Apart from traditional clothing like the kimono, perhaps no piece of clothing is more closely associated with Japan than a pair of jeans. Denim artisans can work for years just to perfect the craft of cutting, sewing, and dying, working with the finest fabrics to produce something which is elevated to the status of art. Keeping this tradition in mind, Kato, the namesake brand of the legendary designer Hiroshi Kato, is bringing these traditions to American fans, and this year will expand its U.S. efforts with new innovations in comfort selvedge denim.
Rivet recently caught up with company representative Yu Fukushima to chat about the brand’s history, and what Kato has planned for 2016.
RIVET: Tell us a little bit about Kato for those who might not be familiar.
Fukushima: Our designer, Hiroshi Kato, launched the brand in 1999 in Kyoto, Japan. His expertise is in fabric and wash development, working with the likes of Ralph Lauren and other well-respected designers and mills all around the world. This is reflected in our collection, as we utilize the best and most innovative Japanese fabrics with soft hand and comfort in mind to create our garments every season. “Factory Direct” is our concept with an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship. Kato is our interpretation of classic, closet staples in modern silhouettes with vintage inspired design details.
RIVET: Can you give us some insight on how the jeans are made? What makes them unique?
Fukushima: We make and wash all of our denim in-house in our factory in Gardena, Calif. Every piece from cutting, sewing, to wash is done by hand by experienced “artisans” who are the best at their trade. Our distinctive fabrics and washes, combined with our attention to details from the signature orange accent thread from Japan to small design and fabrication details that one might not notice at a glance, make our garments unique.
RIVET: Why do you think more and more westerners are discovering Japanese denim?
Fukushima: I think Japanese denim has been trending for a long time now in the U.S. It is not really a surprise, as Japanese denim is synonymous with quality and attention to detail. Combined with simple and traditional designs, I think the Western world is discovering Japanese denim and really falling in love with how jeans should really be made.
RIVET: There are several respected denim brands coming out of Kyoto/Kansai region. What is it about that area in particular that has such a history with denim? How does Kyoto play a part in Kato’s designs?
Fukushima: The Kyoto/Kansai region is the historic home of many Japanese fabric mills and dye houses, especially indigo. There is a long, rich history and culture of denim in this region. We merchandise our collection specifically for the Western market, but we keep Kyoto in the back of our minds every season. Kyoto is the “old, historic capital” of Japan and this is from where we draw our inspiration. Through our collection, we strive for “beauty in simplicity” that is synonymous with Kyoto, and our goal is to showcase the wonderful and special quality of Japanese fabrics to the Western world.
RIVET: Your product is “designed in Japan, made in the USA.” Is there a difference between Japanese denim and American (or European) denim? If so, could you explain?
Fukushima: The major different between Japanese denim and American or European denim is fit, as Westerners and Japanese have different body types. The interesting thing is, depending on the fabric, a certain fit may feel and look like a different fit. So our conclusion was to make fits for the American and European customer, making minute adjustments based on fabric. We own our own factory in L.A., so we are always experimenting with new fabrics, washes and fabrications. All of our denim, and for that matter all of our fabrics, are sourced in Japan. Our inspiration, traditional and simple aesthetic, and our attention to details and quality come from Japan, and we arrange the wash and fits according to the U.S. and European market.
RIVET: Finally, can you tell us what’s new for Kato in 2016?
Fukushima: For 2016, we developed and introduced a brand new 4-way stretch Kaihara selvedge that is exclusive to us and made in USA at a more competitive price point than anything else in the market.
Aesthetically, it is a traditional selvedge jean, however the 360 degree stretch makes it an “every day jean” that can be worn for any occasion. According to our research, the slim and skinny fits are the most popular now, but many consumers have some preconceived notions that they are difficult and uncomfortable to wear. We found out through numerous fittings and questionnaires that there was a significant demand for a jean that looked “traditional/vintage” on the outside but comfortable to wear. Therefore, we decided to release this 4-way stretch Kaihara selvege.