BIG JOHN – The History of the First Japanese Made Jeans

BIG JOHN - The History of the First Japanese Made Jeans

In January the legendary Japanese denim brand Big John was presenting their wares including Spring/Summer 2013 and their staple line at the Bread & Butter show in Berlin. They brought not only their denims and garments to their boot, but supplemented the modern with a number of pieces from their long history.

The beginning of the brand takes us back to the 1940s, when the founder Kotaro Ozaki, started his sewing business, Maruo Clothing, manufacturing students uniforms, workwear and U.S. military-look pants. It wasn’t until the year 1965 that the first domestic jeans were born in Kojima, under the Canton brandname.

A fortunate contract with the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry gave Maruo Clothing the rights for manufacturing and sales in a small area in the west of Hakone. They received 50 rolls of denim fabric from Canton Textile Mills Inc. from the US, and in October of the same year the first one-wash jeans were sold.

Kotaro Ozaki, M1002 First Model

Kotaro Ozaki, M1002 First Model

In 1967, while production of the Canton jeans was ongoing, the first Big John M1002 PROTO MODEL was produced using imported Cone Mills denim from the US. One year later, the M1002 FIRST MODEL was released together with the M2002 boot cut model and the M3002 slim model. Thus, the “first collection” was born.

In 1969 the “ROAD RUNNER” series made its first public appearance. It was the first time that color jeans were made in Japan, this particular jean also featuring a new model, the M4002. This was a cutting edge bell-bottom jean which took off and was widely embraced throughout Japan.

The History of Big John

Jump ahead to 1972, and the first Japanese denim fabric was produced for the brand when Kurabo Mill created the “KD-8.” At that time, Japanese textile mills had never officially produced denim before. It took them 8 tries to get it right, hence the name “KD-8” — Kurabo Denim on the 8th try.

The best was still to come, and in the year 1973 the Big John signature collection “M” series was released. These were the very first Japan made jeans manufactured with the “KD-8” fabric.

Weaving Machine

In 1975 World Workers, a sub-brand from Big John made a debut, this was a Work Pant line, who started in Japan the outdoor activities boom.

At the year 1980 Big John developed the world’s first uneven yarns, marking the beginning of the vintage, repro trend we know and love today.

It was also in the 80’s that Big John reached corporative status, expanding their production system and appliying corporate philosophies like “Quality Comes First.” This was the first point in which Big John expanded into the international market, finding stockists rapidly and widely throughout Europe and the U.S.

Big John mid 60's advertising

Big John mid 60’s advertising

The 1990’s were marked by successful campaigns, like “Jeans Revolution” using recycle jeans and natural dyes. The “Rare Meister” collection, based on 300 piece hand-made jeans, was a great success as it sold out just after the pre-order was open, and the “Sharp Fit,” a repro collection of bell-bottom and tight straight fits rounded out a successful decade for the brand.

Big John Patch

At the change of century, Big John was continuing to push boundaries, publicly calling the 2000’s the “era of proposing new styles and cutting edge.”  They made a license contract with Dickies, developing and selling under the Dickies brand in Japan. They later released the “low-rise jeans” to satisfy the street fashion demands and clamoring

Also making an appearance was the “A-Stitch”, a inner stich at the thigh section. Following that, they released “The Tailored” collection, a slim fit focused jeans and the “M3“, a modern version of their popular 60’s slim-fit M3002.

Big John JeansBig John brought most of their export business in the mid-90’s to a halt, and it wasn’t until 2009 at a Japan Expo in Paris they officially re-opened the European market. In the year 2010, Big John celebrated their 70th anniversary, and part of the celebration included the release of the archive series, reproducing the most classic jeans Big John ever made.

Since then they’ve continued to produce an astounding body of work around the globe, keeping high standards and offering high-end premium jeans. They forged a good earned reputation, describing themselves as “…a pioneer of Japanese jeans, as an “innovating” and “traditional” denim brand.”

We’d like to take a final moment to say Thanks to Risa Saito from Big John for providing some of the facts and pictures used in the article.

Paul Travi

Paul Travi

Paul's first experience with raw denim was at the age of 10 when his parents purchased him a pair of raw Lee Jeans. After many years, he found the very same pair of jeans in the U.S. and since then his interest in denim became a passion. Now based in Holland, Paul is constantly researching and experimenting with the amazing fabric.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/devan.prithipaul Devan Prithipaul

    great article! i thought i knew a lot about early Japanese denim history (i.e. with the history of Canton and Oni Denim (BS United)) but boy was i wrong! this is a very informative article and i am impressed at all the new stuff. thanks!

    • Devan Fcukinpaul

      yes, and i am impressed by your cool story!

      • http://www.facebook.com/devan.prithipaul Devan Prithipaul

        you know, its not really a story.

        • fcuk devan

          yes of course, and again, cool story bro

  • Jeroen

    For me Big John is one of the true greats from Japan. I have special memories about the brand, getting married in it nearly two years ago. Good article Paul.

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