These Jeans Look Nice and Old. Exactly.
Posted January 27, 2018 3:10 p.m. EST
NEW YORK — Flipping through piles of denim in a 550-square-foot, sun-drenched loft crammed with sewing tables, boxes of copper rivets and spools of thread hanging next to paintings and denim samples, Takayuki Echigoya looked up when the doorbell rang. He went to the terrace and yelled, “Please ring again!”
Echigoya buzzed in Kyle Mosholder, owner of d’emploi, a Bushwick accessories brand. He had come to get fitted for a pair of jeans.
“I got a little extra money for the holidays, so I figured it was time,” said Mosholder, who said that he had wanted a pair of Bowery Blue Makers (Echigoya’s label) for a while.
Echigoya was busy. The night before, a Tokyo buyer ordered 60 pairs. Normally it takes Echigoya, 52, eight hours to make a single pair of his handmade, vintage-style jeans in his home-factory-showroom in Brooklyn. To mimic antique jeans, he has collected 11 black Singer sewing machines manufactured in New York between 1905 and 1945, each featuring a steel needle needed for his signature stitches. Another machine once used by Levi Strauss & Co. is used for hems; another for buttonholes, Echigoya said.
Echigoya grew up in coastal Wakkanai, on the northern tip of Japan. In 1996, he moved to the Bowery area in New York to start a fashion line. He ultimately took that line to Japan where, in 2013, he learned, by plying Chinese factory workers with sweets, how to sew denim. In 2014, he returned to New York and two years later, he started Bowery Blue Makers.
His native country still plays a part in the jeans-making process: Echigoya sends American cotton to Japan to be dyed; then it is returned to him to sew.
Usually, Echigoya produces about 25 pairs a month, which sell for $480 and $580 each from his website, boweryblue.com, and for as much as $650 at shops in Brooklyn, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
“You said straight leg, right?” Echigoya asked Mosholder, handing him two pairs and leading him to a makeshift dressing room in a hallway. He pulled shut a gray curtain.
“They’re really perfect,” said Mosholder, who came out wearing the jeans. “There’s so much twist,” he said, pointing to fabric near the cuff.
The doorbell rang again. Pat Prasong Kanhasura, 45, entered with Bobby Narin Mungkay, 37.
Kanhasura sported a pair of Bowery Blues that he said he wore “almost every day.”
Kanhasura owns Bangklyn East Harlem, a clothing store that sells Bowery Blue jeans and serves what he calls “Southeast Asian soul food.”
The two came to talk business with Echigoya, who is looking for a Manhattan showroom for his line.
“I think he is the best denim maker,” Kanhasura said. “If you look, the fabric isn’t straight, because of the machines he uses. It has more charm than the ones made with a computer.”
“I cannot use new machines,” Echigoya said. “Cannot. The old machine makes denim more by hand, more uneven.”
Mungkay leaned against a beam and pulled out his phone. He flipped through photos of himself in a dark mine shaft. Mungkay works for Kanhasura, but he started talking about his recent side gig with Brit Eaton, a vintage-denim hunter who is known in the trade as Indiana Jeans. Eaton traverses the American West looking for “Gold Rush” denim: actual jeans from the 1840s and 1850s.
Mungkay would say only that the most recent expedition was in Colorado. “It’s kind of secret,” he explained.
Echigoya aims to duplicate classic American jeans by using only American cotton, along with his own “unique cotton thread.”
“Jeans are like humans,” Echigoya said. “They need their own character.”