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.

mill handmade – custom Japanese Wallet review, part 1.

You may have noticed a couple of crafts by mill handmade – a one man Aussie leather workshop focused on finely crafted custom leather carries – have been reviewed on this blog over the past 6 months. Rocky, the man behind the brand, has an interest in leathers made the traditional way and a penchant for streamlined & minimalist interpretations of old-school, work-wear style wallets.

If you would like to see the earlier reviews and perhaps read a little bit more about mill handmade, they are available through the Reviews tab in this blog’s menu.

Onto the piece that I wanted to show you today! This wallet is a customised version of mill handmade’s Japanese Wallet, which is currently Rocky’s most complex wallet pattern available.

The lay-out, types of leather and stitch configuration have all been selected by Rocky himself, as a showcase of the ethos & customisation potential of this wallet.

Design

This is the Japanese Wallet in the ‘traditional’ configuration, which refers to the inclusion of a zipped compartment. A ‘minimalist’ version is also available without the zipper, as is a left-handed version.

Leather aficionados should recognise that this bifold wallet is based on the Japanese style of rider’s wallets, or more specifically the iconic HR-01 by Red Moon. Rocky has taken the general idea of a rider’s wallet and streamlined the dimensions and layout.

When folded, this wallet measures 9.4 cm wide x 10.4 cm tall. When fully opened, the width increases to 19.7 cm, accounting for the curvature at the fold. These dimensions are not too dissimilar to the HR-01 ver. 2, and will fit into the back or front pockets of your jeans without jutting out.

The internal lay-out is a modified version of the HR-01.

There are three storage compartments in total – one on the right and two on the left. The notes compartment has been created by the space between the outshell and inner panels.

The quick access card compartment on the right is made with 3 pieces of leather, the extra panel sitting atop the bottom layer being used as decorative accent.

The quick access slot is inward facing and is designed to facilitate quick removal and insertion of frequently used cards. It is more user friendly compared with the card compartments which have featured on various HR-01 designs in the past.

The left side of the wallet features two compartments – a zippered coin pouch and a card storage slot.

The coin pouch allows for secure storage of a handful of coins, with the zipper oriented to open when pulled upwards. It has been cleverly created with one piece of Buttero leather.

The storage compartment opens widely and is deeper than the quick access compartment, giving greater capacity for the storage of cards, receipts and papers.

The notes compartment accommodates well the Australian currency that I carry. Access to notes is easy as the inner panel has been cut moderately deeply, allowing the space to open fairly wide.

Based on the measurements, it is clear that this wallet has been trimmed down compared with most rider’s wallets from Japan. In reality, this Japanese Wallet is easier to handle and sits more comfortably in the back-pocket as a result of the modifications to the leather thicknesses and panel dimensions.

This wallet is fairly manageable in the back pocket, measuring only 13 mm in thickness when compressed and up to twice this thickness when loaded with coins, cash and cards. Although still thicker than the calf skin bifolds you’d find at the local mall, this Japanese Wallet is, by design, lighter and thinner compared with the original rider’s wallets made by Red Moon / Pailot River which measure around 22 mm thick when empty.

Overall, the ideas and ethos behind the rider’s design remains the same, but the pattern has been modernised and the Japanese Wallet is more functional for folks who frequently use their bank cards, compared with older iterations by Japanese makers.

Leather

Impressively, this wallet manages to showcase three different leathers without becoming incoherent. Let’s take a look at each one in more detail!

Shonan Leathers is a small tannery in Himeji, Japan. Sandwiched between the local tourist attraction Kofujiyama and the Sanyo shinkansen line, Shonan is a relatively small and low-tech tannery, being one of the few tanneries in the entire world that continues to pit-tan their hides. It was incorporated over 70 years ago as an amalgamation of several smaller tanning operations.

Shonan – although not as famous as their neighbour Shinki or the much larger Tochigi Leathers – manufactures one of the very best natural vegetable tanned leathers. Top grade raw hides are imported from the USA, and tanned using wooden equipment in African Mimosa tannin pits for approximately 2 to 3 months. The saddle leathers thus produced could then be drum dyed (either black or brown) and even glazed – the result is a small catalogue of Mimosa tanned leathers available in three colours and a couple of different finishes.

Relatively unknown among Western hobbysists, Shonan’s natural saddle leather is highly regarded in East Asia and favoured by many Japanese craftsmen. In fact, per side, Shonan’s leathers are more expensive than J & FJ Baker’s oak bark tanned leathers and even B-grade leather from Shonan sell at higher prices compared with, say, many North American and European veg tanned leathers. Such is Shonan’s quality and reputation for graceful aging, many Japanese craftsmen use only Shonan leather despite the high cost.

The Shonan leather featured on the out-shell of this wallet is their glazed natural saddle leather at 1.3 mm thickness. This leather has a colour that is very pale indeed, and a strong scent of fish oil. In handling the leather, it is more supple – “bouncy” almost – than the colour would suggest. The grain is raw but not dry.

The leather itself does show slight marks and imperfections right from the get go, attesting to the relatively unfinished nature of this leather. The grain structure itself is dense but not overly compressed, with a nice depth to its appearance under natural light.

In terms of hand-feel, in comparison with the more common American and Italian vegetable tanned leathers, the grain on this Shonan pit-tanned saddle leather is much more textured and organic. There is a gentle friction that is further enhanced by oiling the leather, which I find very peculiar.

Also making a cameo appearance is Shonan’s brown glazed pit-tanned leather, out of which the zipper pull-tag has been made. A very textured and deep coloured leather indeed!

I am very excited to see how the Shonan leathers will age over the next few weeks! I have heard it is one of the most responsive leathers being produced today, and I will explore this a little more in Part 2 of this review, in a few days.

The inside panels of this wallet utilises Conceria Walpier’s famous Buttero leather at 1.0 mm thickness, a leather which has become popular with many leather crafters over the past couple of years. Having been a family operation for more than 40 years, Conceria Walpier is now part of the Genuine Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather Consortium, a group of two dozen Tuscan tanneries which specialise in traditional tanning methods. Badalassi Carlo, whose Minerva leather was recently featured in the Rolling Dub Trio review, belongs to this same consortium.

Buttero leather is accomplished in different ways than Shonan’s saddle leather, the Buttero being a more processed / finished leather. Buttero is drum tanned and heat finished, available in many colours, and preferred for its relative durability among vegetable tanned leathers & the slightly more rigid temper – it is a popular choice for high-end custom wallets.

This is my first experience with the natural version of Buttero leather, but if my experience with coloured versions of Buttero is anything to go by, it should be an easier leather to keep clean compared with other veg tanned leathers when used as panels on the inside of a wallet, where dirt and grime have a tendency to accumulate.

This natural Buttero has a firmer temper, denser grain and slightly higher sheen compared to less finished veg tanned leathers; it feels very solid in the hand. I am not sure what type of heat treatment the leather has undergone, but the surface appears glazed and is quite slippery. The smell is dissimilar to the Shonan leather, the Buttero having a sweeter, creamier scent. Generally speaking, Buttero is prized by craftsmen for how easy it is to work with and its grain consistency & depth of colour. I’m very curious to see how this natural Buttero will wear and age – I suspect the colour will develop along a slightly different path compared with the Shonan saddle leather used for the outshell.

Chevre goatskin at 1.2 mm thickness from the French tannery Alran has been used for pocket accent. Alran’s goatskin has been renowned for its durability and depth of texture & colour for over 100 years, being frequently used on hand-bags and other accessories by fashion houses such as Hermes. Chevre is being increasingly used by private label craftsmen for small carry goods such as wallets and watchstraps.

This particular goatskin is Alran’s Chevre ‘Sully’, a combination (chrome + veg) tanned leather that has a very durable and textured grain, with a slightly spongey hand. Chevre goatskin certainly makes for interesting contrast with the Buttero natural cattlehide.

Construction

The first aspect I examined when looking this wallet over was the edge burnishing and the matching of the panels.

One of the unusual aspects of a rider’s style wallet is the number of edges and panels relative to its small size, and hence the finishing of edges and the precision with which the panels are put together are testament to the skills and effort the craftsman has invested into a particular piece.

As you can see in the photos here, on this Japanese Wallet, all the edges have been slightly beveled and smoothly burnished with beeswax. The panels match each other accurately, all the edges being neatly aligned.

The only area where the edge finishing is slightly less polished is the hole at the bottom of the inner spine/ridge.

The zipper is nicely installed through hand-stitching, the YKK zip tucked away so that even when the wallet is compressed, the zipper won’t scratch the leathers and can’t be felt in the back-pocket.

The pull tag of the zipper is neatly made despite its small size. The zip is sturdy and works well, but is a little stiff to pull at first.

The saddle stitching on this Japanese Wallet is impressive. Unlike the Pailot River rider’s wallet reviewed a few months ago which is machine stitched, Rocky has spent considerable time hand-stitching the entire wallet!

Even though this wallet is not too much bigger than a bifold, the sheer number of panels and compartment attachments means that there is a lot of fiddly stitch work involved, some of it hidden inside the compartments too.

However, precisely because of the small and compartmentalized nature of this Japanese Wallet, any untidy stitching will be very noticeable.

I am glad to say that Rocky’s saddle stitch on this wallet is fairly neat. The ecru waxed linen threads sit nicely on both the Shonan and Buttero leathers.

There are a couple of irregularities here and there in terms of the overall flow of the stitches and their alignment with the edges (you can see it in the photos here if you look closely), though the errors are relatively small.

The individual stitches are nicely spaced and very regular.

Semi-circular holes have been punched into the edges of the notes compartment to prevent crinkling of the leather. This is a smart feature which is also present on HR-01 version 2 wallets by Pailot River.

Considering how this wallet has been put together on a whole, I’d say the execution is at least above average in comparison with hand-made pieces of similar complexity. The gold embossing on the Chevre accent was a very nice addition too, something I have not seen on other rider’s wallets.

Opinion

Overall, I would say this Japanese Wallet by Rocky at mill handmade is not only considerately patterned but also nicely put together.

Even though the design is based on the HR-01, the modifications and updates Rocky has included in this first iteration of the Japanese wallet are quite thoughtful and visually appealing, resulting in this rider’s style wallet being more modern in appearance and much more user friendly for people from cultures which rely on cards rather than cash for everyday transactions.

Rocky’s design also feature slightly thinner leathers to minimize bulk, and as a result the Japanese Wallet should be much more beginner friendly too. I’m fairly used to wearing 4 cm thick long-wallets, so I sometimes forget even a work-wear style bifold can be challenging for the uninitiated. Don’t get me wrong, the Japanese Wallet is still considerably rugged, though it is much more manageable compared with the more traditional Japanese styles of the rider’s wallet.

The leathers used here are very interesting indeed, being some of the rarest in this hobby. Shonan Leather’s glazed Mimosa pit-tanned leather in particular is an absolute treasure which I have wanted to try for some time now, ranking very close to Baker’s oak bark pit-tanned leather in terms of the slow-made and very natural methods of tanning, resulting in leathers that are as close to ‘natural’ as possible. The Buttero and Chevre are more processed but their qualities are fantastic too, being some of Europe’s finest leathers; the Buttero in particular is a much better leather compared with many of the unnamed or generic “Italian veg tanned” leathers I’ve come across in the past decade.

In terms of craftsmanship, the level of detailing and effort invested in this wallet obviously surpass that of production-line or machine-made wallets. This wallet was neatly hand-stitched & burnished, with no glaring defects.

Given that this wallet is named the Japanese Wallet, I take it that Rocky is not only paying homage to the Japanese masters and high-end workshops who sit at the very top of work-wear style leather-crafting, but also that he intends for mill handmade to compete at the same levels of craftsmanship.

Keeping this in mind, I have raised my own expectations and standards of critique in this review to that of, for a lack of a better description, Japanese standards of wallet crafting. Bar some minor deviations in stitch alignment and a center ridge cut-out that could perhaps be further refined, this Japanese Wallet rates well under strict considerations, a testament to the effort Rocky had invested into the designing and making of this wallet.

At AUD $430 (or AUD 415 without gold embossing, AUD $390 without zipper), this hand-stitched Japanese Wallet is very well priced. In fact, the pricing is the same as Pailot River’s rider’s wallets, which are machine-stitched…the decision between the two comes down to Red Moon’s heritage & brand versus the extra time & effort Rocky spends in piecing together this cleverly designed wallet. As far as private label custom wallets go, Rocky’s Japanese Wallet is good value indeed.

Futhermore, Rocky has in stock some of the most curious and interesting leathers, such as the Shonan and Buttero featured here, which will delight the leather geeks among us. You could easily have the outshell of this wallet made with green shell cordovan, or have the inner panels stitched with contrast threading. Such is the advantage of having custom work done: your wallet can be made exactly to your liking with textures and colours that interest you.

All in all, this mill handmade Japanese Wallet is a great option for people who are looking for a high-end, custom handcrafted wallet with ample storage space. I am very happy to see work of this caliber being made in Australia!

Please look forward to Part 2 of this review, where I will share with you some photos & thoughts after I have oiled & tanned this wallet and used it for a couple of days. In the mean time, have a look at Rocky’s freshly minted website at mill handmade.

Brown’s Beach Jacket – beach vest review

I’ve long wanted to try some Brown’s Beach Jacket garments, and not being the type to drop $$$$ on vintage jackets, I’ve kept my eye on modern Japanese reproductions for some years now.

However, as I live in Australia, you can understand that a Brown’s Beach garment is simply impractical and for the longest time I’d put off buying a jacket, given I might get two or three weeks of wear per year due to the generally hotter weather here on the world’s largest island. Last year I finally pulled the trigger, settling on the compromise of a vest, which I should be able to wear during most of our winter days.

So, what’s so special about Brown’s Beach Jackets and Vests?

Overview

Brown’s Beach Jacket Company was founded by an American named William Brown in 1901. The story goes that the signature 2-ply wool/cotton blend fabric was created in the 19th century by one Mr. Beach, though it was Mr. Brown who – through much hard work and business savvy – managed to make Beach cloth a household name in the USA. Mr. Brown initially focused on producing sturdy jackets out of Beach cloth, which he successfully marketed to outdoors-men and workers, later on also producing vests and other garments. Brown’s Beach products were immensely popular and enjoyed thirty-odd years of success and renown – the famed Beach cloth, a woven blend of 73% wool & 27% cotton, offered fantastic protection from the elements and was noted for its performance and durability in inclement weather.

At some point close to mid-century, the brand was sold to Jacob Finkelstein and Sons who continued to manufacture Beach cloth garments under the same brand, alongside a variety of other workwear including flannel shirts, socks, and the like. By mid-century, however, synthetic materials had begun outperforming and undercutting natural fibres for outdoors clothing. After struggling for some years, Brown’s Beach Jacket was shut down in the late 1960s. The latest advertisement I could find dated to 1967.

Some half a century later, Japanese dudes took an interest in reproducing Brown’s Beach Jacket garments, and our story becomes a little more murky. It is said that John Lofgren of Speedway first acquired the Brown’s Beach Jacket trademark in the late 2000s. However, Fullcount claims to have acquired the trademark in 2007. Further, Lost Hills (another Japanese clothing workshop) also acquired the trademark in 2012. How this all works out legally, I have no idea.

What I do know is that Brown’s Beach Jacket replica garments appeared on the scene around 2010, and currently, only Fullcount and Lost Hills are reproducing Beach cloth garments under the Brown’s Beach Jacket brand.

That’s not to say other Japanese makers don’t make Beach cloth garments…in fact, everyone does! You can find similar 1930s Brown’s Beach Jacket designs currently being made by Sugar Cane, Cushman’s, RRL, Kapital, Samurai, The Real McCoy, Trophy Clothing, etc., just to name a few. Only Fullcount and Lost Hills are allowed to use the Brown’s Beach label, however.

This solid-black Brown’s Beach vest we’re examining today was made by Lost Hills, with 1930s detailing and a non-traditional fabric colour.

Fit

This vest has been cut with a vintage-style, tubular fit. As such, it is quite closely fitted, finishing at the waist, and seems to have been designed as an intermediate layer between a shirt and an over-coat. Which make sense…I suppose both William Brown and the folks at Lost Hills would want us to wear a Brown’s Beach Jacket over the vest.

The neck has been cut lower than most vintage Brown’s Beach vests I’ve seen on the Internet. I can imagine that the original, higher neck versions might be a little uncomfortable and are probably appropriate for weather that is much colder than what I have here in the land of convicts and kangaroos.

A word of caution: You’ll need to size up on these vests! I have a 44 inch chest, and needed the largest 46 size in this vest. If you have a chest any bigger than 44 inch, I’m afraid Brown’s Beach has nothing to offer you for now.

Another word of caution: This vest is very warm! Aussies may be able to wear this vest during winter, with jackets in the same Beach cloth being fairly impractical. If you are from South East Asia, don’t even think about wearing anything made of Brown’s Beach – you will develop hyperthermia! The only way to wear a full set of Brown’s Beach clothing is to do so in the snow, or if you develop hypothyroidism.

Fabric

Beach cloth has traditionally been a two layer woven fabric made of ~70% wool and ~30% cotton. This particular cloth here is a fairly exact 73%/27% reproduction.

Whilst the weave on our vest is reminiscent of vintage Brown’s Beach cloth, the solid black colouring is a modern take on the classic salt n’ pepper colours. This black fabric makes the vest look sleeker, and less ‘costume-y’, yet dirt, lint and animal hairs will be more noticeable.

The is a heavy & very warm fabric, relatively breathable but largely resistant to water and air. The cloth has a lot of body and feels substantial in the hand – truly, this cloth was designed for colder climates and the outdoors.

Peripherals

The woven tags are nicely reproduced, down to the fonts of the text.

The 1930s style snap buttons, being wide than the buttons from later decades, are very cool indeed. I’m curious as to how they would age.

The buckle at the back cinch works well and is fairly solid. The cinch itself is made of a solid black cotton fabric, which does cause it to stand out somewhat.

Construction

This solid black vest features black threads and black piping, resulting in a much more subdued appearance than more traditional reproductions of a Brown’s Beach vest.

The pockets & seams are neatly stitched, piped and bar-tacked at points of stress

The twill fabric used for the piping is sturdy and not prone to pilling.

Due to the nature of the Beach cloth, both the front and back faces hide stitching very well, and as such the tonal threads are not visible usually. Even so, on close inspection, the stitches are clean and straight – nothing hangs loose.

The combination of pocket shape and piping lends the vest a very distinct, early century workwear appearance.

Opinion

All in all, an interesting twist on the classic Brown’s Beach vest.

The solid black fabric, although having the same weave, is visually distinct from the traditional heather/salt n’ pepper appearance of Beach cloth. The piping and the snap buttons contributes to the unique flair of Brown’s Beach garments, though on the solid black background they don’t stand out as much as they do on more traditional pieces.

This vest is much more subtle compared with the average Beach vest and is not as immediately recognizable as most Brown’s Beach garments can be, yet the understated appearance allow it to pair with other garments more easily, without looking too much like 1930s cosplay. (Nothing wrong with that by the way, I do it occasionally when my family members aren’t around.)

As far as vintage garment reproduction is concerned, I think the modern Japanese versions of Brown’s Beach garments are rather well done. Every now and then some truly hardcore vintage Brown’s Beach collectors will remark that the modern Beach cloths are not quite the same as the originals in terms of density, though I am nowhere near expert enough on this topic to comment about the minute differences.

However, some of the limitations of reproduction clothing are apparent on Brown’s Beach vests, the most significant of which I believe is the sizing of the pockets – way too small! These pockets are truly useless in the age of palm-sized smart phones…

Other than the size of the pockets, however, there’s really not much to complain about this vest, and quite a lot to like! I particularly enjoy the texture of Beach cloth, and I feel it combines fairly well with denim in terms of contrasting handfeels. The vest itself is also made to a high standard, and would not be out of place when combined with artisan made Japanese jeans or bench-made boots.

Overall?

Highly recommended! For workwear geeks, a Brown’s Beach cloth garment is a must try at some point.

Just remember to size up.

White’s Boots – Retrospective Review and Reflections after 5 years.

A couple of long time readers have told me that I don’t rant enough on this blog anymore, and that my posts have become too structured. So,today I’ll sucker you in with some White’s Boots photos and rant at you!  (~˘▾˘)~

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the majority of denimheads, provided they stay in the hobby long enough, will eventually develop an interest in quality leather footwear. Works boots, and in particular American style boots, have developed alongside denim dungarees – the combination of the two not only makes logical sense but is, for many a purist, an authentic way of experiencing Americana.

You will have noticed that wearers of raw denim are usually either sneaker freaks and/or boot nerds, and the choice in footwear is of course influenced by many factors. Through this retrospective review of White’s Boots’ classic dress boots, I’m hoping to contemplate some of these factors, and share my thoughts about footwear that we pair with blue jeans.

Although my interest in raw denim started in my teenage years, it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I started to wear bench-made work boots & shoes. As a teenager, sneakers and sports shoes were just easier – easier to put on, easier to walk in, easier to take off, easier to maintain, and easier to throw away & buy a new pair.

I ventured into leather boots after I became a medical student – rocking up to the hospital in sneakers just isn’t the done thing – and I had a variety of very average experiences with Italian shoes and cheaper American boots. As a result of a series of unsatisfactory shoe choices, I grew to be very black and white about my footwear – no mediocrity, it’s either bench-made shoes or bare foot, nothing in between.

Overview

After some positive experiences with bench-made English and Australian work boots, in 2011 I ordered my first proper pair of American shoes – Alden’s 403 ‘Indy’ high work boot – and suddenly my clothes made a lot more sense, it was properly Americana. Something in my head clicked, and I knew then that I am a boot nerd.

Later that year I custom ordered two pairs of the same boots – White’s Boots’ classic dress boots. The Classic Dress boots are basically the Semi-Dress boots made with their new C461 last, meant to give the boots a more vintage-style, military-inspired toe shape – this was, partly, a response to Viberg’s increasing dominance in the high-end heritage wear market with their sleeker and lighter boots made for the urban lumberjack. I had two pairs of the Classic Dress made, each with medallion toe caps, in different leathers: The burgundy pair is all bison, whereas the black pair is a mix of bullhide and bison.

Before I talk about my thoughts about these boots, keep in mind my perspective…My life is not rugged at all, my work is entirely intellectual, I don’t do any physical labour. I wear work-boots because I’m a denim and leather geek, I wear them as a hobby, there is no practical reason why I wear rugged shoes. The only thing that my toes need protection from is my pen, when I accidentally drop it.

It shouldn’t surprise you then, with each pair of boots worn once every one to two weeks, even over 5 years my boots are in pretty good condition. I won’t go into finer details such as thread colours, etc, as these are completely custom boots and I’d really just be critiquing my own choices. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Uppers

The two pairs, made to the same specs apart from leather/colour, are remarkably consistent. The basic pattern of the upper should be familiar to you – it’s the Semi-Dress pattern, one of the defining boots of the Pacific Northwest style of footwear.

The leathers are heavy duty, oily and nicely textured – custom spec’d of course, and altogether a different level compared with the basic oil-tanned bovine leathers that feature on most American boots. The uppers are neatly & densely stitched and precisely put together. Even just looking at the body of these boots, you can tell they are a league above the ready-to-wear brands that are popular on the Internet these days. Look at how neatly those medallion toe caps have been applied!

The eyelets and speedhooks are very nice quality too, as sturdy as the rest of the boots. The finishes of the metal hardware have been extremely durable.

This C461 last has an upturned toe, which is slightly pointier than White’s other lasts. Personally I think this last makes the Classic Dress even more ‘dressy’ compared with the Semi-Dress. The medallion toe-caps add further to this divergence in aesthetics.

Sole Unit

The stitch-down and the sole unit, of course, further differentiates true Pacific Northwest boots and low-end ‘heritage-style’ footwear. The double row of fairly neatly applied stitch-down. The monstrous double natural mid-soles, sitting on top of full thickness Vibram outsoles. The Traveller’s heel with natural leather stacks, peachy and uncoated, much more raw and exciting compared with how English shoemakers would make them.

Even just by looking at the sole unit, it is clear that boots like this were either made by White’s, Nick’s, or Wesco. Viberg has gone their own Goodyear-welted way, whereas lower tier American boots will feature an oddly plastic ‘welt’ with, usually, no mid-soles at all.

The internal anatomy of these boots are, of course, entirely made with leather…lots of it too. From the mid-sole up, it’s basically a solid leather shank surrounded by a mountain of leather, building up White’s trademarked Arch Ease arch support. From the lining to the heel pad, everything is high quality leather.

Opinion

All in all, as fair as quality goes, my two pairs of White’s Classic Dress boots are excellent. There is a reason why the Japanese enthusiasts consider White’s Boots to be “The King of Boots” – everything from the materials to the construct to the toe-shape & overall aesthetics are simply spot on. If you are interested in denim culture and Americana, there’s no substitute for a pair of White’s dress boots – having a pair is almost a prerequisite before being admitted to the advanced levels of our denim hobby.

Granted, the boots produced by White’s and the other Pacific Northwestern makers are not as neat as those made by the Japanese brands that imitate them (think Rolling Dub Trio, White Kloud, Zerrow’s, etc), but the Japanese brands are usually at least 50% more expensive.

So then, why don’t we see more White’s Boots on the internet or on Instagram. Why is it that every denim bro and his little brother seem to  be rocking Red Wing’s boots, when White’s are clearly – from a serious hobbyist’s point of view – the superior boots? Or, why have a bunch of seasoned denimheads decided to run around in PF Flyers?

Firstly, the price of admission can be steep. Not everyone can fork out $500+ USD for a pair of custom, bench-made boots.

In terms of practicality, the first thing that White’s Boots owners will tell you is that these are substantial boots! Even if White’s Dress boots are already lighter than their Smoke Jumpers, the Dress boots are still massively heavy. They are, for example, much heftier than English country boots  of the same height. This matter of mass, as well as the prominent arch, means that you have to learn how to walk with these rugged boots – beginners will struggle with the rocking step that these boots demand.

Lower-end shoes have much less leather both on the sole unit as well as internally, with most using quite some amount of lighter synthetic materials – this type of boot is lighter to wear, and don’t require significant breaking in. Comparing to sneakers, White’s Classic Dress boots are about 3 to 4 times heavier. If you throw these boots at someone, you’ll knock them out cold.

Of course, given the custom nature of these boots, it is possible to make them lighter – close trim, ditch the lining, single layer mid-sole, wedge sole etc. You’ll end up with something that looks a bit more like Viberg or Truman Boots, boots that are a little more practical for city folks who don’t fight forest fires or farm the land.

I would imagine that the learning curve with regards to how to walk properly with these boots, as well as the break-in period required, represent significant barriers to most denimheads deciding whether or not to upgrade their footwear. To put it another way, hefty boots like these White’s are simply not practical for a city dweller working an average urban job.

At the end of the day, these boots are more difficult to put on, significantly heavier than other footwear, require longer break in and do not ventilate as easily as fabric footwear. It is little wonder many people stick with sneakers. I suppose, over the course of years, we must somehow integrate our clothing hobbies with our life in general, which often takes us down the path of least resistance, or we risk burning out in the hobby. The staunchest raw denim fan will eventually machine wash his jeans (everyone except Swissjeansfreak I suppose), and the geekiest boot freak will eventually reach for shoes that are easy to wear more than he’d reach for his 10 inch Packer boots.

Then again, the logic of practicality doesn’t exactly sit comfortably with denimheads like us, does it? We’re looking for a sense of authenticity, a feeling of the good old days, a philosophy of doing things the right way, the ownership of goods with some kind of ‘meaning’ – we are particular about our clothes, and our boots need to have soul! If comfort and ease of use are all we care about, we’ll all be wearing sweatpants instead of raw denim jeans, and we’re not the kind of people who’d wear sweatpants in public, right?

To conclude, if you like raw denim, you should try a pair of bench-made Pacific Northwestern boots at some point, and you can’t go wrong with a pair of White’s Boots.

Weaving Shibusa – Melbourne Panel

Fantastic denim day out to go see Weaving Shibusa!

Big thanks to Charlie at Corlection for sending me there  🙂

We’re very lucky to have ACMI here in Melbourne, who provided a great cinema and tutorial room for the documentary screening and subsequent panel discussion.

Weaving Shibusa is a great documentary about Japanese denim, a fantastic primer for new denimheads! Even more advanced enthusiasts will find it interesting, as it features interviews with the founders of brands like Fullcount, Ironheart, Stevenson Overall, Japan Blue / Momotaro, etc.

My camera met one of its ancestors! A hand-cranked Parvo J-K from 1922.

The panel discussion after the documentary screening was hosted by James Nolen of ACMI. Featuring (left to right): James, Marty from Godspeed, Nick from Denham Jeansmaker, Chris from Pickings & Parry and Ant from Anthill Workshop.

Left to right: Marty, Nick, James, Ant and Chris.

Denim banners, Nick’s awesome collection of Buddy Lee dolls, Marty’s very nicely worn Japanese denim collection and some Denham jeans and items.

It was interesting to hear about how these guys got started on their denim journey, all of them coming from different backgrounds as far as denim and men’s clothing go.

Marty’s very nicely faded Iron Heart jeans from around 10 years ago.

Very happy to be able to attend such an event and see such a great gathering – this would have been impossible in Australia even just 5 years ago.

Ant’s fantastic work on a denim jacket!

Some of Ant’s vintage sewing machines – you’d have seen better photos of these babies elsewhere on this blog.

It’s really nice to see such growth in our local denim scene here in Australia, and I’m looking forward to more events like this in Melbourne!