Tanuki Inc. Japan – Red Cast Tapered RCT1 review

After being away from the denim hobby for a few years, I had a lot of catching up to do when I returned to the indigo life last year. Many brands and start-ups were new to me, and out of these denim makers the ones that impressed me the most were perhaps Tanuki Inc. and Stevenson Overall.

After being introduced to Tanuki’s RR1 jeans last year – my review can be found here – I found the Retro denim very much to my liking, and have been consistently wearing the RR1 for the past 6 months.

Background information about Tanuki Inc. can be found in my previous review linked above, but the short version is that Tanuki is a project started by a group of like-minded craftsmen from different professions within the jeans making industry. Tanuki stands out from other Japanese brands by focusing on highly technical & innovative denims and modern cuts, whilst still retaining the considered craftsmanship and attention to detailing that has been the domain of reproduction-oriented Japanese makers.

The folks at Tanuki were kind enough to allow me early access to their latest fabric, the Red Cast denim, in their signature Tapered fit. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the Tanuki RCT1 jeans.

The Cut

The RCT1 features Tanuki’s Tapered fit, which is the second most spacious in their current line up of six fits.

I measured this size 36 pair of the Tapered cut, in loomstate, with the following results:

Waist   19.25

Inseam   36.25

F Rise   10.75

B Rise   15.75

Thigh   13.5

Hem   7.25

After a proper shrink-to-fit, there is initially a ~ 8% shrinkage:

Waist   18.5

Inseam   33.5

F Rise   10.375

B Rise   15

Thigh   12.75

Hem   7.125

For reference I am 185 cm tall, around 95 kg, 44 inch chest. In the photos here I’m wearing the size 36 for the first time, after shrinking the denim with a thorough hot soak.

For me, the jeans are long enough to allow cuffing even after shrink to fit.

As you can see from the measurements, Tanuki’s Tapered cut is very much a variation of the lifter’s fit – possessing a medium rise and decent room in the seat & thighs, yet maintaining a trim silhouette by aggressively tapering from the knee down. Overall I would say the fit is true to size and able to accommodate slightly larger folks without discomfort in the upper legs or any nut-cracker action.

The Denim – Raw

What we have here is an unsanforised, low-tension 16.5 oz fabric, in right-hand twill, that has been woven on a narrow shuttle loom. The cotton utilized is a slightly longer than usual staple from Texas.

This Red Cast fabric is a very special denim indeed, both in terms of the weave and the colour. Immediately, you’ll notice the red cast, but it is not the red cast with which we’re familiar – more than a purple hue, the blue here is fairly intense and the tinge of red can be observed both within the indigo and around it.

Traditionally, a red cast denim is produced by using extremely pure indigo dye, basically synthetic indigo without any additives such as sulfur. The result is a shade of indigo which is (blue + red) = purple.

Tanuki has taken a more detailed approach here, however, and have specially developed the indigo used on this Red Cast denim to be both more pure and more reactive with organic & acidic compounds that are commonly found in the environment. The warp threads are rope dyed through just 6 dips, yet with the oxidation time in between dips maximized to achieve the deep, red-tinged colour you can see here.

The low tension weaving combined with the use of semi-slub yarns in both the warp and the weft produce a very textural fabric. Further, by controlling the rattling on the loom, Tanuki was able to manipulate the level of loom chatter so as to create a denim with a vintage feel which isn’t too loud or artificial in appearance. Overall, this Red Cast denim is certainly slubbier than the previously reviewed Retro denim, closer to the Natural fabric in hand-feel and surface appearance.

To increase the vintage character of the Red Cast denim, Tanuki engineered it to have a small amount of nep. The denim is dotted sporadically with outwardly protruding tufts of weft threads, one of which can be seen in the photo above.

Despite the rough fabric, this denim is not scratchy or uncomfortable at all. In fact, Tanuki pays special attention to all of their low tension fabrics to ensure that the texture of the denim does not impact comfort, performance or longevity – a point of difference compared with many other denim makers from whom slubbier denims tend to be scratchy, prone to early tearing and initially uncomfortable.

The slubby texture and irregularities within the denim can also be observed clearly on the weft side. However, the weft threads reveal another hidden aspect to this denim…

If you look carefully, you’ll see that the weft threads are not bleached or ecru. Instead, the weft is a shade of biege with a tinge of red! This subtle colouration adds further to the red tone of this denim.

The colouring of this thread is most easily discerned at the selvedge edge, where bleached threads are used to close off the fabric, contrasting with the coloured weft.

The end result? The denim not only has a red-in-blue, purple hued indigo colour, but also a faint red glow that rises from behind the warp threads. This Red Cast denim is certainly a very unique fabric.

The Denim – Shrink-to-Fit

To shrink down this unsanforised denim, I soaked it in hot water for a hour with agitation every 15 minutes. I then finished the process by rinsing the jeans in warm water several times.

The soak water turned out a very deep shade of green after an hour!

There was a lot of starch in the denim, and even after the extensive soak & rinse process the jeans were still sticky with starch. The colouring of the yarns can be clearly discerned when the fabric is wet – look at that tea coloured cotton!

After contact with water, not only does the weave tighten and the slubbing become accentuated, but the denim also becomes rather hairy. Very curiously, the red tone and the general depth of colour in the indigo has increased – Tanuki explained to me that the hyper-reactivity of this indigo applies to water contact too, which increases the intensity of the red cast.

Indeed, the overall appearance of the denim is noticeably darker now and the redness more apparent. The transformation with water is pretty intense with this Red Cast denim, and the indigo featured here is perhaps the darkest from Tanuki so far.

The fabric definitely has a rougher feel after shrinking, but it is not uncomfortable at all. Rated at 16.5 oz, this Red Cast denim has slightly less body compared with the Natural fabric. Overall, it is a comfortable and easy to wear denim, despite the rugged texture.

Much like the Retro denim, this Red Cast denim must be soaked before its full potential is released!

The Details

Like all the other Tanuki jeans so far, this pair features their signature vegetable tanned deerskin patch at 2.5 oz (1 mm thickness).

This is one of the nicest leather patches I’ve experienced, and I base this opinion on how the patch on my Tanuki RR1 has aged so far after 6 months – it has performed very well in aspects of grain development, depth of colour, lustre and wash resistance.

The button fly features four metal buttons with antiqued copper finishing and plain back-studs. These buttons are sturdy and substantial.

The antique finishing on these buttons are rather well done.

In my previous review of the Tanuki RR1, one of my few criticisms pertained to the lack of customisation in the hardware featured. I am very glad to see that in their latest batch of jeans, Tanuki has made it so that the external Universal rivets have all been customised and antiqued in a similar way to the buttons.

The hidden rivets are Universal’s, nice & thick!

The belt loops are raised, with a fairly prominent ridge.

A shirting-quality red gingham cloth is used as front pocket fabric and back pocket liner. This is one of the nicer pocket cloths I’ve come across, even among Japanese brands, though it does not feel as substantial as Kurashiki sail cloth.

The front pockets are deep enough & shaped in such a way so as to easily accommodate modern phones or a smaller wallet. The front pocket holes are also cut lower and with a deeper curve, resulting in pockets that are very easy to use. Even if you don’t put anything in the front pockets, it’s quite comfortable resting your hands in there!

The back pockets are nicely sized and will hold any type of wallet comfortably. Traditionally sized bifolds, rider’s and mid-wallets will fit into the pockets completely.

The Chinese character for ‘two’ features again, in signature red and white bar-tacking. If you look closely, tonal indigo stitching can be seen running across the pockets, hinting at the half-lining of the back pockets.

The Construct

The sewing of this pair of RCT1 jeans is mostly the same as the previously reviewed RR1 jeans, being neat and ‘streamlined’.

I counted 7 thread colours in a variety of sizes.

Main threads: Lemon, Orange, Tea.

Secondary threads: Red, Black, White, Tonal Indigo.

Playing on a similar theme, the Red Cast jeans feature a red line of stitching running down the inseam instead of the signature blue line which feature on Tanuki’s other jeans.

Further, the Red Cast jeans also feature red stitching on the coin pocket.

Similar to my observations in the RR1 review, here I am impressed by how the main thread colours are carefully coordinated and blended into each other in a subtle but elegant way. You must look closely to notice this detail, as the orange and tea threads are easily mistaken for the same colour at first glance.

The sewing is neat and straight with no stitch-lines too close to the edges. Take the chain-stitching on the waistband for example.

As you can see, thicker threads have been selected for the chain-stitch.

More examples of the chain-stitch work can be found in the back yoke and hems. The consistency and regularity of the construct are noteworthy.

The button holes are very nicely made. The sewing is very dense on both sides and precisely placed.

The button holes deserve another look – sewn then cut, check out the density of the sewing too!

The fly is neatly locked on both sides. This is one of the neatest non-selvedge flys I’ve come across, even with the contrasting thread colours!

The belt loops are not tucked, but are accurately placed and bar-tacked.

The bar-tacking, riveting and button placement are all carefully executed. Check out the great finish at the fly reinforcement!

The inseam is neatly locked too, all of the sewing running precisely in parallel and none of the fraying denim stick out!

No loose threads on the inside or outside – a very clean look indeed!

Thoughts & Opinions

Many experienced denim hobbyists had doubts about Tanuki last year when the hype of its launch overshadowed the substance of their products, the situation made worse by a couple of competitors waging questionable forum campaigns against Tanuki. I am glad to see that Tanuki has been keeping its head down and focusing its effort on developing new denims and new fits. One year on, as the first batch of Tanuki jeans are starting to produce some great fading results, Tanuki can be counted among the most popular brands in the raw denim community at large and have won over some fairly hardcore fans too. The proof of the pudding is in the eating – I believe at this point Tanuki’s jeans more than speak for themselves.

Tanuki continues to impress me with their new fabrics and updated cuts. The original Natural Indigo and Retro fabrics were some of the best loomstate denims that I’ve ever handled, and the subsequent solid tone denim releases (ID x ID, black) were great combinations of modern aesthetics and Japanese denim tradition. Tanuki’s latest Red Cast denim continues this record of producing fantastic loomstate denims, and these RCT1 jeans prove to be one of the most interesting Japanese jeans of 2017 thus far.

Like I had mentioned previously in the Tanuki RR1 review, it is very rare to encounter a pair of jeans for which the denim has been completely custom engineered from the ground up… the resources and industry connections required to achieve such a feat is simply unavailable to all but the most prestigious Japanese makers and brands, with Tanuki having significant advantages in this area due to members of the project being actual denim weavers and loom specialists. Denim of this calibre are few and far in between.

The RCT1 features a rather modern Tapered fit which should appeal to current generation denimheads. Ample room exists in the top block such that movement is relatively unrestricted despite the slimming fit, even for people with more masculine lower body builds. Reproduction enthusiasts need not apply, though they may find the Regular Straight cut more suitable.

The Red Cast denim itself is a great twist on how the red cast of indigo has traditionally been achieved and, much like the Retro denim, is a marvelous fabric that is full of geeky details which will be appreciated by hobbyists and collectors alike. The tone of the indigo is reminiscent of early century denims, giving the jeans a rustic appearance that is quite appealing to me. Unlike most red cast denims on which the indigo have intense purple hues, Tanuki’s version imparts a tonal shift in both the warp & weft that is much more towards a darker shade of red…the colour of a nice Taiwanese oolong tea, if you like! The vintage character of this fabric has been further enhanced by a very specific slub n’ nep texture that was achieved through expert manipulation of the shuttle-loom.

The detailing and construction of these RCT1 jeans are very considered too. Tanuki jeans feature some of the nicest sewing around, with the overall construction comparing well with other top-tier Japanese brands. The peripheral components such as the leather patch and pocket cloth all feature first class materials which combine nicely with the denim itself, and overall the jeans have a cohesive aesthetic and an artisanal quality. The deerskin leather patch in particular, from a leather enthusiast’s perspective, is one of the nicest patches I have ever handled.

This ‘cohesiveness’ I mentioned is an often forgotten aspect when examining jeans, yet I think it is one of the most important factors that separate Japanese jeans from the usually inferior jeans made in other countries. It is a vague consideration to be sure, something that is hard to precisely explain, but you know it when you see it and, more importantly, jeans simply look weird if cohesion is lacking. (NB: I don’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings here and I acknowledge there are some great jeans being made outside of Japan, but there is no dispute within our hobby that the Japanese are at the top of this game!)

Now that Tanuki has added custom embossing to the external rivets, the other aspect of the jeans that I believe could be upgraded is the use of a customised top button. I really want the face of a Tanuki on the button 🙂

If you haven’t tried a pair of Tanuki’s jeans yet, I’d suggest that you need to at least see a pair in person at some point. For me, after wearing the Tanuki RR1 for the past 6 months and now getting some time with the RCT1, I would actually recommend Tanuki ahead of Oni or PBJ!

To conclude, I believe these Tanuki RCT1 jeans will make a great addition to the denim collections of both new and advanced denim hobbyists. New comers to Japanese denim will appreciate the comfortable yet modern fit and the considered detailing, whilst hardcore geeks will really enjoy the nuances of this Red Cast denim – the RCT1 has something to offer everyone.

9 out of 10, highly recommended!

Tanuki is available through several stockists – check out Godspeed Store for Tanuki jeans and even Tanuki wallets!

The Effects of Japanese Retailers Selling Abroad: A Hobbyist’s Perspective

Heddels has recently released an interesting article discussing the politics and finances involved in the international retail of Japanese denim. While I do agree with much of what was written, the article did prompt me to reflect on these issues from the perspective of a long time hobbyist. Here are some of my thoughts:

My own interest in denim began during the 2000s, as a teenager, catching onto the very tail end of the reproduction craze of denim in Japan. In those days, brands that are now household names among the denim community were little known – it took quite a number of years before street-wear enthusiasts and pioneering Western denim retailers created a large enough consumer group and knowledge base for the Japanese denim hobby to begin flourishing.

Certainly, North American retailers such as Self Edge and Blue in Green were major forces driving this increasing awareness during the mid-2000s, contributing to the hobby not only through foot traffic in their brick & mortar stores but also through facilitating the growth of the worldwide denim community via the social media of the day – denim forums such as Superfuture, for example. These early stores made available previously difficult to obtain denim garments – at marked up prices compared with Japan of course – without the hassle of navigating the potentially risky use of proxy purchase services of the day.

Oldie but goodie. Experienced denim nerds will know about Pants Shop Avenue. Photo provided by Pants Shop Avenue.

Even in those early days, however, serious hobbyists such as myself were already purchasing directly from Japan. It was well known within the Superfuture community that if you wanted to purchase Studio D’Artisan or Denime jeans, Naoki at Pants Shop Avenue is your man. If you wanted to purchase Samurai Jeans, then you’d send e2nd an e-mail. Oni jeans? Go directly to Hinoya. Buzz Rickson sweatshirts? Definitely SeaBees.

Back then, the only reason I’d purchase from a Western retailer is if they had a collaboration product that was particularly interesting or if they had exclusive stock of shirts & jackets in Western sizes. As a young man with expensive hobbies, the lower prices when purchasing directly from Japan outweighed any other factors or risks involved in denim shopping, and given I didn’t live in San Francisco or New York, it wasn’t like I could visit any of the Western stockists in person anyway.

Collaborations – good for promoting shops, and hobbyists love them – win + win.

More than a decade later, the denim hobby certainly looks very different.

New shops have popped up both inside and outside of Japan. Of significance is the launch of Japanese retailers Denimio and Okayama Denim – these are operations based in Japan with all the local connections, yet they target the denim market outside of Japan and have the English language abilities & Internet know-how to facilitate easy purchasing by non-Japanese speaking customers. These web-shops sell their products at Japanese pricing and are stocked much more extensively than the average brick & mortar store, usually ending up more competitively priced than even Rakuten stores too due to their offer of free international shipping.

Recent Pure Blue Japan mark-up has caused quite a stir, and a bit of whinging.

Meanwhile, the growth of Japanese denim ‘culture’ and awareness is now mostly facilitated by the Internet and social media. A forum thread on Superfuture or a Instagram post by a well known influencer will have far wider reach compared with attempts at educating new customers by a Western stockist. B&M shops, from my own memory of the past years, have never been viewed as authorities on subjects within this hobby anyway. In most English speaking countries we don’t have close-knit communities based on interests in Americana or work wear clothing, people with serious spending power don’t hang out at local denim joints all day, and certainly people largely approach this hobby in a much more individualistic type of way…which I don’t believe the Japanese brands can fully understand.

All in all, from my perspective as a hobbyist in 2017, brick & mortar shops are less relevant to me (in terms of my private purchasing of denim) than ever, and certainly more than 90% of my purchases are from overseas retailers via the Internet. Even with a handful of specialist denim stores having launched in my city in the past few years, my purchasing habits haven’t changed – the Internet remains my shopping mall of choice, and where possible I would like to obtain my garments from as close to the manufacturing source as possible. As a working professional with some disposable income, most of the time it’s not even about the cost, but rather the depth and range of stock that the larger Japanese online retailers can offer over most Western retailers.

An increased emphasis on Western markets? Tanuki works closely with Western stockists…but loopholes remain.

However, I do believe that Western stockists and B&M stores remain important.

Firstly, the vast majority of people who might be interested in Japanese denim never reach the point of enthusiasm as the old timer Superfuturians. Most folks would be very well served by picking up a pair of Japan Blue jeans and Red Wing boots from their local shop, and will never have the desire to spend hours of their life reading about how a pair of Tanuki jeans have been dyed or the reproduction details on a pair of Conners Sewing Factory jeans. Further, individualised sizing advice and in-person fittings will make the raw denim experience much less stressful for beginners.  This allows the hobby to grow not in depth but rather in absolute numbers, which is still a great thing!

One of my local specialist denim stores – Godspeed. A cool space like this cannot be replicated digitally. Yet.

Secondly, when stores are run by genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, the passion can be infectious and will help in the creation of future hobbyists. For most people, having a cool guy or girl telling you about Japanese jeans is much more persuasive compared with reading about jeans on an Internet forum or some geeky blog. Further, through special events and functions, the denim hobby can be promoted more widely within the local community – the recent Weaving Shibusa screening and Denim Panel Talk in Melbourne was a great example.

Community events grow awareness and people interest. Stores and brands can’t survive if the hobby dies!

Thirdly, B&M stores can facilitate physical spaces where local denim culture might mature. An often neglected aspect of this hobby is the importance of interacting, in person, with like-minded people. When this is not possible, people tend to burn out of this hobby far more quickly, as had happened to me at one point – hobbies are usually much more fun & engaging when you can share them with other people, and even more so if one could establish an identity within said hobby. Local denim hang-out spots are important for this reason, even if we’re never going to form little clothing gangs like they do in Japan.

Finally, an important aspect of the denim hobby is the repair and alteration of our garments. Although it is possible to find such services through the Internet, a well equipped B&M store is far more likely to be able to offer timely, reliable and personalized denim services.

Anthill Workshop – alterations and repairs are best done in person.

To conclude? I’d say that the aims and wants between brands, retailers and hobbyists are very different but most somehow all be reconciled. If a brand or a store is to succeed in the currently saturated and very competitive Japanese denim market, they must carefully consider what it is that their customers want, beyond the actual denim jeans that they’re trying to sell. Price fixing or banning online international sales by Japanese brands are unlikely to win over any potential customers, even if the reasons are justifiable from one or more perspectives – a determined hobbyist will always find a way to buy from Japan directly, there’s no stopping us.

Instead, it may be more useful to look at the problem a little more laterally and work with Western retailers in fulfilling the wants and desires of denim consumers, capitalizing on the advantages that a physical retail space might offer over the pricing and stock availability that is the strong suit of Japanese web-stores. Building loyalty and community may be the saving grace of brick & mortar shops in the long run, whereas pricing politics will detract from this goal.

Nick’s Boots – ‘Manito oxford’ shoes review

I’ve been wanting to try out Nick’s Boots for a few years now, having heard good opinions about their boots. Although Nick’s is one of the major Pacific Northwestern bootmakers, they are little seen and much less talked about among denim and heritage-wear enthusiasts compared with White’s or Viberg. Indeed, Nick’s has a much smaller following in East Asia compared with the other Northwestern companies, and up until recently their selection of casual boots & shoes for hobbyists have been fairly limited.

Last year I was shopping for a pair of Americana derby shoes, and had contemplated a pair of White’s Boots’ ‘oxfords’. However, I saw that Nick’s had released a shoe model called the ‘Manito’, and decided that I might as well try my first pair of Nick’s.

As per my usual for American footwear, I made a custom order through Kyle at Baker’s Boots. The purchase was made in July 2016, with the shoes delivered to me in Australia during March 2017. This pair has been custom spec’d and is a bit different from what Nick’s offer as stock for the Manito.

Overview

Nick’s has named this pair of shoes the ‘Manito oxford’.

I’m not sure why this pair of shoes is referred to as an oxford – these are clearly derby shoes, and do not have the eyelet tabs attached under the vamp – though many North American bootmakers also seem to mislabel their derby shoes. Blog friend and leather craftsman Ray tells me that, in America, only nerds call them derby shoes.

Regardless, the Manito is a high-arched derby shoe which has been made as a shortened version of an American workboot. Nick’s bills them as part of their casual footwear line-up, intended for leisure and the weekends.

Indeed, the reason for the existence for the Manito, as per Nick’s, is that boot lovers like us sometimes want to wear shoes. The Manito was designed as shoes for the boot geek.

The Manito is built on Nick’s 5332 last, and features their #2 plain toe. The construct method is the stitch-down, and I opted for the full double-stitch experience.

Standard Manito shoes are made with Domain leather, which is basically Seidel Tannery’s version of the a vegetable re-tanned leather à la Horween’s Chromexcel. My pair has been built with CXL horsehide instead.

Let’s take a closer look!

Shape & Fit

As mentioned previously, these shoes are built on Nick’s 5332 last with a #2 toe. I ordered them 8.5 D, whereas my Brannock’s size is 9 with a width closer to E. Two reasons for sizing 1/2 down: the 5332 last runs a tad big, and I didn’t want to wear thick boot-socks with these shoes.

The 5332 last features an up-turned toe and is relatively tall, giving good volume to the vamp. The noted rise in the midfoot area creates a deep curve which is quite striking from the side-profile, hinting at the work-boot origin of these shoes and adding some strong Americana flavour.

Nick’s arranges its toe shapes from #1 to #4, with the boots widening as the numbers increase. The #2 toe featured here is narrow but not pointy – very suitable on these vintage-style shoes.

The resulting fit is snug with medium thickness socks: just slightly tight in the forefoot, with a small amount of pressure on the little toe. This is perfect for me, and my feet experienced no discomfort at all after the first day’s wear. However, I did notice the right shoe was slightly but noticeably wider fitting in the heel compared with the left shoe.

The ‘Legendary Arch’ arch-support that Nick’s has built into these shoes is significant, even more pronounced than other Pacific Northwestern boots. As a result, I find my toes do curl in a little when walking, and the rocking step is pronounced when wearing these shoes.

Add to the fact that these shoes are heavy – heavier than any other shoes I’ve handled – newbies to this style of footwear will need to learn how to rock their steps.  (づ ̄ ³ ̄)づ

Nick’s held true to their word – the Manito wears like a boot. It looks like a shoe but is, as far as your feet are concerned, a low work boot.

Overall, the Manito at 1/2 size down fits me like a glove, and is very comfortable to wear. The shape of the shoe is reminiscent of old-fashioned American workboots from the previous century, and pairs very well with blue jeans and other workwear garments.

Leather

This pair features Horween’s 6 oz Chromexcel horsebutt in black and brown.

Horsebutt is tanned as a strip, usually 40 to 46″ in length and 6 to 10″ in width. Considering the fact that horsehide tends to have a more variegated grain compared with cattlehide, the narrow width of the horsebutt strips become a problem when making shoes, limiting the height of footwear and making clicking difficult.

Thus, American bootmakers approach horsebutt in two ways. One method is the bootmaker can buy large quantities of 2nd & 3rd run horsebutt and make cheap boots – I experienced this first-hand when I owned two pairs of Thorogood horsehide boots a few years ago. Needless to say, I don’t own any Thorogood boots anymore.

The other, more expensive, method is to carefully click 1st run horsebutt and accept the fact that more and better horsebutt leather is needed. I’m glad to see this is the approach that Nick’s have chosen, and what you see here is some of the cleanest horsebutt I’ve ever handled.

In fact, this CXL horsebutt is more consistent than even most CXL cattlehide I’ve seen! This is great footwear leather indeed – oily, supple, responsive, and features the deep shine for which the Chromexcel tannage is well known. Comparing this horse CXL with regular cattle CXL, the horsehide has a denser, smoother grain and more intense lustre.

Very nice stuff, more than worth the $50 up-charge for horsehide.

Construction

The uppers are densely and neatly stitched with non-contrast threads.

The stitching pattern on the Manito is more aesthetically pleasing to me compared with, say, Wesco’s JH Classic shoes, the plain-toe version of which does look a little too busy.

The quality of construct of the uppers is very good – all the pieces are neatly attached and the edges are nicely spaced and very clean. I only managed to find one loosened stitch, which I tucked back in with a needle.

The counter construct on the Manito is different from similar shoes by White’s or Wesco. You can see here the counters have been minimised, resulting in a dressier side-profile. This cleaner appearance is also due to the fact that other than the vamp attachments, the rest of the shoes feature only single rows of stitching.

The stitch-down is relatively clean – there are some irregularities and unevenness in the stitching, which are emphasized by the contrasting thread colour, the full sized welt and the fact that there are two rows of stitches.

To be honest, I’ve come to expect irregularities in the stitch-down when purchasing Northwestern American footwear, and I speculate that, to a degree, some of unevenness is unavoidable in the stitch-down method. However, I’ve recently seen some stitch-down boots by a couple of Japanese boot makers which had cleaner, more regular and denser stitch work than Nick’s or other American makers – so, a neater stitch-down is possible!

Of course for a neat appearance, I could have asked for a single row of stitch or a close trim, but as far as Americana footwear is concerned, I say it’s either double-row stitch-down or go home.

In the stitch-down method, the upper is turned out and stitched onto the midsole. The edge finish on this pair of Manito shoes are, unfortunately, not the best. There are a few notches on the lateral edge of the right shoe, as you can see in the photo below.

Further, there is one spot on each shoe where the upper leather is not trimmed properly, resulting in the edges overhanging the midsoles somewhat in these spots. I ended up trimming back the upper leather in those two spots and then re-burnishing the edges with beeswax. (In the photos where I am wearing these shoes, the edges have been repaired. All other photos feature the shoes in original condition.)

My pair of Truman boots has a much cleaner edge finish. My White’s boots feature a slightly different approach – the edges are trimmed back at an angle, resulting in uniformity and increased visibility of the natural midsole.

Sole Unit & Misc.

The inside of these shoes are completely lined in soft leather and very well cushioned, resulting in a high level of comfort that surprised me at first. As I mentioned previously, despite the snug fit and the heavy mass of leathers, these Manito shoes have been very kind to my feet. They are a pleasure to wear!

The natural leathers utilised for the midsole and heel-stacks are thick and raw, providing great contrast to the uppers and outsoles. I especially love the substantial Dogger heels featured here, so pretty!

Some folks may not like the contrast, but there’s something about thick stacks of natural leather that really floats my boat. So attractive~~~

The lugged Vibram outsoles and heels have been nicely attached.

Nails are used for reinforcement in the midfeet and heels.

Overall, the sole units are nicely constructed and pleasing to look at.

Opinion

This is my first pair of Nick’s Boots, and it’s been a mostly positive experience.

I was impressed by the quality of the leathers, the high level of comfort, the attractive shape, and the neat construction of the uppers and sole units.

These Manito shoes were made exactly to my custom order, with no errors in the specifications – this is an important consideration given that I live in Australia, and as such any exchanges or alterations will be expensive and time-consuming.

In terms of design and aesthetics, these shoes combine very well with the garments and accessories that you would usually see on my blog. If you are a denim head or leather nerd, you will have no trouble incorporating the Manito shoes into your wardrobe.

On the downside, I was a little disappointed by the longer than advertised build time: I waited for 7.5 months. The lack of finesse on the edge trimming was also a bit jarring, considering the rest of the shoes were impeccably made – I was able to fix most of the cosmetic issues on the edges myself using a Stanley blade and some beeswax, but I really shouldn’t have to.

Overall, though, I will say that these Manito shoes are very high quality and a joy to wear – comfortable over a long day, and does not stress the feet even when new. The fact that I was able to have them made with very clean & dense CXL horsebutt is a big bonus.

Recommended?

Yes, but the shoes are not without flaws. Nick’s Boots is a must try if you are an Americana footwear enthusiast, and these Manito boots are not only attractive but also supremely wearable. However, the flaws mentioned above are possibly symptoms of Nick’s change of management and subsequent loss of experienced staff & rapid expansion…Personally, I’ll wait a year or two until the growing pains have finished and their production line stabilizes before I order my next pair.

mill handmade – custom Japanese Wallet review, part 2.

In Part 2 of this review, I wanted to give you some follow-up with regards to the rather dramatic ageing of the leathers, especially Shonan Leather’s pit-tanned saddle leather.

If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 of this review first!

Let’s have a look at the patina development over the first week. Please right click and open images in a new tab if you wish to see the full resolution versions of the photos!

Day 0:

The Shonan in particular was a good example of the ‘natural’ colour of vegetable tanned leathers. The Butter was a little bit more finished, being somewhat darker and more yellow in tone.

Day 0, after one application of Montana Pitch Blend oil conditioner:

You can see that both the Shonan and Buttero have responded to the oiling with a change in colour tone, the Shonan’s reactivity being particularly impressive. Not only just the colour either, the grain on the Shonan has really popped too!

Day 1:

This was just before the first wear; the ‘dampness’ from the oiling had settled and the leathers are good to go!

Day 3:

The first couple of wears created the most dramatic changes. The Shonan saddle leather stains like nothing I’ve seen before, and has picked up indigo off jeans that have been washed a couple of times. Comparing them at day 0 and day 3, you wouldn’t it’s the same wallet.

Day 5:

By day 5 the grain characteristics have further emerged, with the colour continuing to darken.

Day 7:

By the end of the first week, it’s looking pretty incredible right?

The Buttero leather on the inner panels have darkened slightly to a light caramel colour, but the Shonan saddle leather has changed very dramatically both in grain, colour, shape and, to a lesser extent, shine.

The Shonan leather has molded very quickly too, producing the contours of the back-pocket already. The grain is picking up indigo very readily, and also developing a subtle shine. The colour darkening is simply awesome, having what I would call a terracotta colour at the moment, and likely to end up in a rich, chocolate brown in the future. This is the most reactive leather I’ve ever handled, and I’m really liking how it’s been ageing so far!

All in all, not only is the Japanese Wallet by mill handmade well designed and well constructed, the Shonan saddle leather that Rocky’s headlining is also an incredible material. The evolution so far is simply astounding – the Shonan leather really is a must try for all advanced leather enthusiasts!

Have a look at the mill handmade website and get in touch with Rocky if you’re interested!

Big John – RARE R009 jeans review

Overview

Big John is one of the heavy weight originals of Japanese denim, preceding even the Osaka 5 (who spearheaded the reproduction denim trend starting in the mid-1980s), but is seldom seen among Western denim circles.

Indeed, as the raw denim trend got going in earnest outside of Japan in the 2000s, most denimheads were after either strict Americana reproductions or over-engineered, fantastically detailed Japanese jeans. Big John, which continued to produce high quality, work uniform type denim products, was largely ignored by the budding Japanese denim community on Superfuture.

To tell the complete story of Big John is to trace Japanese denim right back to the earliest days when jeans were first introduced to Japan after WWII. I covered this story in an old article on this blog back in 2011, which you can read here. Long story short, Big John was involved in the production of the first pair of jeans made in Japan, and also the first pair of jeans made with Japanese denim.

Big John started life as Maruo Clothing Inc., a sewing workshop which was set up in 1940 to produce uniforms and workwear as part of the Empire’s war efforts, and after the war also took to the specialty task of converting imported American jeans to Japanese sizes.

In 1965, in partnership with Canton Textile Mills Inc. of the USA and Oishi Trading Co., Maruo Clothing became the first workshop to actually manufacture jeans in Japan, branded “Canton”, using American denim made by Canton Mills and imported by Oishi Trading.

Canton Textile Mills closed down in 1981, while the son of the founder of Oishi Trading went on to create Oni. Left on it’s own, Maruo Clothing created its own denim brand of “Big John” in 1967, manufacturing jeans using Cone Mills denim starting 1968.

The next major breakthrough came in 1973 when Big John manufactured the first jeans that were made with denim produced in Japan (by Kurabo Mills in 1972). This pair is the granddaddy of all the Japanese denims that we geek out about today, though the Japanese denims of the 1970s were largely pedestrian affairs, being fairly average projectile loomed fabrics.

Then, in 1983, even before the reproduction denim trend had commenced in Japan, Big John launched its own artisan product, the RARE jeans. This first pair of Big John RARE jeans were the first to utilize artificial slub yarns, an innovation which altered the course of Japanese denim manufacturing, and sold at 18, 000 yen (almost 4 times what Japanese jeans would cost in those days.) These RARE jeans were perhaps one of the very earliest attempts at artisan denim jeans in Japan. Generation 2 of the RARE jeans was released in 1997, and featured natural indigo dyed denim. Generation 3 was released in 2010, named the R008.

The Big John RARE R009 jeans I will be reviewing today is a modification of the R008, incorporating the same design & construction concepts and utilizing the same materials.

Packaging

The RARE R009 jeans come with a pretty cool denim carry case made out of the same denim, canvas and buttons as featured on the jeans.

Not sure what I’ll actually be doing with this case, but its inclusion does reflect the attention to detail involved in the R009 jeans.

Fit

The R009 is a modernised version of the R008, with the fit being revised to have a more tapered & fitting silhouette. It is advertised as a “slim tapered” cut, which is a fairly accurate description of how these jeans actually fit.

My own measurements for the size 36 jeans pre-shrink were:

Waist      18.75″

Inseam   34.75″

F-Rise      11″

B-Rise      16″

Thigh       12.75″

Hem        8.25″

Big John advises the old fashioned shrink-to-fit method to ensure optimal fitting and maximum longevity of the jeans. This fabric is not loomstate, but is unsanforised and has an advertised shrinkage of 9%.

So, off to the bath it goes!

The first two soaks were 45 degrees Celsius, 30 minutes per soak with mild agitation. The water was greenish brown for these hot soaks.

This was followed by two rinses with room temperature water, during which the jeans were agitated and actively hand-washed. Interestingly, the water was the colour of indigo during these rinses.

Even after this fairly intense soaking process, the only changes in the measurements were a 1.75 inch reduction in the inseam and a 1.25 inch reduction in the flat measurement of the waist. The shrinkage was not quite the advertised 9%…more like 5%, but I do suspect with actual machine washes in the future, this denim will continue to shrink down.

How does it fit after the initial soaking?

The top block is relatively roomy with a higher rise. There is ample room in the seat and thighs without being too loose. There is a moderate taper from just above the knee down to the hem. Leg twisting is subtle but present.

I like how the tapering is a little more subtle on this pair, and not as carrot shaped as many of the tapered jeans from other brands.

More and more I find myself wearing jeans that have a “high tapered” type of fit, and the R009 is a well executed example of this style.

Fabric

The denim on the R009 is the same as that developed for the R008. Nicknamed the BIG7055, this 15.5 oz unsanforised denim was literally built from the ground up for the RARE project. The cotton is a carefully blended mix of two different American staples, made into yarn threads by Asahi Boseki KK, a yarn spinning specialist in Osaka. Everything from the twist of the yarn to the shape of the slub has been customised, with a focus on smoothness and sturdiness.

The finished warp yarn is then sent onto Sakamoto Denim for indigo dyeing. You may notice the Sakamoto Ransei stamp on the pocket cloth of these jeans, translating to “Sakamoto indigo saint” in Japanese – the honorific given to Yasushi Sakamoto, the former president of the company and a legendary master of the indigo who had initially developed the synthindigo dye to be used for the third generation RARE denim products.

Mr. Sakamoto has sadly passed away since, but his spirit lives on in the incredible dye that you see on this denim: Mr. Sakamoto attempted to – and eventually was successful in – synthetically reproducing the shade of blue on a natural indigo dyed bayonet cover from the Edo era.

Finally the yarn reaches Shinya Mills, were it is woven very slowly with minimal tension into denim on a single Sakamoto narrow shuttle loom from the 1950s. A special note about the weaving of this BIG7055 denim is that it was design to be ‘Wrench Proof’, woven in such a way that the denim does not distort after shrink-to-fit or a trip to the washing machine.

Handling the denim in person, the first interesting aspect I noticed is the shade of blue – it is a very pure blue, without casts of either red or green or grey. It indigo is deep, rather brilliant in natural light, solid rather than inky…the shade of blue is a very clean one.

The denim is mildly hairy when raw, but becomes noticeably hairier at shrink-to-fit. The warp side features frequent but understated irregularities, the overall appearance being one of complexity and variegation, without overt slubbing.

At regular intervals along the selvedge line, tufts of cotton fibre appear, indicating the narrow shuttle-loomed nature of this fabric – on a Sakamoto, as previously mentioned. The selvedge ID is pale orange.

The hand-feel is solid and textured, but not rough, with the weft side being fairly gentle against the skin. For me, this denim is fairly comfortable even from the first day, and creases quickly. The weft side is relatively regular with the twill lines easily followed.

The pocket cloth featured in these jeans is a canvas clothmade by the famous Takeyari Co., the leading specialist manufacturer of canvas fabrics in Kurashiki, using the same yarn that was spun by Asahi Boseki KK. Plain at first sight, yes, but it is one of the nicest and sturdiest pocket cloths I’ve come across.

This type of canvas is also called the Kurashiki sail-cloth, and it is one of my favourite pocket cloths. I first encountered them many years ago on Eternal jeans.

This canvas is much heavier than average, coming in at the same weight as the denim – 15.5 oz. The front pockets will likely last a very long time.

Construct

Durable construction is one of the main features of the R009, and in this respect it stands out even among top-tier Japanese jeans. Big John was born of a sewing workshop after all, so it should not surprise you that their top tier jeans are impeccably constructed and made for strength – in fact, Big John guarantees the R009 for 5 straight years of wear!

One of the key features of the R009 is the double sewing with lockstitch – the jeans are at first sewn together with tonal blue polyester threads for strength, and subsequently resewn with burnt orange cotton threads for old school appeal and ageing. The idea is that the orange cotton threads will discolour and break apart with time, aesthetically keeping balance with the fading denim, whilst the blue polyester threads will remain intact and hold the jeans together.

I had to look very closely to see the tonal blue stitching from the outside. At everyday viewing distances, it can only be seen on the inside of the jeans.

This double sewing is very impressive – top brands such as The Flat Head would do the same, but only limit it to, say, the seams of the front pockets.

The sewing overall is neat, dense and well aligned. You’ll notice that there are no chain-stitching on this pair of jeans, all in the name of ultimate durability in sewing.

Bar-tacking is used at points of stress. Hidden rivets were deliberately omitted to avoid them wearing through the back-pockets. Instead, double bar-tacking (polyester and cotton threads) is used to reinforce the back-pockets.

The inseam is neatly lock-stitched, with the frayed fabric edges very nicely contained. Additional thread colours of olive and light grey are featured here.

The fly construct further demonstrates the fastidious stitching. Not only are the button holes very densely stitched and precisely aligned, if you look close enough you can see additional stitching reinforcing the top and bottom of each button hole!

All the rivets are backed with indigo-dyed deerskin to prevent them wearing through the denim. Again, you can see the double bar-tacking in the photo above.

All the buttons are backed with the same indigo deerskin too!

The belt loops were deliberately made flat – instead of roped or raised – to prevent premature tearing of the denim. The bar-tack attachments of the loops are some of the most precise, well-placed and dense I have seen.

Shock horror, no chain-stitching on the hem, you say…the hems were deliberately lock-stitched instead of chain-stitched to guarantee strength. While we all love the good old chain-stitched hem, it does tend to unravel easily and it is much less durable compared with lock-stitching, so its omission makes sense if longevity of the garment is the key issue. The hems are nicely done – again, you can see the sewing is dense and precise.

Hardware & Peripherals

High quality but understated is perhaps the best way to describe the peripheral aspects of the R009.

The indigo dyed deerskin patch is fairly small and tonally matched to the denim, almost inconspicuous.  The deerskin used is very high quality, being less processed (other than the indigo dyeing of course) than most deerskin I’ve seen used for patches.

The woven tag on the inside of the waistband is, again, understated but very well done.

The pockets are square in shape, possessing straight edges, and reminiscent of Wrangler jeans of the past. The double row stitching across the pockets are functional, serving to attach the canvas cloth which half-lines the pockets.

The half-lined pockets feature the same sail-cloth as the front pockets.

The button fly possesses four buttons in total, the top button being larger and of a different design.

The steel buttons featured are from YKK, and very nice quality.

The top button is completely custom, and one of the nicest metal buttons I’ve ever seen on a piece of clothing. The embossing features the same two shokunin who also make an appearance on the pocket cloth.

The rest of the buttons are a bit smaller, being recessed with textured rims.

The selvedge fly minimises the use of lock-stitching and gives the fly a cleaner appearance.

As mentioned earlier, the Chinese characters (kanji) and red stamp of “Sakamoto Ransei” feature on the left pocket, in commemoration of Yasushi Sakamoto who spearheaded the development of the indigo used on the R008 and R009.

The right pocket features two shokunin, with the words “Since 1940 Experienced Craftman”. I speculate this refers to the founding of Maruo Clothing Inc., the forerunner of Big John.

At the front of the jeans, 6 rivets feature as fasteners – 2 for each pocket.

The washer burr is made of steel, whilst the rivet is made of copper. This makes for interesting contrast, and maybe also contrasting patina developments down the track.

I like the dome shape of the rivet and how the copper component does not stick out – there’s not danger of the rivet scratching our belts.

Finely, the hidden selvedge is a nice detail, helping me realize that the orange selvedge ID is meant to mimic stitching!

Opinions

The RARE R009 jeans by Big John is certainly one of the most technical and detailed jeans I’ve ever come across. Keep in mind I say this with a closet of around 30-something pairs of Japanese jeans.

The fit on the R009 has been modernised from the R008 – slim but not skinny, tapered but not uncomfortably so – and should appeal to many more denimheads.

In terms of the actual construction or sewing, the R009 is – so far in my experience of the denim hobby – the most well made pair of jeans I’ve handled. Yes, even better than brands like RJB/TFH. This really shouldn’t be surprising given Big John’s heritage – consider that most other Japanese brands contract sewing workshops to make their jeans, whereas Big John is a 77 year old sewing factory, and the first one to make jeans in Japan too!

Also note worthy is the technicality involved in the fabrics. Everything from the yarn to the indigo dye were custom engineered from the ground up for the RARE project, with every stage of development being undertaken by some of the oldest and most specialised companies in the Japanese garment industry.

Pocket cloth? Yep, made by the leading canvas manufacturer in Kurashiki.

Denim? Yep, woven on very old Sakamoto shuttle looms at Shinya.

Indeed, the “craftsman” theme of the RARE jeans is no gimmick – everything from the yarn making to the final assembly of jeans are considered and focused. It is astounding how much effort Big John has invested into this 3rd generation of RARE jeans, but more than that, it is only through these RARE jeans you can achieve a tangible connection with the very beginnings of Japanese denim. Even the most senior member of the Osaka 5 cannot claim the same deep-rooted heritage which Big John is built on, and the RARE jeans represent Big John’s most passionate endeavor in celebrating the history of Japanese denim.

The overall appearance is that of work wear, being more utilitarian compared to very Japanese-style jeans that are popular outside of Japan (think PBJ, Oni, Momotaro, etc). The understated nature of the details and the back-pocket shape & design contribute strongly to this work wear aesthetic, as does the very pure shade of blue the denim possesses.

Given the great quality of Big John’s jeans, I wondered why Big John is not more popular among Western denim circles – indeed, why has it taken 12 years of jeans collecting for me to buy my first pair?

My observations over the past decade as the raw denim hobby grew ever larger is that, other than Levi’s reproductions, most Western denimheads are not particularly interested in mid-century workwear types of jeans design – cowboy, early century, and Japanese style jeans are much more popular. Sure, there are pockets of the internet that are all about work-wear cosplay, but in real life true work-wear enthusiasts are 1 in 100, 000. Think about the most popular Japanese denim brands and their headliner jeans – do they really remind you of 1940s dungarees? Not really, right?

Big John’s denim jeans are very much rooted in work wear, which is unsurprising given the brand’s heritage. Further, the extreme technicality of the RARE jeans is unlikely to be appreciated by beginners, who may be inclined to ask about the lack of chainstitching or the reasons behind the small leather patch. I think these factors may explain why Big John, although an industry heavy weight in Japan, is relatively neglected in the West.

At 30, 000 yen, the Big John RARE R009 jeans is certainly priced in the top tier of specialist denim jeans, costing about twice as much as their main line jeans. However, considering how incredibly well these jeans have been put together and the absolutely insane ground-up development on the denim and canvas by industry leaders, I would say you’ll be getting a whole lot of denim for your money.

Big John RARE jeans are certainly very worthy considerations for intermediate to advanced denim hobbyists – folks who have tried some basic Japanese jeans and wish to pursue increasing geekiness. Also, the RARE jeans would be a great choice for detail obsessed denimheads, as the R009 – with incredible attention paid to all of its individual components – is a great study into Japanese jeans in general. Finally, the RARE jeans will appeal to collectors due to its significance in the history of modern Japanese denim. Work wear or reproduction enthusiasts may want to look into the R008 instead of the R009, as the R008 has the more traditional ‘stove-pipe’ fit.

Overall, I can highly recommend the Big John RARE R009, especially for people who want to delve deeper into the denim hobby. Truly, a pair of craftsmen-made jeans.

If you are interest in a pair of Big John’s, free world wide shipping and the best prices can be found at Denimio. Check out the Big John RARE R009 here!

Stevenson Overall – Bronco denim vest review

This review, in many ways, has been an attempt by me at catching up with the developments in the denim world over the past 6 years. My blog went on hiatus for 4.5 years from 2012 onward, but in truth by late 2011 my focus on the denim hobby had begun to wane due to various other responsibilities and hobbies. Even though I continued to wear denim jeans and leather boots during the in-between years, I no longer kept up-to-date with the latest developments in denim.

On my return to the hobby last year, some of the biggest questions that arose for me were: What is Stevenson Overall? Why does it look like Rising Sun Jeans? What the hell happened to Rising Sun Jeans anyway?

Let us ponder away~

Overview

The story is that Atsusuke Tagya and Zip Stevenson met at a bank somewhere in Tokyo and got talking to each other due to the cool shoes & belts they were wearing. Zip, of Hollywood Trading Company fame, would of course want to talk to a Japanese dude wearing cool leather stuff. Atsu, on the other hand, was a hobbyist vintage collector who had once made a living exporting Australian goods to Japan. Together they decided to launch a clothing brand, Stevenson Overall, based on a short-lived American workwear manufacturer which existed in the 1920s to 1930s. Though the brand was launched in 2005, actual products didn’t appear on the Western market until approximately 2010 and the brand remained relatively unknown until a couple of years ago.

Atsu has stated that the aim of Stevenson Overall is to distill the styling and detailing of turn of 20th Century garments, and apply them in an understated and minimalist way to produce vintage-inspired Americana that can be worn daily in the present day.

Why do the recent garments from Stevenson Overall look like the ones produced by Rising Sun Jeans? Well, the way I heard it (from a couple of industry insiders), a couple of years ago Mike Hoddis, founder of Rising Sun Jeans and all around work-wear genius, was exited from Rising Sun due to conflicts with the investor who actually owned the majority share in the company. The denim forum regulars who marveled at Mike’s passion and obsession with workwear and its construction must have also wondered how the whole operation was financially viable – looking through the old forum threads now, it did seem to good to be true…

Mike subsequently worked for Atsu for a brief period of time designing some garments for Stevenson Overall, and this explains the similarities between the two brands – the garments in question were designed by the same brain!

Thankfully Mike went on to create more clothes under his new brand, Runabout Goods. My understanding is that there is a non-compete agreement in place, and as such Runabout Goods cannot produce denim goods, which explains the lack of blue jeans in Mike’s new brand.

I had thought Rising Sun would be one of the denims I’d review if I ever restarted this blog, and it’s a shame to see that it is no longer…well, the way I see it, it ain’t Rising Sun without Mike Hodis running the show.

Anyway, enough back-story! Let’s have a look at the Bronco, Stevenson Overall’s button-up denim vest.

Fit

The Bronco vest is a modified version of the Type III jacket, with the arms cut out of course.

My chest size is 44, and this vest is sz 42. The volume in the chest is just right, with no tightness in the underarms.

It’s a snug fit for me near the waist, as there’s a noticeable taper from the top down. In comparison with dressier vests, the shoulders & upper back are wide and the total vest length is fairly long.

The denim is unsanforised, so it will shrink with first wash and subsequently stretch out. In the photos above the vest has been shrunk-to-fit and worn for 1 week.

Overall, this vest has a surprisingly modern fit. I speculate this is due to both the vest being cut for a more typical East Asian body shape and the fact that Stevenson’s garments are generally a bit trendier than the typical Japanese workwear reproduction.

Fabric

Generally speaking, denim can have a red cast or a yellow/green cast – talking primary colours my friend!

Impurities, additives and gradual oxidation over many years can produce a green cast, which is reminiscent of vintage denims. Extreme indigo purity, usually achieved through the utilization of high quality synthetic indigo and foregoing additives such as sulfur, can produce a red cast – as seen on this ‘Grand Indigo’ dyed 13.5 oz denim on this Bronco vest.

The result of the red cast is not only a red tinge to the denim, which I managed to photograph to some extend in the photo above, but also an overall deeper and more violet tone to the blue of the denim. This is most evident when you compare it side by side with standard and faded denims.

This denim has a mild slubbing and a good amount of chatter. The moderate hairiness is also interesting. The hand-feel is textural but not rough, with the weft side feeling slightly furry.

This is certainly one of the nicer denims out there, even in comparison with other Japanese shuttle loom denims.

Steveson Overall has played a trick on us with this vest, in that they have sewn the burnt orange thread over the pink selvedge ID, and so many people believe this denim has an orange selvedge. Look closer!

Peripherals

All the bells and whistles that you’d normally find on a denim jacket can be found on the Bronco vest.

The paper patch is nicely done. I love the graphics and type writer fonts!

Can you see the typo?

The chest pockets are relatively narrow and feature very shapely flaps. The volume of the pockets are just a little too small to be practical – i.e. they can’t hold a smart phone completely.

I’m absolutely in love with the donut buttons on this vest. Custom silver coated, solid and sturdy with great texture. Now this is good hardware!

The buttons are such that they may wobble about, allowing easier buttoning.

The side-cinches are shapely too, in keeping with the whole vest being much more curvaceous compared with Levi’s type III, utilizing details from earlier eras.

The only aspect in terms of detailing that could perhaps be improved would be storage space – this is a vest after all!

Construct

The Bronco vest is very nicely made.

Carefully constructed using a mix of single needle stitching, chain-stitching, and double needle chain-stitched felled seams. The majority of the vest uses lemon coloured threads of a single thickness.

The stitching is dense and neat, the lines being evenly spaced relative to each other and the seams.

There are no loose threads or wonky stitch-lines.

Felled seams are extensively featured and evenly chain-stitched.

The buttons holes are first cut, then densely sewn. The placement of the holes are very precise, running perpendicular to the selvedge lines.

Every seem is neatly folded, and loose threading tucked away.

Again, check out the density of the stitching and the felled seams.

Overall, the sewing is perfecto – nothing I could find to complain about! The is one of the most precisely made denim garments I’ve ever seen.

Opinion

This is my first piece of denim clothing from Stevenson Overall, and I am impressed!

One of the stand-out aspects of this vest – and IMO applicable to most Stevenson Overall’s garments – is that it has a more streamlined aesthetic compared with most other high-end Japanese denim brands. It manages to evoke a sense of old-school cool and incorporate interesting curves in the design without being over-engineered or excessively complicated, which sometimes happen with garments, say, from a brand like Freewheelers. The mix of detailing from different time periods work really well here.

In terms of construct, the work on this vest stands with the best that Japan has to offer. No bones for me to pick here, and there are certainly no flaws to be found. The threads are nicely sized, the seams nicely folded & felled, and the stitch-work is incredibly dense and consistent.

The materials utilised are also winners. The “Grand Indigo” dyed denim is deep, dark and very pure – the resulting red cast and overall purple shade is very appealing to me. The hardware and the paper patch are also some of the nicest I’ve seen, with the iron donut buttons being particularly handsome.

If I absolutely had to raise a negative point, then I might say the chest pockets are too small for a smartphone and the vest otherwise lacks storage space, which is one of the primary functions of a vest! Otherwise the shapes of the collar, pockets and side-straps are well executed and really enhance the appearance of the vest.

Recommended?

You bet! In fact, I’m quite keen on acquiring more Stevenson Overall garments in the future.

Check them out at Corlection, who stock the largest selection of Stevenson Overall products outside of Asia.

*

P.S.

Fellow redditors, did you know I also review non-denim stuff?

Feel free to browse through my other reviews via the Reviews tab in this blog’s menu.

For example, check out my review of the Japanese Wallet by mill handmade.