On every trip to Japan, we try to spend a few days down in Kojima, the holy grail of Japanese denim. The sleepiness of this seaside town belies its beating blue heart in the form of around 15 recognisable denim brands, including Edwin, Japan Blue and Momotaro, as well as dozens of denim factories, and laundries.
This time we had a special mission: we were to visit some of the manufacturers we hoped to use for the “Made in Japan” edition of our Tenue de Nîmes Pablo jeans.

Having tumbled off the bullet train and whisked to our hotel in the dead of night, it was almost a shock — though a nice one — to wake up and realise our hotel had an incredible panoramic view over the Seto Inland Sea, as well as an outdoor hot tub to enjoy it from. By May, the south of Japan is beginning to bristle with heat, and the lush landscape across the bay was quite something to behold over breakfast.
First up on the agenda for the day was a processing plant and laundry. Inside an entirely unassuming-looking building facade, down a countryside lane, we found a labyrinthine factory of creativity. There were flourishes we could barely imagine elsewhere, from the sand paper scrubbers used to rub in whiskers and mustaches repurposed into cartoon-character sculptures, to posters for Chucky films hung on red walls while a heavy metal soundtrack blared, masking the sound of an electric sander.

In another room, empty cans of Red Bull had been piled against a wall to create a kind of shiny, high-energy wallpaper. Empty tanks of solvent had been painted to resemble Spongebob Squarepants. On the wall, staff had drawn manga cartoons in their free time. These little flashes of creativity ― not only allowed but emphatically encouraged by management ― demonstrated to us the way that a sense of humor and a refreshingly relaxed attitude to individual freedom. It seemed to us that this factory not only pursued the ultimate quality in its processes (one of the manager’s collection of vintage imitations were good enough to fool us) but also allowed their staff to breathe and let off steam by adapting their workspace as they like.

It was clear, looking at the tags and order slips scattered around the factory, that many other Japanese brands felt the same way. Tenue de Nimes jeans were in safe hands here.

We also went to a sewing factory, reputed to be one of the best in Kojima. We were greeted by the boss ― a permanently beaming, tanned gentleman who plied us with coffee and tea and impressed upon us his absolutely obsessive focus on efficiency in pursuit of quality.

Walking us around the factory floor, he pointed out a robot that he had invented to pick up finished legs from a seamstresses’ station and lie them down on top of a pillow opposite, saving her time and effort so she could turn out more by the hour. Responding to a labour shortage in the industry that has seen an influx of Chinese workers, he had also begun a training school for local women, particularly mothers who wanted to work full time, offering the flexible hours, and guaranteed employment after that. He created flexible shifts throughout the company to accommodate different work styles.

On the wall was a sign saying “Save time where you can… but don’t cut quality!” I think that’s a philosophy we can all get behind. Especially where it comes to our latest love story from Japan: Our Tenue de Nîmes Pablo Santa Fe jean.
This text was originally written by Sophie Knight for Journal de Nimes Nº13 and is edited for this blog post.