A while ago we launched a Q&A session with the owner of TCB, Inoue-san. Because of COVID19, everything took a bit longer and we have been working on a brand new TCB project for y’all. But let’s kick off with the questions you had for the master himself. He got back to us recently with many unknown new facts and amazing stories. Check out the interview below!
Q1: I'm curious about your fabrics and was hoping you could tell us more. How many different kinds of fabric are you using in your current product lineup? Do you have a personal favorite? Are you still creating new fabrics for use in the future?
There are brands that do many silhouettes in only one fabric, but we don’t – we make new fabrics for each silhouette. The name of the jeans includes the decade of which the silhouette is inspired by, so it’ll be a fabric that reflects that decade. The fabrics we made are made on real old machinery so that it is different for each batch of the production number. There may be pics that give you the idea that all TCB’s fades looks very similar, but I want you to feel the era through our special fabrics and the fabrics all fade differently.
After making a prototype, I will be the first to wear it, pondering what kind of fading it will give. If I like what I see, we create this fabric with a rope-dye technique and indigo dye. There are so many small differences in denim: Look at Lee’s jeans, they made the fabrics not with left twill fabrics, but right twill fabrics. At first glance, the blue color may be a bit pale, which can make you feel a bit outside your normal indigo, but please bear with it a bit! The new fabrics may feel ordinary, but that’s just the initial impression, it will reveal its full potential with some wear. I would like to make small pieces little by little, I often think I want to make denim if it was made by John Lennon. Some people say that there is no need to be particular about the process of turning cotton into thread, but I totally disagree.
For TCB 20s, the thread used is different. If we didn’t use particular cotton, we couldn’t bring out the atmosphere of the 20s. Though there is no original evidence of the fabric of the 20s, it doesn’t mean you cannot recreate it the way you want – Quality first, that’s our mantra. Because we have no evidence of the denim in the 20s, it’s necessary that we need to prepare the most similar down to its cotton.
Q2: At the beginning of your career, you’ve sewn clothes for other brands. Do you regret that you did something truly unique for another company and no one knows that you are the creator?
OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) have to stay out of the spotlight and that’s okay with me. There are some companies that have been involved with us since the time of our early days. However, for products and fabrics that can be made somewhere else, I think there is no need for us to replicate them.
As for regrets, I didn’t feel like I have to have my own brand when I came to Kojima, I wanted to make denim so I have no regrets about it. But as time goes by, I think we must work on our dreams. I wanted to make denim, I wanted to keep the number of denim makers up and I felt there was more I can do. I wanted to give the denim makers more time in the spotlight. So I built a brand to convey that the people who sew and make denim are amazing.
Q3: Was there a special event in your life that influenced you so much that after that, you embodied your experiences in clothes? Perhaps there is a special story about the creation of some model that we don’t know about?
There’s no big revelation event that happened to me, but it’s about the simple motivation to just pack everything up and move to Kojima – my current job. I’m glad I had such a good time during my formative years and I was lucky. I am doing what I wanted when I was a teenager because I can do it now: It’s the pure feeling of being an innocent boy and the admiration of the art. When I revisit vintage items from my teen days, I think that it is still amazing and I think it’s often connected to certain products.
Let’s talk about overalls. For TCB overalls, we will have four options. But that’s too many to make all at once. To make the overalls, we have to limit ourselves to just one version and many brands only make one version per season. We do the overalls with Mr. Kashino, a pioneer in the denim industry in Okayama/ Kojima, who came to TCB to make more denim in his golden years. It was often said that I should make overalls, but I hate making overalls because they are difficult to sew, haha. Jeans with 5 pockets usually sell better. I disliked overalls because of that, but I was pushed to make it and I started making it. What really triggered me was being told that the overalls won’t sell and that other brands would make fun of our failure. When I first saw our initial prototype, I was surprised. The overalls are a hit for women since many are looking for overalls but can’t find one up until now and have become quite the best-seller. Now we are developing the other 4 versions. No one did overalls the way we did, no one made fun of it and we are making a lot of people happy. What else could we want?
Q4: Will you do a collaboration with Denimio and do some contests? like on the Superfuture before!
It has been held twice with the 50s and 20s, but this is not something we sponsored. The customers requested them – I’m very happy to be excited to have another collaboration with Denimio – but I will let Denimio to the talking here. We have been working on this collab for a really long time and it reflects a lot of what I have said about denim making: for this one, we left our comfort zone but we created something truly outstanding that I think people will be very excited about. If we can work with Denimio again, we would love to!
What do you think we should do next?
Q5: Some of the large original denim brands these days make a product that is a shadow of its former self. Do you think that quality and craft in jean-making (and clothing in general) has become a luxury?
The prices of materials are different when manufacturing in Japan. As the price of cotton goes up, the price of manufacturing goes up. Labor costs also go up. I think there are circumstances where you can’t get the same price. I think that products being made in Japan will become even more valuable. Though I feel that it is getting harder and harder to make denim here. In terms of technology, it cannot be said in general that being sewn beautifully neat is the goal here when the sense of vintage and sense has to be there – sewn neatly doesn’t exist in the vintage dictionary.
Q6: Considering younger generations and new trends, how do you think the future of jeans/denim will change? How does TCB work with this?
That’s a good question. We have opened stores in recent years and have more opportunities to interact with customers. There are few customers from the younger generation. Young teens who like jeans seem to be decreasing. I was once influenced by older generations, but maybe the younger generation doesn’t really like jeans so much because it’s not the same. Perhaps the entire jeans industry was just sticking to selling it and not offering the essence of wearing and owning jeans.
I want to share the surprise I encountered: There are fading samples lined up in the store, but many people don’t know that wearing them will result in this. I even got called a liar and was told that I was joking when I showed a well-faded sample. Education about all things denim is also paramount, let them know how these fabrics can evolve over time. That’s my mission, tell people about the potential of denim. At the same time, I believe that jeans are simply fashionable, and I love people who just wear them because they like it. Wearing jeans can be a passion project or a no-brainer. Both are equally good.
Q7: How many cats do you have? Can you make jeans for cats? For costume?
TCB: Two Cats brand, but actually, the Black Cat died in March of this year (2020). I currently have one. I also want to make a memorial Black Cat Collection. It was about 10 years ago when I met the black one, so it’s a black cat I met just before starting the brand. There would be no TCB now without this black cat. I never thought of making jeans for cats, to be honest. Cats should not be dressed too much as they get quite irritated when you try to dress them up.
Q8: I often wonder what exactly it is that makes us denimheads so obsessed about the fabric, the detailing, the fades, and so forth. Could you describe your "initial moment" of turning into a denimhead? How old were you? What was it that made you "click" and realize that denim was much more than a mere fabric to you?
I think it’s all about details and fades. Balance is important to me. Even if it’s a great fabric, it’s useless if its silhouette is not good for the particular fabric. Even if you sew well, if the silhouette doesn’t match the fabric – it is useless. It’s like when we see someone wearing 50s jeans but we’re watching a 20s movie, we get the feeling that it’s something’s not right. It may be a personal interpretation but looking at it as TCB.
Think about it in the overall product, not in terms of details/points. I realize I’m interested in fashion when I was 14 years old. Being an only child, I had little knowledge of fashion. It was said that ‘people were just doing it’. The jeans I saw in a Japanese drama when I was 14 were cool – It was used fabrics, the 501. That is certainly a starting point for me.
Q9: What famous person, apart from Elvis Presley, dead or alive, would you like to see wearing your denim and why?
Hmm, Takuya Kimura (a famous Japanese actor) – I feel that Japanese people are very rigid, but I am in that generation. I was a high school student in the ’90s. I’m glad if people who were like me, who gave me my 14-year-old teen life, had a chance to join me. I’m not an American but I am into the mindset of an American who assimilates into Japanese culture.
Q10: What's your most interesting/fun story about creating a new product?
TCB basically does not hold regular exhibitions. The timing to make new products is when we encounter interesting old clothes, interesting articles, or interesting sewing machines – and we still do. We cherish the excitement like when we were students. It may be a bad habit, but it’s important to make something because you want to. Originally, it is normal for brands to plan the next autumn/winter collection, but since it has become warmer, we become a brand that makes spring clothes. We are not an ordinary brand. Most brands cannot react quickly to the changing circumstances, because they have contracts/deals with the fabric shop and the factory. We do everything in house, we can do whatever we want. If we feel like it’s the season when you want to wear a shirt, we make shirts.
The most common reason I made clothes was when I encountered old original clothing. You know, something that is unique about what we do is the old equipment we have. We have really good vintage sewing machines for instance. If you take an item, let’s say a shirt or t-shirt and you make it with one of these real machines, you get a special product that stands out.
Q11: Why the cats became the symbol for your products?
First, let me tell you the whole story. I love baseball. My favourite player was Hideo Nomo who moved to the US to play in the Major Baseball League (MBL). I was in the third grade of junior high school back then, the broadcasting of the MBL was also broadcasted in Japan. I woke up early in the morning and was watching it closely. When I saw a home run, it was written as 400 on the screen and I was surprised that Americans would hit a 400m home run. Then I thought America was amazing. And while I was addicted to America, I fell in love with its bikes and jeans. American Major League teams have mascot characters. Looking at that, I felt that TCB also needed a mascot. And I love cats. For some time, I even wanted to be recognized as a cat mascot company rather than a jeans maker, haha. The cat has been an icon before the brand started. In other words, cats represent my appreciation for American culture.
Q12: Inoue-san, you have a strong appreciation for cats. Is there a link, in your opinion, between a cat’s approach to living life, and the process of manufacturing denim?
No. It’s simple: they’re cats. I’ve put two previously completed fabrics on the floor and let the cat choose which one is better – that’s why it’s TCB.
Q13: I’ve seen your brand around for a while and always seen quality stuff. I’ve wondered since then, where did the inspiration for your brand image of two-cats come from, and how does it fit in with your vintage styling?
The vintage is still there, the icon that guarantees jeans that won’t break when two horses pull it. Everyone has been dreaming of such strong denim but we are our own brand with our own icons: it’s better to show two cats pull it. Just look at the old ad for Levi’s and it says the two-horse brand. So we decided to try Two Cats Brand.
Q14: As one who draws inspiration for clothing from previous decades, which decade would you live in, and why?
I’ve been growing the brand for eight years, and it’s just like looking back on my youth. I am happy that I am in my thirties. Now is the most fun I have ever had, I feel so alive.
Q15: What is Inoue-san's inspiration for the design of the TCB pleated blouse? It looks totally different from other jeans jacket yet so stylish!
I think it’s made around the 30s and 50s. However, because it is short and the quite wide, I feel that the hem of the T-shirt can be seen, and I don’t like the way it looks. And I’m told that the denim setup isn’t very good. You should look good in old photos.
The women also don’t like it, which is always a good indicator that something is off. When I saw this, I designed it so it’ll be easier to wear by adding changes according to my own interpretation, such as lengthening it and making it more narrow. TCB is a brand that’s very easy to wear with denim tops and bottoms. Sometimes even with vintage wears. I wear vintage every six months and rotate. If you wear real vintage jeans, you may find that the pockets and linings are too thin. But the fabric of our pockets is thick. I always wear vintage, as far as I’ve known, I buy clothes for myself.
Q16: Is there anything in particular that you feel sets TCB apart from the other jeans on the market? What makes jour products so personal according to you?
Regarding the cuts, we look at old cuts, keep the things we like about it, and improve the rest. Many brands just reproduce, we try to make it better. Many coveralls are too long, but we make it shorter. Pants are often made the way they are. I’m doing it as is because I think it’s easier to match the sense of the era and the places where people were. I change the interpretation with pants and jackets and add some details to balance it. It is TCB’s commitment to sewing the fabric like the old days. I think TCB denim is a simple brand.
However, it is a good thing if you try it and it makes you feel that it is not really that simple. I really appreciate that people might be underwhelmed when they receive something from us and it grows on them and becomes their favorite item. We don’t make flashy things that you think are super amazing initially but then you lose interest straight away.
Q17: I’m thinking of giving a TCB item as a surprise gift to my wife who loves cats on our wedding anniversary in June, but I’m wondering which I should pick. What would Inoue-san choose for a woman who loves cats?
All of our products have a cat icon, but actually, TCB also has decking pants, a blanket overall with a cat name, and a tabby overall with a cat button. I think women should wear overalls! Even if it’s not American casual, I think it’s a good idea to wear overalls!
Q18: Apart from TCB, what brand do you admire the most and why?
I also like shops, restaurants, and brands that make me feel like I exist. So I hope that the TCB will also be good for you. Among the three largest denim brands in the United States, I love Levi’s (which I call the king) the most. That’s how it all started for me.
Q19: What if you have to choose one thing, which one will you choose “CATS or DENIM”? And why?
Cats are family to me. On top of that, I choose a family with cats. After all, a family is irreplaceable. Denim is irreplaceable but you can buy it or you can try again. Thanks to the cat, I’ve done a brand so far. That’s why I choose cats.
Q20: What is the most valuable thing you have learned through your personal journey and career?
It’s the relationship with others. Think about how many people I would never have met if I didn’t start the company or made denim. And thanks to that, I want to keep making jeans more exciting and have a lot of connections.
It is a brand that makes what Inoue-san likes. We are not just a manufacturing industry but we’re also a service industry that makes jeans that customers can enjoy. It’s difficult with craftsmanship that is originated by the Showa era. It is not the time where good things can be sold easily, but the key is how much you can convey a great product to customers. I want to provide time and place for good clothes. They say that what is produced in a factory is cool, but it only becomes better when people wear it.