Walk down the central shopping arcade in Onomichi and you’ll come across the chic Onomichi Denim Shop. It could be any other fashionable boutique. Stylish faded jeans lie neatly on a wooden table running the length of the store. The walls are bare apart from two large black and white prints.
But chat to the shop staff, or browse the product literature, and you will soon realize this is no ordinary clothes store.
The Onomichi Denim Shop was born out of a project to bring local people from all walks of life together – through the medium of denim. It adds a distinctive human touch to the merchandise.
In the denim industry jeans are artificially aged for effect using a variety of rapid techniques – everything from sanding to laser burning. Fading the jeans on sale in the Onomichi Denim Shop is a longer process. The reason? Local Onomichi residents personally wear in each pair of jeans for a year before they go on sale.
“We started in January 2013 with 270 participants wearing our jeans to see how the project would take off,” explains Kasumi Ogawa from the Discoverlink Setouchi organization that established the project. “Today we have a core group of 120 local residents wearing in our jeans.”
The current contributors to the Onomichi Denim Project come from all walks of life. The local carpenter, a chef, even the local resident Buddhist monk sport the jeans to achieve the faded look. Each individual’s lifestyle creates its own unique fade patterns and levels of wear and tear.
After a year, the jeans return to the shop and go on sale – priced according to the quality of the ‘fade’. Prices range from 24,000 JPY to 48,000 JPY.
According to Ogawa, one of the first motivations for the project was to shine a light on the traditional textiles industry and denim manufacturers in the area.
“Initially we wanted people to discover the brand and the quality of domestically produced jeans,” says Ogawa. “But more than that, this system we have created is connecting the local community, customers, and staff in a very innovative way.”
As news about the project has spread, customers from all over Japan and abroad have started traveling to the city with the sole intention of buying their own authentic pair of aged Onomichi Denim jeans. Some go for the look of the jeans, while others are drawn to their background story.
“One Korean customer visited Japan just to come to this store,” says Mariko Hamano, who manages the shop and interacts with the customers. “He went home happy with six pairs of jeans.”
The shop’s policy is never to sell online but engage with the customers face-to-face. That way, the shopping experience focuses on Onomichi and gives the staff the chance to explain the stories behind each individual pair of denims.
The day I visited the shop, I met Torajiro-san, or ‘Mr Onomichi’ as everyone calls him. He has been involved since the beginning as a denim wearer. He is a big fan of the project.
“To be honest, at the beginning we didn’t think anyone would want a pair of our worn-out jeans, let alone buy a pair,” recalls Torajiro. “I couldn’t believe it when the shop called me and explained my faded jeans had been sold!”
For Torajiro and everyone else, the project has come to mean so much more than product sales.
“Being involved in this project, I’ve met so many new people from my own community. It has widened our social circles and it’s cross-generational,” explains Torajiro. “It’s also a good feeling to know someone, somewhere is wearing jeans that this city and its people helped to create.”
Rarely does a product embody the community it came from more than the jeans on sale in this chic, minimalist store. The Onomichi Denim Shop is worth dropping into, even just to listen to the stories behind each pair of faded jeans.
Onomichi Denim Shop
Address：722-0045 Hiroshima Prefecture, Onomichi-shi, Kubo 1-2-23
Open Hours：10:00 – 19:00
Words & Photography Tom Miyagawa Coulton
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