Kapital's Century Denim
The soul of Kapital has always been denim - and deeply blue. It’s a different denim than you can find anywhere else and done the most complicated way possible. As a designer, Kiro Hirata seems to go to every length in order to have more fun than any other label. His art takes humor seriously and what emerges is often provocative and challenging. There is such a heavy mix of design elements, nods to cultural movements, and a world history lesson of construction techniques that it’s hard to discover all of the inspirations.
Kapital connects it all.
Founded by Kiro Hirata’s father Toshikiyo, neither man planned to be a clothing designer. Toshikiyo moved to America to teach and compete in Karate. It also happened to be a transitional time in the history of blue jeans and still at the beginnings of Japan’s obsession with American style. It was also the beginning of Japan’s army of collectors traveling to America in search of vintage gold. Toshikiyo Hirata caught the collecting bug and before the vintage resale bubble burst in the mid 90s, he was already home in Kojima, Japan figuring out how to build his own denim.
Kojima sits on the Seto Inland Sea at the very bottom of Okayama Prefecture. The salty soil and low rainfall discouraged attempts at agriculture, but the land was well-suited for growing cotton. The crop also attracted auxiliary textile industries and indigo factories. By the time denim manufacturing became a homegrown product for Japan, the obvious place to do it was Kojima.
The traditional pedagogy in Japan is to “copy to innovation.” A novice studies under a master for years until they perfect the lesson; then they make their own way, building on the past and evolving the artform. Having learned how to make denim, Toshikiyo Hirata set out on his own to make it better.
Toshikiyo’s son Kiro had also gone to America to study art and wasn’t planning on carrying on the family business. Thankfully for us, he had a change of heart and took over as head designer in 2002. In Kiro’s words, “my father mastered the reproduction of American workwear in his generation. In our generation, our work is evolving from ‘workwear’ to ‘powerwear.’”
Nowhere is that more obvious than with Century Denim.
When launched in 2012, Century Denim was a welcome surprise to the growing denimhead population that was pretty sure they had seen everything already. But quality selvedge, good hardware, and a modern taper were just the beginning for Kapital.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, Kapital connected the dots. A great deal of Kapital’s ethos is rooted in acknowledging the complex relationship between Japan and America. Already experts in indigo dyeing and American denim traditions, Kapital took a look at OG Levi’s and brought back a greatest hits list of elements including donut buttons and a back cinch. From that foundation, they stitched in Japanese traditions.
Sashiko stitching and indigo dyeing
Sashiko stitching was invented during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The plain running stitch of thick cotton threads allowed farmers to reinforce and maintain clothing, evolving into an artform and used to measure a woman’s acumen as a potential bride.
Japanese indigo dyeing traditions go back further, but were popularized around the same time. Known as ai-zome in Japan, the color’s depth and slow fade became the de facto uniform for the lower classes due to a prohibition on their wearing silk. As a matter of pride and status, indigo dyed clothing with white sashiko embroidery became a uniquely Japanese folk-art.
After WWII and throughout the period of industrialization in Japan, modern textiles began replacing these clothing traditions. Youth-led movements toward western aesthetics furthered that modernization of style.
Kapital, as they're apt to do, have revitalized these traditions with modern context.
To create their Century Denim, Kapital utilizes four different factories - the fabric benefitting from each one’s individual, but complimentary mastery. One for thread spinning, one for dyeing, one for weaving, and one for finishing. The warp, weft, and sashiko threads are spun differently to create individual texture and tension and then rope dyed separately before going through a weaving process that is a well-guarded Kapital secret.
As stated before, sashiko threads date back to the Edo Period for the working classes. Concurrently on the far end of the globe, the use of rivets was introduced to do very similar hard work on the American frontier. Using both traditions, Century Denim has a textural grace coupled with strength - a century of east and west denim manufacturing united. Add to that the use of traditional dye techniques and slow production craftsmanship and you have one of the strongest and most historical pairs of jeans possible.
And there’s more than one variation to choose from. Over the years, Kapital has developed a few colors of their signature denim.
It’s the evening light hidden in the rainbow after a rain and a full moon reflected on a blanket of snow. An indigo fade is the revelation of experience and Kapital’s No. 1.2.3 is as much indigo as you can get.
The 1,2,3’s of indigo are: No. 1 (American Indigo), No. 2 (Japanese Indigo), and No. 3 (natural indigo). Rope dyeing allows the center of each thread to retain its white core so that with slow wear, each of the elements fade individually.
*Last two images from Kapital
It’s been a couple of seasons since it's been around, but No. 3 is natural indigo standing alone in all its sky blue glory with a darker indigo sashiko stitch for great contrast. Fades on this one are less subtle than the rest, but will also bleed together interestingly for a muddied blue on blue.
Dating back to the 13th century in Japan, the ruddy brown base color of the Century Denim No. 5 is created with kakishibu dye (made from unripe persimmons that have been fermented and aged for 2+ years) with indigo sashiko throughout. Over time, the kakishibu dye will fade to a brighter orange hue while the indigo lightens. Additionally, Kakishibu has been recognized as a great alternative to synthetic colors because it has many beneficial properties such as deterring insects, being naturally water-repellent, and having an anti-mold effect for cloth - making these perfect to wear for a long time between washes.
The base denim for No. 7 is a charcoal grey derived from Sumi Dye. Another traditional Japanese dye more often used as a calligraphy ink, sumi is made from the turpentine soot of burned pinewood. Paired with indigo sashiko stitching, this combination is unique from the start and only gets better with wear as the indigo bleeds into the base denim.
The base denim for the No. 9 is a mud-dyeing process that produces a rich and complicated grey. Mud dyeing is a traditional dyeing technique unique to the archipelago’s Amami Oshima Island. The first step involves dyeing the garment with the bark of the Yeddo Hawthorn. The hawthorn chips, after being boiled, produces a rich mahogany color. After drying, it is then dyed in the mud of the island’s rice paddies. When the tannic acid found in the hawthorn encounters the strong iron content of the Amami Oshima mud, it undergoes a chemical reaction, turning the red fabric into a grey/black. Exemplary of this combination and process, Kapital keeps the initial dye coloration of the Hawthorn for the sashiko stitches.
Kapital’s Century Denim is the heart of the brand, showing up every season with minor tweaks toward perfection - a level of craftsmanship and design without limit. Toshikiyo Hirata’s expertise in American denim reproduction with Kiro’s experimental and innovative approach - tradition and modern aesthetics in equal measure - come together perfectly in their signature Century Denim.
How do you wear your Kapital Century Denim? #Tag us on Instagram and show us your fades and fits.