Exclusive Interview: Jonathan From The Bandanna Almanac

For an artisanal eye on the Japanese market, you can’t get better than Jonathan Lukacek’s blog The Bandanna Almanac.

His taste for all things indigo and passion for denim brand Kapital grabbed our attention a couple of years ago and we’ve been following his blog ever since. American born, he now lives in Osaka, Japan and started The Bandanna Almanac as a home for all his loves: Japanese fashion and design, organic and natural-dyeing, Japanese textiles, leather crafts, and vintage workwear. We asked him a few questions about his passions and life in Japan:

Tell us about your personal history. Have you always worked in denim/apparel or is it something that you are simply drawn to?

I have never really worked in denim/apparel formally. It is something that I am drawn to because the process and aesthetics of garment manufacturing and fashion differ so much between regions.

How did you come to live in Japan and have you always lived in Osaka?

I was studying abroad in college and when I stayed in Kyoto and Hiroshima during that time, I fell in love with the county. I have always lived in Osaka.

What are the key differences you’ve noticed in the way Japanese approach denim and design and how Western consumers do?

The Japanese approach to making denim is quite remarkable. They really have this obsession with making accurate, high-quality, and unique products. I think the main difference is that Japanese take time through trial and error to get things exactly right. They really want to achieve something original and a product that is really special. Whereas most Westerners I think, look just at the specs of a product. But more recently, the denim and jeans coming from Holland are really incredible.

Do you think that the U.S. and European markets are picking up on some of these approaches as the world becomes smaller due to blogs and travel?

Yeah, I think the people making jeans in Holland and the stores there are really getting this craftsmanship culture from Japan. I don’t think America can really compete because of the lack of skilled labor capable of producing the same high-quality denim in Japan. A lot of factors have to come into play just right to make really great denim.

What is it about Dutch denim that stands out particularly?

I think that region as a whole (and also some Scandinavian brands) have some real good design sense for denim. They also have that lust for era-accurate stitching and details like the brands in Japan. From what I’ve seen the denim they source is also  fantastic looking stuff.

You are, by the looks of your incredible blog, very inspired by historical Japan, its textiles and traditions. What is it that draws you to this aesthetic?

I think what attracts me most is that in the past it wasn’t a person who was making a product. But a town or community that produced a product that supported an industry. The thing that I really love about Japanese craftsman and aesthetics is that the old ideas are still being used today. Some of these old concepts or aesthetics I find really elegant and inspiring compared to the standards consumers have today.

What made you start up the website and when did it all begin?

It all really started when my father was sick. This may sound kinda sad, but bear with me. He was sick with cancer and at that time I really started to look at my life and I felt the need to create – to write really. I really wanted to share my love of Japan with my father but he passed away soon after and I never really got the chance to do that. So to fill that empty space I felt inside my heart, I started writing this blog. And it has sort of evolved and matured since 2008.

One of your chief loves that seems very apparent on the site, is the brand Kapital. When did you first discover them? Explain your increasing involvement and friendship with them.

I discovered them by myself in 2006 by accident. I basically have been a customer since that time. I met Kvatek a year or two ago and soon after that I was introduced to the Kiro and the Kountry guys and it all kinda went from there. I really think what they are doing is important, and I want to support them in anyway I can. They let me into their private circle with open arms and I have felt like a brother ever since.

We recently discussed with Atsushi (editor of Lightning magazine) that the areas of Okayama and Kojima have suffered in recent years due to women wearing less denim than they used to in Japan. Do you agree with this?

Yeah definitely. I see far fewer women wearing denim nowadays. Especially since the increase in women wearing tights and leggings.

At the same time, we’ve also noticed a real increase in interest in Kojima and Okayama denim from U.S. and European denim enthusiasts, do you think this will help/is helping the industry?

It might help a little but it won’t make the denim industry here any better off. Most of what is being ordered from Western countries seems to be heavy-weight denim and silly novelty garbage. Neither one of those make denim any better in my opinion.

What sets the Japanese mills apart from the Turkish, Italian, or American mills and fabrics?

What really sets the difference is the quality and the authenticity. Japan has a deep indigo history and I think that really helps put them at the top. But really I don’t know how to compare them to Turkey or Italy; I have no experience with those industries.

And Osaka vs. Tokyo: How do the cities differ in both atmosphere and in denim terms?

Totally different. Osaka doesn’t have a lot of fashion sense like Tokyo does. Osaka does have the Osaka 5 (Real McCoys, Samurai, Studio D’Artisan, Full Count, Evisu) but most of what they make are just reproductions and rockabilly biker wear. I think Osaka has marketing sense but they don’t have the consumers that are denim junkies like Tokyo does.

And maybe now, lets talk a little about men’s style in Japan. Consider magazines such as Free & Easy and Lightning, Rugged Museum, and now Rugged Factory and its “Rugged Style” guys; there is definitely a scene in Japan that homes a certain man and certain styling. It is also a little older than a mid-twenties subculture. Is this a scene that is always strong in Japan or something that you’ve watched build over recent years?

It is something that has always kind of been here. Since the end of WWII there has always been a strong following for Americana. It is cool, it is tough, it is everything 1950s and 60s Hollywood was, which is the culture and cool standards that most of these companies were inspired by.

And then back to The Bandanna Almanac – I’m guessing the site has become more popular over time; what are your future plans for the site? What are your current obsessions and plans for the future?

Yeah it is making some headway. Right now I am working on some collaborations. I have also been doing a lot with Kakishibu (persimmon tannin) at home with autumn, experimenting really. There will be some really great interviews coming up and plenty more updates about Century denim and Kapital.

Any denim brands aside from Kapital that you covet?

I think John Lofgren & Co. is doing some amazing work. Ooe-Yofukuten, who I have been collaborating with recently, makes some of the best jeans in the world. Freewheelers is a small company that split from Real McCoy’s and makes fantastic vintage replica garments. I really think Christophe Loiron A.K.A.. Mister Freedom is doing some amazing work, very original and inspiring pieces.

Thanks Johnathan! Head over to The Bandana Almanac for more denim inspiration….

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