People often ask us how we choose brands for Denimio. We do not have a formula for this but whenever we see a brand that does things a little bit differently, we are intrigued. To say that there are already many Japanese denim brands to choose from, would be an understatement and any new brand will have a tough time to make an entry. However, every once in a while you encounter a brand bursting with quality, dedication, and ambition; you just know that they are special. Let us introduce you to COTTLE and why they are more than worthy of your attention and might soon be your main supplier of uniforms for everyday living.
Taking “hand-made” to the next level
COTTLE has actually been around for a couple of years. They began their journey on May 5, 2015, in Kojima, in the Okayama Prefecture, widely known as the birthplace of Japanese denim. This region is the very heart of the Japanese textile industry. Most of the factories, mills, and dyeing workshops associated with denim are located here.
The first beautiful thing we learned about COTTLE is that they didn’t rent offices, they bought an old, run-down textile factory and restored it. That is 120 years of history that would otherwise have been lost. They also brought a lot of old machinery, like hand-looms, back to life. Because they did not just transform this old factory into a shiny office and spacious studio, no, COTTLE still manufactures in these old halls. It’s an admirable approach: They wanted to create a flow of creativity that transmits ideas to products. They think of a design in their studio and then directly get it done in their very own factory. There is no waiting time for samples and their flexibility allows them to twist and tweak their designs in any way they see fit. Their workshop is equipped with many vintage sewing machines, collected over decades, and all the old school tools for cutting the fabrics, to allow them to go from creating an idea to crafting a product instantly. We love COTTLE for being, literally, a hand-on brand.
Putting the work in workshop
You need to know that COTTLE is run by people who are not just designers and marketers, they are craftsmen themselves. And their products are a testament to that. COTTLE is the brainchild of Toshiaki Watanabe, or, as we call him, Toshi-san (there is going to be an exclusive interview with the man soon, so keep your eyes peeled!).Toshi-san was born in Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture. A major factor for us falling in love with COTTLE is Toshi-san whose dedication and personal philosophy are irresistible. He is the embodiment of someone who lives and dies for good fabrics.
When he was a child, he was smaller than all his friends and classmates and was often overlooked because of that. Clothing, it seemed to him, was the only way for him to express himself and being recognized. But buying clothing was not enough for Toshi-san and in the second year of junior high school, he decided that he wanted to a proper tailor, a true craftsman and become skilled enough to make products that would make people happy and give them confidence. The important thing about Toshi-san is that he follows through. If this man has a vision, he will work relentlessly until it becomes a reality.
Toshi-san checking different shades of denim
When he turned 18 he became a traveling craftsman on the road, learned old school dress- and suit-making techniques in proper ateliers. But knowing how to make clothing was not enough, he knew that he didn’t want to just follow the designs of other people, he needed to be able to create new shapes and forms himself. So he enrolled in the prestigious Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo to study design. It was during that time that Toshi-san discovered the role that Okayama plays for us denimheads. He learned that his hometown is a sacred place for world-class denim. When he returned home from Tokyo at the age of 21, he began working in Kojima in textile production planning and manufacturing.
Design and manufacturing: all done in-house
When he was younger, he didn’t pay attention to it, but now he understood: the sound of his youth was the rattling sound of old denim-looms, a rhythm dictated by the clicking sound of people pushing the pedals of their sewing machines. It is the only place on earth, were everything is overshadowed by denim, where denim is the most omnipresent item in everyday life and he realized that he wanted to be a part of it, to pour the love he feels for this place into a product. For Toshi, denim is a labor of love.
fabrics, fabrics, fabrics
Toshi-san is insanely knowledgeable when it comes to designing fabrics from scratch and he knows the right people to source the cotton, spin the yarn and weave the fabric. Everyone loves Toshi-san and it seems like everyone in the denim industry has worked with him at some point. After learning everything there was to learn, he was ready for the next step: After 8 years, at the age of 29, he started planning COTTLE together with his wife Yukari, a classmate at Bunka Fashion College and professional accessory designer. Another two years later, he bought his own factory. For three years he sources more machines, hires workers, designs hardware, creates samples, develops their very own kintsugi buttons, and creates his very own denim. In 2018, he is ready: He asks another classmate from Bunka Fashion College to join him and launch COTTLE. This company is run like a family workshop and we instantly felt right at home with them when we visited their old factory.
the team behind COTTLE: A family and friends operation
COTTLE stands for COTTON x KETTLE (pot). It stands for the desire to see denim as a household good, something that is essential. Premium denim represents a certain kind of luxury, the luxury that lurks in casual everyday life. Having handled their products, we know what they mean.
UNIFORM FOR LIVING
We will start with two models from COTTLE and now it’s time to talk about denim and construction. We will add their tops in the coming months.
Kakishibu, sashiko, denim, indigo: COTTLE has it all
As we have mentioned before, Toshi-san has worked with a lot of brands and helped them to develop fabrics. There is a good chance that you are wearing a pair of jeans made from denim that he in part crafted. Before he started COTTLE, he met with the president of KAPITAL who told him to do things differently. Sometimes, you need to think outside the box to refine something that is already very good.
Toshi-san has always cared about the mix ratio and materials for his fabrics. He studied color, texture, weight, yarn count, etc. until he finally got his first denim fabric. His first denim was da fabric woven by a rapier weaving machine called W-width. It consisted of 90% cotton and 10% hemp. It clocked in at 14oz (part number CTL-5524). However, the hemp cotton fabric didn’t convince him fully, so he started from scratch… again!
What a neppy texture, what an amazing dye
He wanted a lighter fabric that could be worn all year. At 12oz, their signature denim (CTL-3450) does precisely that. It consists of 91% cotton and 9% linen. If you ever touch their denim, you will be surprised. It has the softness of hand-woven fabrics, a certain elegance, and, yet, with all the nep coming through at the surface, this feeling of incompleteness. It all comes down the yarn: The neppy linen and cotton are twisted into a single thread. The right ratio is crucial and the one percent less linen (from 10% to 9%) makes all the difference. The loose weaving makes the jeans very breathable and adds texture. It is an incredibly smooth fabric and thanks to the material, there is a natural stretch to it. The amount of fabric that can be produced at one time is limited and depends on the weather too. The old shuttle looms are fickle machines and when it is too humid, they cannot work with the linen-cotton yarn which becomes very thick when damp. Just look at the weft structure with all the loom shatter to get an idea:
the weft in all its irregular glory
And even the dye of this fabric is special. The indigo shade faithfully reproduces the color of the jeans of the first batch of Japanese denim (trust us, Toshi-san knows these kinds of things). The vibrant color is reminiscent of the beautiful indigo color that has the spirit of the old and new. But there is a secret to this color. There is a place called “the smallest school in Japan”, the Kurashiki Honten Teori Institute.
Kurashiki Honten Teori Institute
Only women are allowed to study there and create things while staying for a year. They learn of the richness and wisdom of life through dyed and woven yarn. The traditions of this place have been carefully created and protected in Kurashiki. Toshi-san got in touch with the Director of the school, Professor Ishigami, to collaborate on fabrics together. Together, they have been working to reinvent hand-woven fabrics into modern clothes and accessories. COTTLE serves as a bridge between history and tradition and modern fashion.
They developed a dye containing indigo and natural petal dye to create a denim tone that is truly unique and outstanding. The yarn is dyed by hand and the petal dye is a century-old recipe of the Kurashiki Honten Teori Institute and no other brand is allowed to use it. It does not get much more exclusive than this. The amount of manual labor that goes into this fabric is only rivaled by AIZOME fabrics – and if you compare the price of AIZOME fabrics to this, you understand that COTTLE offers and outstanding value for money.
The selvedge ID really stands out. It is based on old designs of Japanese Folk Art that Toshi-san found in the archives of the Kurashiki Institute. The pattern is unique It is the most outstanding selvedge ID that we have ever seen, which gives a great contrast against the indigo x petal dyed denim. The Indian red selvedge is dyed by hand and you will find this selvedge ID at the fly AND the coin pocket.
Selvedge ID in indian red, based on old Japanese patterns
Here are three short videos for you to see how the Indian red thread is made:
The leather patch features a truly unusual shape and depicts the lovely islands in the Seto inland sea. The landscape of the Seto islands, seen from Kojima, is round, and a poppy Island “floats” in the sea. Toshi-san designed this patch when his wife moved to live with him, moving all the way from Yokohama. It is a personal touch, but it just shows you how much of Toshi-san is actually inscribed into his products.
The best leather quality; a design inspired by nature
One last thing that deserves your attention: The top button. Unlike many brands, who order their hardware from big suppliers (which are great quality, don’t get us wrong), COTTLE goes the extra mile. Most buttons are pressed in big machines, but COTTLE cast their buttons. They pour the melted iron into a mold, which is an ancient technique that is also used for things such as Buddha statues. The amount of detail they can achieve this way is staggering and the surface is extremely smooth. Every single one of these buttons is made by a skilled craftsman. The pattern shows overlapping and connecting circles, three-dimensionally carved with the finest lines that can be cast. Take a close look, the overlapping circles are created so that the circles are stuck on top and bottom. The button alone is a work of art.
Iron cast by hand: These buttons are next level hardware
We cannot stress enough how much work goes into even the smallest detail of these jeans. That is also reflected in their cuts. COTTLE offers two cuts and we are sure that one of them will be to your liking:
This is their regular cut and it is packed with tradition! It comes with a button fly and hidden rivets, reminiscent of the denim making of the old days. They have a fairly high rise, so that they will give a great silhouette and can be worn with your shirt tucked in if you like. This relaxed fit is very comfortable around the waist and if you are into wide fits, this one will certainly make you happy. Toshi-san has spent months in the archives of various brands, studying their regular cut to create a cut that everyone can enjoy.
It is a slightly tighter silhouette compared to the regular straight cut, but it is in no way restricting. Again, Toshi-san and his team have gone at great length to create this cut. It is more modern than COTTLE’s regular cut and therefore has different features like a zip fly and no hidden rivets. The back pockets sit closer together and the coin pocket is moved towards the center to enhance a slim look that is very comfortable to wear. Thanks to the high rise, the jeans look classy and timeless, and might be an alternative for everyone who wants a tight straight leg but is not a fan of a low rise.
We offer these in a solid rigid state and as you know, unsanforised denim shrinks quite a bit after the first soak. Most of you know the drill, but it is always good to repeat things.
If you are in the market for a pair of eans that is different without looking flashy, COTTLE should be your new favorite brand. The way they make their jeans in-house with truly unique methods is simply spectacular, i.e. creating their own dye, spinning their own yarn, casting their own buttons. You can tell that they are dead-set on creating your uniform for living, everyday luxury in its purest form. Their jeans look amazing straight out of the box, but they are designed to get better with wear. And these jeans are so gorgeous, we are sure they will see plenty of wear.
COTTLE don’t make clothing they wouldn’t wear themselves
Toshi-san himself says: If you bought something from COTTLE, we are confident that you have chosen well. You found an item that only you can bring to life by wearing it and at the same, you are keeping old Japanese traditions alive. Thank you very much for choosing COTTLE.