Our old model from 2014 Fall & Winter (pictured left). Originally dark blue like the new model (pictured right), the fibers of this pair have shed much of their color after five years of wear, leaving stark lines on the legs known as whiskers. Just like a fine pair of vintage jeans.
- (R)Selvedge Classic Fit Jeans
A New Standard for The Future
Jeans are a LifeWear staple. Skinny and wide, washed and distressed. We’ve offered a variety of styles, and in the hopes of going deeper, we’ve done our research and developed a variety of denim fabrics with increased functionality. Exploring the possibilities of jeans, unrestricted by preconceptions.
This season, six years after their release, our Selvedge Classic Fit Jeans are back. But at this point, why bother updating the original design, when it’s a classic? The answer is that the sort of long-term relationship that develops with a pair of jeans as you break them in, year after year, is exactly what our sustainable future requires.
Now is the time to establish universal standards. Our signature denim, as with the older model released in 2014 (pictured left), was manufactured by world-class Hiroshima denim maker Kaihara. The LA-based Jeans Innovation Center (JIC) is taking the helm of operations, while Pacific Jeans in Bangladesh is handling the sewing and finishing processes. What goes into this New Vintage, spun together by these three companies? To find out, we ducked behind the scenes in Hiroshima and Bangladesh.
Kaihara Hiroshima, Japan
Our new jeans return to the original spirit of denim, for a garment unswayed by the times. To make this a reality, we contacted Kaihara, who has been helping us manufacture and develop denim since 1998, asking them to create a denim that was not too rough or heavy, but not too light either, a fabric that shows character with age.
At 13.5 ounces, the fabric used the new pair of Selvedge Classic Fit Jeans is just the right thickness. The warp, which appears to be a straight, uniformly thick and twisted yarn, is actually uneven yarn where only the core thread is slubbed, and the rope dyeing machine has been controlled such that the white core yarns are barely dyed. This results in a denim that starts off with an authentic stiffness and resilience; but over time, the white uneven core yarn will begin to surface, creating the striations and gorgeous fading patterns characteristic of vintage jeans.
Next, the weft yarn is beaten down into the dyed warp yarn on old G9 shuttle looms to create selvedge denim, which has bands on both edges of the fabric that prevent it from unravelling. Compared with today’s innovative looms, which are controlled by computers, these old machines operate at about 1/6th the speed. After 24 hours of full operation, they produce only 120 meters of material. Since they demand the care, day and night, of seasoned engineers, the process requires considerable time, attention and labor. All the same, the fact that using this kind of machinery results in a completely different texture five years down the line is evident the second you set eyes on the old pair.
The uncompromising standards to which Kaihara spins, dyes, weaves and processes their denim gives them a competitive edge. The techniques developed over their long history combine with their vast trove of data and the proud skill of their personnel for a denim product that retains the warmth of craftsmanship.
1. Spun strands are gathered into ropelike slivers and sent into the giant rope dyeing machine. Passing through a bath of indigo and wrung out using rollers, the fabric oxidizes when exposed to air, deepening the color of the indigo-blue.
2. If you look closely at the center of the warp yarns, you can see that the white core of the uneven yarn has been intentionally left undyed.
3. Once the cloth is made, it is thoroughly examined on an inspection machine.
4. Completed selvedge denim. The red line along the edge serves as proof that it was made on an old power loom.
Made using genuine selvedge denim from Kaihara. Containing 2% spandex, these jeans stretch for a slim yet comfortable fit and a flattering silhouette.
Apart from selvedge, we use many other fabrics from Kaihara. These jeans employ a 100% cotton 12-ounce one-wash denim.
Pacific Jeans Chattogram, Bangladesh
Pairing Quality and Durability
Thinking of jeans in terms of cooking, Kaihara selvedge denim is the main ingredient. From there, JIC in LA comes up with the entire recipe, from the choice of fabrics to the silhouette and all the finishing touches. Based on the pattern JIC creates, Pacific Jeans, located in the city of Chattogram in southeast Bangladesh, sews and finishes the product. We have been working with Pacific Jeans for 13 years, since 2008, over which period we have both grown a great deal and developed a firm bond of trust. Pacific Jeans has the same sustainable development facilities and cutting-edge systems as JIC along with similar equipment.
We visited Pacific Jeans just as a shipment of selvedge denim, fresh off the plane, was being cut into the shapes needed for jeans.
The amount of inspection that goes into every step is a sight to behold. The fabric has already been subjected to thread strength and rip testing at the Kaihara lab throughout the spinning, weaving and packing steps, but the checking continues in the sewing step as well, with measurements taken down to the millimeter. Since sewing is not fully automated but rather done by hand on sewing machines, it’s possible for irregularities, fraying and damage to occur, but such defects make garments unfit for sale. Strict inspection standards encourage the creation of the finest possible product, the result of which is high-quality denim having the durability it needs to be worn year after year and only look better with age.
This is how our Selvedge Classic Fit Jeans make it into UNIQLO stores all over the world, but we’ve partnered with Kaihara and Pacific Jeans on several other models, too, in a variety of washes and tones, from deep indigo to light blue. The lineup includes denim featuring distressed and ripped details, achieved using groundbreaking finishing methods like ozone washing, nano bubble technology and laser marking. These are the techniques of a sustainable future.
1. Thanks to an efficient production line, about 3,600 pairs of jeans are sewn daily.
2. The pocketing fabric, known as silesia, is tacked down temporarily, to prevent stones from tearing out the pockets during stone washing.
3. Products are checked repeatedly for irregularities, frays and stains.
4. Stack of finished Selvedge Classic Fit Jeans. After every pair of jeans has passed through a metal detector, the jeans will be shipped to UNIQLO stores worldwide.
Extreme ripped details created using laser marking. The machine can be controlled precisely to spare only the weft yarn.
While conventional washing techniques had a tendency to even out the coloration, new technologies allow for a more realistic tonal contrast, creating a truly vintage look.
People and for the Environment
Washing denim requires an immense amount of water. Except water is a finite resource. That said, washed denim is the industry standard. Still, we want to lessen our environmental impact. But people want their jeans to look genuinely faded. To break free from this negative spiral, JIC is constantly researching and developing new, sustainable methods, like ozone washing, where dissolved ozone is utilized to bleach the denim, and nano bubble technology, in which a smaller amount of water, turned into mist, is sprayed at the jeans to fade them. As a result, the water required for washing has been reduced by as much as 99%, and 90% on average.*
In addition to these two leading-edge technologies, the lava rocks traditionally tossed into the machine before stone washing, to bring out texture, are being replaced by “eco stones” having greater durability and resistance to abrasion. Meanwhile, the latest laser marking machines, using data from JIC, are now responsible for all the distressed and ripped details formerly achieved by hand. In a matter of seconds, these lasers can beautifully recreate everything from textured whiskering effects on the thighs to the holes that form after extensive wear. All with the push of a button. This automated process may conjure up a sterile image, but older, less efficient methods, where people created these effects by hand using chemicals, pumice stone or sandpaper, resulted in extreme variation between products. Plus, the fine particles of airborne dust resulting from these processes was harmful to human health. But thanks to today’s advanced technology, any smoke generated through scorching is immediately sucked up by the machine, keeping the factory clean as a whistle. The result is a dramatically changed work environment, where the dust goggles of yesterday are no longer required.
At present, a great deal of energy is being focused on water recycling systems. Harnessing the power of ozone and minerals, these revolutionary processes remove the dyes and chemicals from the blue water leftover after making denim. Once filtered, the water can be recycled, rather than flushed. Pacific Jeans implemented this procedure two years ago, and the day is fast approaching when environmentally conscious water recycling systems will be the standard for jeans made by UNIQLO.
Do more good things. Stop doing the wrong things. Getting there is complicated, but the logic is simple. LifeWear at the expense of the environment is not sustainable. Without quality, there’s no sense of attachment. Having both is what makes these jeans the vintage of the future.
*When comparing the Men’s Regular Fit Jeans from 2017 with the same product as produced in 2018.
1. Lasers can reproduce even subtle rips and tears.
2. Jeans bleached through ozone washing.
3. Conventional natural lava rock (right) and eco stone (left). These innovative stones can be used thousands of times without losing the texture of their surface.
4. Strong mist spraying from an open nano bubble machine.
5. After the blue wastewater on the left passes through the water recycling system, it becomes colorless and clear like water on the right.
Photography by Kazufumi Shimoyashiki,
Yoshio Kato (products) Text by Kyosuke Nitta