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Boncoura: Japanese Heritage Denim from Osaka
Founded in 2011 by Hisashi Morishima, BONCOURA is a Japanese heritage denim brand dedicated to quality and design above all else. With durability woven into their DNA, their focus is on producing denim garments and jeans which are designed to 'age with use' gaining character with each wear. It’s also a practicable business - Mr. Morishima hand-picks the best fabrics and factories across Japan to ensure the highest quality in each BONCOURA product.

BONCOURA denim is an icon and Mr Morishima is leading the way in the promotion of original style with his own unique input learned from years of wearing and loving vintage American denim. ‘I used to take my bicycle to the American Village in Central Osaka around 45 years ago when I was a child. It wasn’t called that then, but it was full of vintage shops that stocked the famous American brands. I was enraptured with them - I used to take my small family allowance and rifle through rails to find the perfect pieces. The first pair of vintage jeans I bought there were the LEVI’s 501XX. I used to spend hours examining the items and I just fell in love with vintage denim. It’s this that galvanised me to start BONCOURA, not to replicate these styles, but to create new originals inspired from those designs that I love.’

I speak to Mr. Morishima in his studio/store in the outskirts of Osaka, a place filled with inimitable BONCOURA products and an array of curated designer furniture. He points out a vintage Isamu Noguchi wire table and Sori Yanagi Elephant stools - the place is a feast for the eyes, every rail and rafter stuffed with statues, paintings, and products, but set out just-so, so that the maximalism isn’t overwhelming. It’s an ode to Mr. Morishima’s clear love of vintage design, ‘I travel all over Japan to hunt things down. I have a real love for vintage - furniture, clothing, artwork - I often find myself at Toji market in Kyoto and the vintage market here in Osaka, in Shitennoji, to search for inspiration... though both are currently closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.’

It’s these years of honing his tastes that led Mr. Morishima to start BONCOURA, creating styles that he himself wants to wear. Before founding BONCOURA, Mr. Morishima worked in sales and marketing for 20 years at one of the major department stores in Japan before becoming a vintage curator and finally founding his own brand in January 2011, thus celebrating their tenth anniversary this month. Ten years ago, he started with 200 pairs of jeans, which sold out within minutes. This spurred him on to take the business further. BONCOURA now offers myriad items such as jeans, chinos, work pants, scarves, and knitwear. ‘We’re releasing a special collection for our anniversary made completely with ai (Japanese indigo dye). It’s incredibly expensive as it’s hard to produce and only made in small batches, but we wanted to create something special for such an occasion.’

Usually, BONCOURA opts to use synthetic indigo to create the best finish for the style of jeans that they create. Each item is crafted primarily from Japanese cottons, interwoven with specialist yarn from a number of other textile-producing countries, and woven on antique looms. ‘Various parts of Japan are famed for different fabrics - different styles of denim. We work closely with independent craftspeople to ensure that we are using the finest yarn and that each goes towards creating the products to which they are best-suited. Our collection is entirely original and very difficult to make. At BONCOURA we undertake each part of the production process, from finding the cotton and the craftspeople who spin this into the best yarn, to the fabric design, pattern design, and finally, product creation.’

Looking at what Mr. Morishima has created - the artistry and passion that BONCOURA has become renowned for - it's a reminder into just how impressive Japanese craftsmanship can be. Time-honoured techniques are still favoured here at BONCOURA over mass-market modern day methods, ‘our process is incredibly slow. We can only produce a maximum of 20-30 metres of fabric each day, and it takes between 2-3 metres to craft one pair of jeans. We never use polyester, only 100% cotton - meaning that the ageing and patina of each is totally unique to each customer.’

‘My advice is to look after these jeans as you would a child and they will love you back in the same way.’

Editor's Note:

Shot on location at Salon BONCOURA in Osaka, which is only open to the public at weekends. Please check opening times before making a trip. Otherwise, you can find BONCOURA products at various independent boutiques and department stores across Japan, check their stockist page for details.

WORDS
Staff Writer