (LVC) line will be completely outsourced (again) to be sewn in Bulgaria & Turkey.

Sad news, yes… but a surprise this is not.

The 501 model jeans have experienced a gradual decline over, almost, 70 years. The pinnacle of Levi’s jeans was reached in the 1950’s. The 1960’s saw the gradual introduction of wide-loomed, sanforised fabrics. The 1970’s saw the fading out of ring-spun cotton. By the 1990’s, Levi’s was losing market share at home in North America, and the late 90’s saw a series of factory closures. The last major Levi’s factory closed in 2003 – the first time that Levi’s was no longer made in the USA.

The Japanese began reproducing American denim in the 1980’s, having noticed the Levi’s jeans at that time were not the same quality as the post-war vintage they had collected. Levi’s Japan began remaking mid-century Levi’s in the late 80’s, and by the late 90’s, the idea of Levi’s Vintage Clothing was transplanted back in the USA.

The early LVC jeans, being made in Japan, or at Levi’s legendary Valencia St factory (which closed in 2002), where much sought after, rivaling – in some ways – the efforts by the niche Japanese denim makers.

After total factory closure in 2003, it seems all was lost for American blue jeans.

LVC was a cool idea, for a while anyway.

Yet, in the early 2010’s, Levi’s brought back some manufacturing to the USA for their premium labels, which include LVC, Made & Crafted, etc. Alas, this was not to last – the experiment finally failed in 2019.

The closure of American manufacturing occured not too long after the shut-down of Cone Mills’ last American plant – White Oak – in 2017. A mere two years after the centennial celebration of ‘the golden handshake’, the most important collaboration in denim history, the American part of the story was no more.

As of 2019, Levi’s has reverted to using Kaihara denim again for its LVC jeans.

One of the last rolls of White Oak denim at Lieutenant & Co.

And so it is, that in 2019, denim hobbyists witness a new era in denim jeans – an era in which Levi’s 501 is no longer American. Neither the denim or the sewing are American, that is, and what is left is perhaps a reminder of the golden age of Americana, a nostalgia of mid-century blue jeans.

From a more cynical perspective, the modern 501 model jeans is, in many ways, a sad reminder of the consequences of rampant capitalism.

Even as the LVC label continues on, it is without doubt to the enthusiast that most Japanese jeans will eat the LVC ones for breakfast. LVC, often plagued by reproduction inaccuracies in the past, now ventures into the territory of faster fashion – judging by the seasonal collections in the past couple of years, this label now has little to offer reproduction jeans enthusiasts.

Every year the LVC label has a little less to do with blue jeans.

All is not lost, however.

Even as the reproduction denim market has failed to grow as some would have hoped in the last 20 years outside of Japan, small makers have popped up to serve this niche. Without a doubt, the best 501 jeans are being made in Japan right now.

Many enthusiasts would nominate Connors Sewing Factory as the king of repop. Old stewards such as Fullcount & Warehouse continue to produce quality reproductions too, though they are facing issues of their own.

In the modern age, the best Levi’s are not Levi’s.

What does all of this mean for American denim?

To me, it seems like the age of the Big Three has truly ended with the final chapter of the genuine 501.

American blue jeans lives on in the small craft brands and a couple of hobby mills, yet with the death of the American 501, America’s claim to the blue jeans now only lives on in our memories. Certainly, Levi’s and Cone Mills continue their own innovations, yet what they now offer is looking very unfamiliar to the denim hobbyist. The best jeans are now undoubtedly Japanese, and the very small world of our denim hobby has just gotten that much smaller.

Two Ears Brand – ‘Marvel’ bandanna review

Type: review

Status: non-sponsored

Maker: Two Ears Brand

Item: bandanna, cotton

Price: $50 USD

 

Welcome back to the blog – the first ever bandanna review for Indigoshrimp.

I have been casually collecting Japanese bandannas for a few years now, though my last purchase was some years ago. Yet, through Instagram, I learnt that Jonathan of Bandanna Almanac and the team at Ooe Yofukuten Co. have come together to form the hobbyist bandanna brand, Two Ears Brand.

As you might already know, Jonathan has been collecting and studying bandannas for more than a decade now, and has worked in the Japanese clothing industry. Partnering with Ooe Yofukuten for the manufacture/ sewing of bandannas, Two Ears Brand is re-introducing 19th century prints to our heritage-wear wardrobes.

Their launch pieces from August this year, the Marvel bandanna in Turkey Red and Indigo Blue, caught my eye immediately. I’m a sucker for nice, dark red bandannas, so will be checking out the Turkey Red version today.

 

Design & Construct

The Marvel is a medium sized, square-shaped bandanna/kerchief.

It measures around 50 cm by 50 cm when new.

The two non-selvedged edges have been neatly sewn with off-white thread at 8 SPI.

A branded sticker is included on the bottom right corner, which is easily removed. In the same corner, we have the logo of two ears of corn, and the Fast Color statement.

 

Print

Jonathan tells me that the print of the Marvel bandanna was made using a never used sample from a former factory, dating to 1880.

The main character is a heavy square border, with square paisley motifs in the centre.

The design, including the actual red base-colour of the bandanna, has been hand-printed in Japan.

The print is much finer compared to most bandannas I have seen – I count three colours in total.

Flowers, surround by intricate leaves, share center stage with the larger square paisley blocks in the border.

The flowers look like tulips to me.

You can see the delicacy of the tracings here; there are many details to be discovered.

In contrast to the fancy border, the center of the bandanna is kept fairly simple.

18 smaller versions of the square paisley dot the middle.

The red colour is deeper, more rustic, compared to modern red bandannas. There is a slight orange and rust tone to the deep red.

Jonathan points out that the “Turkey Red” version is not a true Turkey Red dye, and neither is the “Indigo Blue” version a natural indigo.

 

Fabric

The plain-weave cotton fabric used on this bandanna has been woven on a narrow-width vintage loom in Japan.

This bandanna features two sided selvedge, thus giving us a measure of the width of the woven fabric.

The fabric is strong for its light-weight.

The drape is fantastic.

The hand-feel is more luxurious than most cotton bandannas I’ve handled previously.

The surface catches the fingertips a little more than a fine silk bandanna – more organic, yet still comfortable against the skin.

The actual weave itself is more variegated and a little denser than most modern bandanna cloth.

 

Thoughts

If you are a bandanna enthusiast or a fan of early century menswear, Two Ears Brand is looking to become your bandanna maker of choice. I must say, this Marvel bandanna is the finest in my small collection so far.

Firstly, the print is out of this world – much finer and more intricate than anything else I have seen so far. The heavy border, tulips and square paisley have true vintage flavor, which isn’t surprising given the sample design was from 1880.

There is a big difference here between the Marvel and other modern bandanna which have bold designs – the Marvel print is not busy… it’s delicate. Most of the bandanna feature little square paisley seemingly rotating in a sea of red. There is a great balance between space and tracings.

The fabric is also very luxurious. A finer cotton bandanna cloth I have not seen – the feel against the skin is silkier compared to my other Japanese bandannas. The two sided selvedge is pretty cool – not many makers have released two sided offerings (Japan Blue Group brands come to mind), with most higher-end brands using wider loomed fabrics and cutting the cloth to make one sided selvedge.

The overall quality, all aspects considered, is a tier above most bandannas released by the Japanese heritage wear brands, and way nicer than the American Hav-A-Hank stuff. The closest competition would be Kapital’s bandannas, and perhaps natural hand-dyed bandannas from small-studios.

At $50 USD, however, the Marvel is a fairly expensive bandanna. Two-sided selvedge bandannas from Japan Blue or Momotaro Jeans can be had at half the price, though the print is nowhere near as good as the Marvel. Many Kapital bandannas are more expensive, but then you’re paying for the brand name too. Thus, as far as the highest tier of bandanna are concerned, Two Ears Brand can be seen as the new comer offering good value, and a fresh take on true vintage designs.

The Marvel is not for everyone, given the pricing and the 1880 reproduction print. Reproduction enthusiasts, bandanna collectors and well-to-do hobbyists will delight in this Marvel bandanna. Beginners to heritage menswear or folks on a budget should look at offerings in the tier below, starting perhaps with selvedge bandanna in the $20 to $30 range.

Overall, highly recommended.

The Marvel is a bandanna, which, for me, was love at first sight. Check out the Two Ears Brand website for more details.

The End of The Flat Head

A few months ago, chatting away on social media, I was alerted to the fact that one of the biggest names in Japanese denim is in serious financial trouble. The fact, in itself, was not surprising to me at the time – a couple of brands which I used to follow in the 2000’s have quietly disappeared already – yet, learning that it was The Flat Head (TFH) which might be going under, shocked my hobby brain.

I had just attended a TFH event last year here in Melbourne! The founder had been enthusiastically talking about making custom deerskin jackets – surely, this was not a brand under stress?

Predictably, a couple of weeks after industry chatter began, around four months prior to today’s writing, there was a politely, and optimistically, worded official statement discussing rebranding and redirection. This, we now know, was actually the company being placed under alternative administration in the hopes of keeping it alive.

That attempt at salvaging TFH officially failed in August 2019, with the company filing for “civil rehabilitation”, akin to bankruptcy. Japanese media reports TFH achieving its highest profitability in 2014/15, with sharp drops in revenue thereafter, ending up almost 50% less profitable in 2018/19. The trouble, it seems, had been brewing for some time.

I was going to begin the article by writing about how Kobayashi, TFH founder, started the brand out of his Desert Hills Market shop in 1993… but really, this story is no longer relevant in 2019, and did not interest me too much. Here, I thought, lies one of the problems with The Flat Head, and many of its peers.

In the early 2000’s, when Japanese denim was becoming known outside of Japan, enthusiasts of the time were enamored with the founding myths of the core brands. Fullcount and its Zimbabwe cotton, Samurai Jeans doing 21 oz denim, Evisu and its imaginary Levi’s loom. These stories are now at least one generation old, and honestly, I really do sense that no ones cares anymore.

We are soon to embark on the 2020’s. The current and upcoming generations of denimheads, bombarded with social media data, plagued by choice in heritage menswear, simply do not have the time, nor the attention span, for the traditional Japanese denim brands and their stories. The problem here isn’t necessarily that people are not paying attention when they ought to, more the fact that many of the brands have ceased to innovate and grow.

Perhaps it is similar to listening to your grandfather’s stories of his youth – important, yes, because if he never seduced grandma, you wouldn’t exist – and yet, you don’t really care because his world had been so different to yours, to the point of disconnect.

In our hobby then, this is similar to the brands that continues to spin stories about their 501 reproductions…… the vast majority of hobbyists have moved on, and the next generation are unlikely to care.

In the world of today, very few peoples globally will grow up with a romanticism about Americana – the Japanese brands did revive Americana fashion certainly, yet they can no longer stake their survival on this accomplishment. In a rapidly changing world, Japanese denim needs to be more than it has been, if it is to remain relevant as a menswear niche or a hobby.

The smaller operations catering for local Japanese consumers will surely continue on, yet the bigger operations who, a decade ago, began braving international waters, have been facing significant challenges in the past years. Adapting simultaneously to the rise of social media, the Western cultures, new Asian markets, digital commerce, and completely different outlooks of style and menswear, surely is a difficult task.

The core theme of the demise of TFH, and of the up-coming collapse of other Japanese denim brands, to me, is the failure to evolve.

Surely, the Japanese, after a century of industrial and social innovation, are not guilty of being stagnant?

My opinion, having observed this hobby for almost 15 years, is that the issues with some of the brands stem not so much from a strict adherence to tradition, as Westerners tend to generalize in regards to Orientals. Rather, the problem here is how many of the denim brands have their identity pinned to their founders, and how some of the founders continue to exert iron grips on the directions and designs for these brands, despite many of them sitting firmly in retirement age.

Too often, many of these once-cool brands have been started, and operated, as a serious hobby by their now aging founders. Numerous examples within this hobby tell us that these brands rarely survive their bosses getting old, let alone their retirement. The devolving process of RMC over the past years is instructional in this matter. A hobby brand will only last as long as the youth of the hobbyist.

Perhaps it is my work life bleeding onto this blog, but I do see many of our favourite brands in terms of Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development. The last two stages, in particular: Will a brand be generative or stagnant in its maturity? Will a stagnant brand maintain integrity, or fall into despair? Brands don’t die the same way people do, of course, but they can go bankrupt or sold to a fashion conglomerate or passed down to a disinterested son. Denime, White’s Boots, RMC, etc. There are many examples in our hobby already.

I contend that the lack of opportunity for influence and assistance from younger talent, foreign or domestic, is an important reason why brands such as TFH could not adapt successfully to the market places of the 2010’s. Having new & fresh energy winds back the clock for these hobby brands.

A successful international denim brand has to do so much these days: different cuts for different parts of the world, fighting for industry resources which are often taken over by industrial giants like Uniqlo and invaded by foreign companies such as 3Sixteen, developing and changing social media strategies, branding yourself in the correct way in different markets, navigating the Japanese denim niche populated by fickle retailers and hobbyists.

Can an ageing Japanese biker who loves 501s tackle these challenges by his lonesome?

Hard to say, probably not.

The better question is, will he allow himself to find the right help?

It is not surprising to me then, that the Japanese brands which are doing well are the ones which are decentralized and constantly innovating, the ones which are branching out far beyond reproduction Levis jeans, making their products street and casual friendly, the ones which do not rely on the passion of one man to fuel its growth.

Tanuki Inc., the Japan Blue Group, Studio D’Artisan – companies such as these are well set-up to thrive in the next decade. You will see how they are structured differently from TFH.

Operations such as the Osaka 5? Maybe not so much – we will watch them fade away, or get sold on (Denime, SDA)…… if not already, then in the next years.

So, what is to become of our hobby then?

I have no doubt that reproduction clothing and vintage-style menswear will always be a niche, serviced by a handful of dedicated but small-scale makers. This will not change.

Attempts by some at launching Japanese denim into high fashion have largely failed, and I do not see (and do not hope) that haute-denim will be a thing.

As it is, and will be in the short future, casual wear and street wear will be where innovative Japanese denim brands will find new fans. The brands which can make the furthest inroads into these huge consumer bases will be the ones which will thrive in the next decade.

For now, let’s take a moment to remember The Flat Head.