We are very excited to be carrying Big John now — it seemed the perfect time to tell Big John and it’s founder, Mr. Kotaro Ozaki’s story. This is where it all began. Every brand we know and love sprouted from here. These were the first Japanese jeans:
Big John’s roots are, in a word, storied.
Kotaro Ozaki had initially founded Mauro Clothing, Inc. in the 1940’s as a sewing house focusing primarily on work wear and uniforms. The very nature of uniform clothing demands consistency and quality. Mr. Ozaki was in the right place to make such high quality clothing–the holy land of denim–Kojima, Okayama, where many of the brands we love have found their home. Unlike many of these brands, however, Big John has been at it for seventy years.
The early factory. (source: bigjohn.co.jp)
It is only natural that focusing initially on American style clothing, workwear and military-inspired pieces led to what is arguably the most iconic piece of American clothing—blue jeans. An underground market grew organically in the 1950’s of Levi’s and Lee jeans in Japan. They were imported at a high rate and altered at an even higher rate. The way American denim was cut meant that the hip and waist measurements were too big. Logically, devoted denim fans began to alter their jeans from America. It makes perfect sense that masters of the textile trade soon got involved.
Trade regulations were changing by the 1960’s and by 1964 Mr. Ozaki had worked a deal with Oishi Trading that allowed Mauro Clothing to import fifty rolls of American denim to Kojima. This moment changed everything. Those first fifty trolls from Canton Textile Mills, Inc. were the first true Japanese jeans produced. Soon, Mauro Clothing acquired some denim from Cone Mills, the most widely-known and respected American denim mill. At first, Mauro was producing Japanese jeans with American denim, in American styles. We see the 1960’s come and go and Mauro produces bell-bottom jeans, colored jeans and tapered jeans.
By the early 1970’s, however, things change. The vintage Americana inspiration remains, but Big John now teams up with Kurabo, and in 1972, makes the “KD-8,” the first denim produced solely in Japan. The KD-8 is the great-great-great grandfather of the pair you’re currently wearing.
Time passes. Big John produces their first workwear line in 1975. By 1980, Big John is experimenting with new fabrics on exotic looms. By 1984 Big John has existed long enough it is deemed the time to come up with the perfect corporate philosophy, Quality Comes First. Quality, did, and before the decade closed Big John acquired a new factory in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, increasing their output, range of product and influence.
By the 1990’s Big John’s influence was so strong they became one of the fist labels to promote the use of different dyes. Big John even was one of the first labels to promote their product as a standalone brand in which certain exclusive pieces were crafted my masters, which sold out instantly. Big John did not forget their heritage, however, and at one point collaborated with American brand Dickies to develop new cuts and fits inspired by their classic workwear philosophy. Big John’s website has a fantastic “About” section that simply reads “We like jeans.” Their history makes that apparent. The first brand to produce all-Japanese denim laid the groundwork, attention to detail and passion of all the brands we know and love today.