Talking about Oni Denim…

Someone asked me today – what is so special about Oni Denim?

To go beyond the obvious in describing the loosely woven, slubby denim and the impeccable craftsmenship, though, would take a little time.

Where better to do this than my personal rant box? (This blog.)

Here goes – our story begins a long time ago when selvedge denim was plenty but no one really cared:


After WWII, in a rather curious way, the Japanese became infatuated with American culture.

Indigo jeans was one of the highly sought after imports, being a cultural icon of sorts.

The simple denim work pant, whilst so coveted, was a rare commodity in Japan.

A few sewing & trading companies began importing 2nd hand jeans from the US, and remaking them into Japanese sizes.

Yes, even back then the yanks were a fair bit chunkier than the Japanese – I’d imagine such an undertaking today  might be a harder task than making a pair from scratch😛

(Haha, jokes, don’t worry, us Aussies are right behind you on the chubby chart.)

These pioneering workshops included what was to become Edwin & Big John.

One in particular, Maruo Clothing (the predecessor of Big John) did particularly well for itself, and in the 1960s – under a partnership with Canton Textile Mills (USA) & Oishi Trading Company – made one of the first pairs of domestically manufactured jeans, using American denim from Canton Mills, in 1963 under the brand name “Canton” in Kojima.

This partnership coincided with Canton Mills’ efforts in modernising it’s production, with the denim fabric being produced one step closer to what we see in our local supermarkets today.

( Btw, there is some controversy as to who was the first – Canton, Edwin, etc? Edwin claims to have made the first pair in 1961.)

Anyway, controversy aside, Maruo Clothing later started making it’s own brand of denim – Big John – in 1967, using denim imported from Cone Mills.

Later, in the early 1970s, Big John would be the first to utilize Japanese denim (AFAIK from Kurabo Mills) in it’s production of jeans – yep, that’s right, Japanese denim has only been around for 40 years.

From there on Big John went on to do pretty well for itself as a factory brand, being one of the companies leading the way in re-discovering natural indigo dyed denim as well as doing some earlier reproduction work.

Maruo’s partners though, were not as fortunate – Canton Mills closed down in 1981 (leaving Cone Mills all by itself in America) and Oishi Trading Co. decided to cease producing jeans under the Canton brand in 1983.

After Maruo Clothing, Oishi Trading Company had used different workshops to produce Canton jeans – the Takahata sewing workshop, for example, whose modern day affiliates are producing Eight-G jeans.

But ultimately, Canton did not last – it had been revived in the past, though never again with actual Canton Mills denim.


Fast forward to today, the first generation Japanese denim companies have taken very different roads.

The Canton brand has been passed around, and the latest iteration of the Canton brand seems to be run by a fashion focussed company producing jeans which feature some curious hard-washes…the soul of the original Canton partnership & brand was all but dead.

Edwin, as we all know, was quite successful and at one stage had Brad Pitt model their wares – mostly doing mid-market & “washed” denim nowadays, though their knack for quality constructs occasionally still shines through in products such as the old Japanese Wrangler reproductions and their own Vintage Collection line.

Big John has been making fair priced denim all along, occasionally doing “anniversary” special editions which feature solid craftsmenship, but sad to say they’ve largely missed the train on the vintage-revival & raw denim trends.


Where does Oni Denim come into this?

Well, a little bit of the Canton spirit lives on in Oni, as the man who runs Oni Denim (a bloke called Oishi) is in fact the son of the founder of Oishi Trading Company, one of the original Canton partners.

A convoluted tale no less, but for me it is interesting to trace some of the history of denim jeans manufacturing in Japan in a pair of Oni’s.

That pioneering spirit certainly does live on, as Oni continually comes up with interesting concepts, from the Shoai to the single-stitch 1001-HM, playing with the fabric both in terms of weave and material.

Indeed, the myth of Oni Denim is that the brand relies on fabric made by an old weaver close to 80 years old – only this man can operate the old shuttle loom that makes Oni’s fabrics…he works slowly, and due to his health cannot work in cold weather, and as such the production of Oni jeans is very limited and only done in intervals of months.

Personally, I’m not sure how much of this is spin and how much is truth – part of me thinks the story is very cool, though another part wishes it wasn’t true as I would still like to purchase Oni Denim with it’s magnificent slubby fabrics in 2020.

Oni Denim doesn’t give much away either  – the company is famous for denying interviews with the top denim magazines in Japan – the focus is on quality jeans.

This single-mindedness and obsession is something I admire & can relate to.

Although the little Oni fan inside me was quite taken aback by their collaboration with Naked & Famous…

It is all a big mystery: Which mill manufactures Oni’s denim? Which workshop constructs Oni’s jeans?

A very interesting topic in the hobby of Japanese denim, but these mysteries soon become an after-thought once you’ve handled Oni Denim jeans.

It’s truly special stuff.

Talking about Oni Denim…

More Oni 18oz Ghost Armour pictures

A few people have enquired about the 18oz Ghost Armour – what exactly the hell is it?


Well, Ghost Armor is the name of the original, super slubby 19oz denim developed by Oni’s denim mill that preceeded the current 18oz version.

I think the original Ghost Armor was developed around 2004/2005 – at around that time Samurai also used the same/similar denim on one of their special edition jeans.


Anyway, the famous Shoai denim is basically a natural indigo dyed version of the Ghost Armor, AFAIK.

(I remember a discussion I had with another denim nerd about the virtues of applying natural indigo on a super slubby denim: I thought it was superfluous, since the ultra-slubbiness on the Ghost Armor already gives a natural variation in the sheen & indigo, thus defeating the point of the Shoai denim – why spend double the $$$ when the effects are oh so similar? To me, it would have made more sense to use natural indigo on fabrics with subtle irregularities, such as what the Nihon Mempu mill has done for Sugar Cane. But that’s very debatable and besides the point.)

In 2009, Oni released an updated fabric to replace the 19oz Ghost Armour – a 18oz version with a richer but more subtle irregularities & slubs, thus better mimicking hand-woven fabrics.

The twisting force use in the weave was increased, and this new fabric was called Ghost Twists.

But I kept calling it by the old name, because Ghost Armour sounds better, ahahahahaha😛


Anyway, here are some pictures.

They haven’t been worn much, but I’ve scheduled them for Winter of 2011!


DSC04263.jpg picture by CCH_photo

DSC04268.jpg picture by CCH_photo

DSC04278.jpg picture by CCH_photo

DSC04276.jpg picture by CCH_photo


And finally, some bonus pictures.


DSC04271.jpg picture by CCH_photo

More Oni 18oz Ghost Armour pictures

Oni Denim 1001-HM continued

As promised, some more pictures today in natural light:


DSC04286.jpg picture by CCH_photo

DSC04306.jpg picture by CCH_photo

DSC04304.jpg picture by CCH_photo


Gotta love the starch soak method I’ve recently started utilising:)

Not only does it solve the problem of annoying crinkles and folds in new denim…

But also the creases have set in really well after just 24 hours!

I reckon by the month’s end, they creases would be settled – this would allow me to wash the jeans earlier and more frequently but still achieve nice fading (well, I’m hoping :P)

A secondary effect of this method is that the indigo will peel faster at stress points and creases, making the jeans fade faster.


Oh, I nearly forgot – the patch renovation has been completed!

Here’s what it looks like now – as you can seen, the leather is darker & more supple now, and the grain is more pronounced.

I think the colour & texture of this dear skin patch matches the denim much better now:)


Oni Denim 1001-HM continued

Oni Denim 1001 – Hand Made

Everybody has different expectations & likes/dislikes when it comes to denim – on the whole, I would say most (I use the word lightly here) Western hobbyists favour a smooth, heavy, tightly woven fabric which produces fast & intensely contrasting fading.

I, on the other hand, prefer the exact opposite.

My perfect pair of all-seasons jeans (well, all seasons as far as the south end of Australia is concerned) would be made from a slubby, 14 to 18 oz, loosely woven fabric which will produce nice blue hues and good vertical fading.


This is why one of my favourite brands is Oni Denim – their denim is pretty much spot-on what I’m looking for!

Some brands focus on dyeing techniques or heavier fabrics, while others concentrate on accurate reproductions or incorporating Japanese detailing.

Oni Denim, much to my delight, focuses on the denim fabric; more specifically, the texture/hand of the fabric.


The 1001-HM (Hand-Made), the latest offering from Oni Denim, arrived a few days ago!

Here’s a sneak peak with some macro shots.



The first thing I noticed was that the company has been renamed – they are no longer BS United!

Many people have asked in the past why they named the company BS United.

Well, the owner of Oni is the son of the founder of Canton, the oldest denim pants maker in Japan!
The ‘BS‘ in BS united refers to Big Stone, or Oishi in Japanese, the family name of the Canton founder.

But I guess they have now caught on to the fact that BS is short-hand for Bull Shit for most of their overseas customers, so the company name has been changed – they have renamed themselves O.N.International Co. Ltd!

Personally I think Oni Denim Co. would have been a better choice😛


Anyway, back on topic.
The theme on Oni’s latest batch of jeans is the emphasis on ‘hand-made’ construction.

The concept is that before the 1920’s (i.e. before the likes of 43200G chain-stitch machines, etc), there were no machines that were specialised for each individual aspect of dungaree construction.

Everything was single-needle stitched, and this heavily involves the use of felled/French seams.

So, with these 1001-HM, a vintage single-stitch machine was used in putting the jeans together.

No chain stitch, no double chain-stitch, no bar-tacking, etc; just single needle stitching & felled seams.

Oni wanted to re-imagine how a pair of jeans in the 1890s would have been made.



Of course, knowing Oni, there are bound to be some odd twists in the final product – for the 1001HM, it’s the interesting way they reinforce the belt loops & back-pockets and the slight curve on the back-pocket opening which are very unique (and potentially off-putting for some, so I’ve been told).

I have to say, the stitchings are very neat & well done.


The hardware is impressive as well – simple, yet the texture of which blends in nicely with the slubby, rough denim.

I’m undecided on the back-pocket ‘arcuates’ – I much prefer their 1st generation arcuates, and although the 3rd generation arcuates on these 1001HM have been slimmed down from the 2nd generation ones on my Ghost Armor jeans, I’m still not 100% happy with them – I blame the Levi’s lawsuits😦


But of course, the star of any Oni jeans is the denim itself – woven on THE vintage loom with the weave tension hand-adjusted every step of the way by the old master weaver himself (indeed, he is the Oni the label refers to!).

The master weaver uses a weave tension so low and a twisting force so high that every loom in his factory jammed up when he was attempting to create his ideal denim – except this loom, the last loom standing, the survivor loom, the little loom that could…

Other brands solve this problem by mixing shorter staple cotton types into the yarn to create slubbiness & irregularity in the fabric (think Samurai) – but not Oni…

The master weaver insists on using long staple cotton even though this makes the process much more difficult, because the resulting fabric would be more durable and comfortable in the long run (no cutting corners around this man, that’s why it’s Oni – the demon)!


And it is this same loom that still weaves Oni’s denim today (that’s why Oni releases so few models every year – the rate-limiting step is the speed with which the master weaver can churn out this fabric, and it’s pretty slow – only a few meters every hour).

The 1001-HM is made with an amazing 14oz fabric with a weave so loose & irregular that light can shine through at certain points when the denim is still raw.

And when you first soak or wash this denim, the denim tightens and the fabric comes to life – the beauty of slack weave!

The hand of this denim is unique & simply amazing:)
A small complaint though:  I didn’t like how the patch looked as the deer leather got a bit crinkled & dried-out in their factory wash.


So I did some rescuing 

The process (as shown in the photo below) is only 50% complete – I’ve managed to darken the leather and emphasise the grain even more.

More to come, including profile shots of the jeans as a whole & further updates on my re-working of the leather patch – stay tuned!


Oni Denim 1001 – Hand Made

Oni 18oz ‘Ghost Armour’ jeans

Oni Denim is a small scale production – it was brought to the attention of consumers outside Japan mainly due to it’s association with Blue in Green Soho. Here is what Hinoya has to say about Oni (I’ve corrected the grammar & rephrased it for clarity):


“Oni Denim production relies on only one old workman.
If it is not handled by this old, experienced workman, the machine that weaves
the cloth of Oni Denim cannot function well.
This old craftsman is nearly 80 years old.

Only this old man can make the fabric used in Oni denim now.
It is very time-consuming to make Oni Denim – the available models will be sold out soon!

Masterpiece of craftwork.
Here’s some Oni love: 18 oz, slubby denim on the ‘Ghost Armour’ jeans.


Oni 18oz ‘Ghost Armour’ jeans