Japan and the US have worked long and hard to develop themselves as the world’s two top raw selvedge denim manufacturers. The milling and processing of raw selvedge jeans have all but vanished in many parts of the world, a somewhat antiquated operation. Nevertheless, the Japanese and the Americans continued to produce the world’s highest quality, most desirable denim. Nonetheless, the question remains in potential buyers ‘ minds–what’s better? It could be argued endlessly whether or not there is clearly superior denim and would possibly come down to personal preference. We will dig into the specifics, however, and look at some of the variations between Japanese and American denim. Will one over the other has a clear advantage? Let’s find out.
As we demonstrated in our feature on Japanese Mills–unlike in the U.S., Japan can boast several denim mills that churn out premium selvedge jeans of the highest quality. This means that predominantly Japanese denim will have a wider range of fades than American denim, which originates mainly from one factory. The fading all depends on which mill the denim was made and on the characteristics of the production process of that particular mill. In addition, they are able to produce a greater variety of selvedge products because there are several mills in Japan. For example, Naked & Famous primarily uses Japanese denim, ranging from glow in the dark jeans to scratching and sniffing jeans. Of course, many mills are known to produce American denim replicas of less creative but higher quality that are simpler in nature.
Generally speaking, in contrast to similarly priced Japanese denim, American denim is perceived to be of equal quality. Furthermore, the vast majority of denim made in the U.S. comes from the famous Cone Mills plant in Greensboro, North Carolina, unlike Japanese denim. The fading patterns associated with American denim are much more common than those of Japanese denim as a result of the limited amount of mills. Many jeans manufactured with American Cone Mills denim look very similar to what this results in. Many people enjoy this while some, in their indigo, want more variety and fade comparisons from jean to jean. The fades associated with American denim are more even and regular, giving the jeans made of American denim a retro look. The blue hues that emerge from a well-worn pair of American jeans are very distinctive and easily recognizable compared to the high contrast fading that Japanese denim creates. Also, Japanese labels reproduce these distinctive fade patterns.
The variations between Japanese and American denim are slight, but they make a big difference for many denim enthusiasts. Although denim quality is obviously a major factor in differentiating pairs of jeans, the structure of the jeans itself can make up a considerable part of the difference in denim quality.
At the end of the day, 100% of the option is based on personal preference over what you’re looking for in denim. No clear winner remains in the search for a superior denim fabric from either Japan or the United States, but we are always curious to let us know what you choose and why in the comments section below.