Shinno Junji, who worked in planning and sales at Wrangler Japan, a major jeans manufacturer, opened UNIQUE JEAN STORE in Nakanoshima, Sapporo, in 1982. Every year, he visits Milan, Florence, Paris, and other cities to search for local trends and purchase the best items, which enables the store to offer about 30 brands, both imported and domestic, for a surprisingly diverse selection you never thought you’d be able to find in Nakanoshima.
About 20 years ago, EZO JEANS was born from the idea of collaborating with Osaka-based brand SAMURAI JEANS to create jeans that are uniquely Hokkaido. A limited edition series consisting of 100 pairs is released once every two years, with the theme, shape, and design changing slightly each time, such as using white thread for stitching to represent the snow in Hokkaido, and Ezo deer leather for the patches that serve as the identity of the brand. The eleventh release of EZO JEANS is scheduled for April of next year.
According to Shinno, "In the past few years, it has become popular for jeans stores around Japan to collaborate with manufacturer brands to create original jeans that are unique to the region and the store." SAMURAI JEANS is a brand that dares to focus on the "joy of letting the color fade by itself" at a time when easily faded jeans are becoming more and more prevalent. The EZO JEANS, made in collaboration with this popular brand, have sold well every time a new version is released.
However, EZO JEANS are planned in Hokkaido, but the materials and sewing are from Okayama so there is a problem with not being able to say they are made in Hokkaido. General Manager Nakajima Daisuke says, "When we learned that Date is home to the only indigo master in Hokkaido, we felt the urge to further promote this fact to the world through jeans."
When Nakajima heard about Shinohara Kazutoshi in Date, who has been growing indigo plants from seed for generations and producing dye made from the leaves, he made numerous trips to Date where his indigo farm and workshop were located. While learning from Shinohara about the high quality and fascination of Hokkaido indigo, Nakajima began to see a way to commercialize jeans made from 100% Hokkaido indigo.
'We had been planning the MENKOI series since 2019, but it took us three years to complete it due to COVID-19. Considering the price and technical aspects, we decided to collaborate this time with STUDIO D’ARTISAN, who used to make jeans with natural indigo". STUDIO D'ARTISAN was the first brand in Japan to produce selvedge jeans. Selvedge denim is a fabric with edges woven on an old-fashioned power loom, which has a stiff texture that improves as it is washed and can be enjoyed for its features such as color fading and unevenness as it ages. This denim was perfect for MENKOI's concept of aiming for specifications and sewing methods that are not possible in mass production.
The degree of color fading is important for those who love jeans. There is surely a way to dye jeans so that the color fades more easily, even with natural indigo. To find out, Nakajima visited a dyeing factory in Okayama, the birthplace of domestic jeans.
Nakajima's focus with MENKOI was to create a design that would satisfy both jeans lovers as well as those who are not accustomed to wearing jeans. He came up with two different styles, one slimmer and one wider, and incorporated both button and zipper fastening for the front fly. The width and length of the hems were also fine-tuned for both boot and sneaker wearers. "We added a piece of leather on the left pocket where you can write the date you first wore it or washed it, so that people can enjoy the process of color fading. This is something original and unprecedented."
With his sights set on the world, Shinno says, “Every year I go overseas, and Japanese denim is garnering attention in the apparel industry for its high quality and excellent craftsmanship. There are even buyers who come all the way to Japan to buy jeans. Without the connection with domestic jeans brands in Okayama and Osaka, I don't think the idea of making jeans unique to Hokkaido would have been born. Our dream is to distribute our original jeans from Hokkaido to Asia, Europe, and other countries.”
UNIQUE JEAN STORE
Business hours: 11:00 - 20:00, open year-round
Nakanoshima 2-jo 2-chome 1-1, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
A large selection of special-order items available only at the POP-UP location, including MENKOI