To celebrate the arrival of another shipment of ONI jeans, we had the chance to dig a little deeper into this usually secretive brand. Founder mr. Oishi was kind enough to share his vision on the Japanese denim market and talk about the production of his well-loved jeans.
DC4: What's your take on the Japanese denim market?
ONI: Basically all the Japanese selvedge jeans makers respect the basic American vintage Levi's 501. It's faithful in a good way, but on the other hand it's the only thing they do. They are obsessed with vintage Levi's and selvedge denim. They value details like the count of yarns and the stitching. In the end, they focus on a very narrow category.
This is why they try to change the color of the selvedge, change the depth of the indigo or use thicker or thinner yarn counts to create a difference, but in the end it's the same denim. Actually... the only difference between the brands is the thickness of the denim.
I'm not interested at all in how Levi's or Lee denim used to be. These are not the things that you can reproduce. It would be better to think about what is suitable right now and develop new denim rather than trying to reproduce the things that are impossible.
DC4: What makes ONI denim stand out?
ONI: I have a lot of experience of actively producing denim. Wether it's a good thing or not, the actual creation of denim is what led me to making denim no one could even try to do, like the 20 oz Secret Denim. To be honest, I had gone through some failures and took risks to develop this particular denim. Therefore this Secret Denim took more time than expected and it's not made by coincidence. And although the denim industry is large, I don't think anyone but me would have developed and made this denim.
DC4: What makes your slubby 'Secret Denim' so special?
ONI: This is probably because of the 'low tension weaving'. The denim takes more time to weave, even more than the already time-consuming regular selvedge denim. The method to create Secret Denim requires a highly trained technical operator, since it's very hard to control the loom. Because of the low tension on the warp, it's easier to get the warp and weft tangled up. It's even possible for the 30 cm long shuttle to fly out of the loom!
DC4: Where do you source your cotton, and what thickness are you using
for the warp and weft?
ONI:We use 3.7 count yarn for both the warp and weft. The Secret Denim is a blend of several kinds of cotton to create the original yarn. Where the cotton is from, is a secret. Also, for the spinning of this blend we don't use a major company, but a small and historical company where persistency has created a flavor the big companies can't create.
DC4: What dyeing process makes your Secret Denim stand out?
ONI: We've created a special indigo and sulfide blend to dye the Secret Denim, but the exact process itself is secret. Normally we use pure indigo (synthetic indigo made with petroleum, which was invented in Germany) that is dipped 7 times. Sometimes it's being done for 10 times, but but you do more dips the result gets sticky, like spilled ink.
You often see a dark blackish indigo denim, but that is mostly from sulphur dyeing that is used to achieve that dark color. If someone says it's been dyed for 10 times, it's either a lie or your hands become completely blue when touching the denim.
DC4: Can you tell us something about the natural indigo you use?
ONI: Normally, natural indigo is hank dyed either by hand or by machine. The process of dying, rinsing and airing out is repeated again and again so the indigo gets darker. It takes a lot of times to get a dark tone: usually between 15 and 25 times. Because of that, natural indigo is a few times more expensive than pure indigo. Also, with hank dyeing, the indigo reaches the core of the cotton so there are hardly any fades when the indigo is worn down.
A rope dyeing machine normally can't be used with natural indigo, since it will harm the machine. The dye stuff solidifies and thus hurts the machine. However, the natural indigo we use comes from India and can actually be used with rope dyeing machines.
There is only one company in Japan that can create this special denim: the one I work with. They make sure the dye is dark like pure indigo, but the core of the cotton stays white so fades can be achieved. Also, the dyeing method can be done in a mass-production style, which makes ONI denim with natural indigo more affordable.
DC4: Lastly, what can we expect from ONI in the coming years?
ONI: To be honest, I'm too old to stay in the fashion industry. I'm more of an analog person, except when it comes to cars. I still want to invent new denim fabrics that other can't create, even though I'm nearing the end due to my age. Also, this might have seem a little braggy but it's not – I just want to tell you I still have the power and knowledge to offer attractive new materials and fits that my clients want. So please look forward to what's coming up!
We'd like to thank mr. Oishi for his time and insights. Please feel free to check out the new ONI jeans in our online shop, like the ONI 546 20 oz Secret Denim dyed with natural indigo and see for yourself why ONI is one of the best brands out there.