On the road to Kojima and TCB jeans

Hello everyone, it’s Colin! If you are reading this article today it’s because Boras asked me some time ago to write here about my passion: denim

For this first article, I’m going to tell you about a denim brand still little known in France but already quite successful on English menswear forums and in Japan. It is the TCB brand, which is established in Kojima, Okayama Prefecture, in Japan. This brand is a garment workshop that exists since 2008, which is specialized in jeans but also makes pants, shirts, jackets and other items. The TCB factory manufactures its own brand but also makes clothes for other brands. (Fun Fact: I discovered that one of my favourite Japanese brands is sewn partly there!). The acronym TCB comes from “Two Cats Brand” and if you are reading this post, it’s because I’ve been wearing one of their jeans for almost 2 years now and I fell in love with it.

 

The universe of the brand is feline! A direct reference to the California flag where the bear is replaced by one of the two cats which live in the factory.

I discovered the brand on the Superfuture forum when it started to be known in 2012. It was also that year that I started to get very interested in jeans, studying the English forums at length. I saw one of their models for the first time with my own eyes at a friend’s on a trip to the United States back in 2014. I was very intrigued by the denim which was very hairy and looked like what you can find on a Levi’s from the 50s. There were a lot of period-correct “details” but with a very dark indigo blue and a more irregular denim. Back from my trip, I quickly ordered the model 50’s (straight)  in “one-washed” state and in size 32. It’s also the same that Qube is wearing on the blog. Unfortunately, I had not done enough research on sizing and I did not have the experience of online shopping by comparing measurement guides yet. The pants, once received, turned out to be too big! I sold it to a friend and moved on without trying to take my size. The straight and wide cut (based on a Levi’s from the 50s) did not suit me at the time and the slim version did not exist at the moment. It is only 2 years later that I would visit the TCB garment workshop during a trip to Japan.

My first TCB jeans. The TCB 50’s (straight) in One-wash state. At least two sizes too big! Please excuse the quality of this photo recovered from the meanders of my hard drive.

Over time, the brand gained popularity on the English forum Superfuture, including via a “fade contest” organized by members of the forum and whose jury was composed of members of the TCB factory. The challenge was to wear a TCB 50’s jeans as much as possible for a whole year, and the one who ultimately had the best fades was offered a new pair of jeans or an item of their choice directly by the brand! The contest was so successful that others followed. There is one that is still running and this time over two years with the most recent model: TCB 20’s.

Kojima, Jeans street and TCB Workshop

During the summer of 2017, I had the chance to realize a dream: a trip to Japan with my girlfriend. A détour to Okayama was essential because this region is the cradle of Japanese denim. Indeed, the first Japanese denim fabric was designed by Kurabo for the Big John brand, a fabric called “KD-8” (for Kurabo denim 8th test).

A large number of weaving mills (denim mills) and confectionery workshops are located there next to each other. It is in the small town of Kojima that lies the interesting and more touristy part of the denim world. There is a street in this small coastal town called “Jeans Street” where there are many denim stores and indigo-dyed garments. There are stores from Big John brands, Japan Blue, Momotaro, Soulive, Pure Blue Japan but also other more intimate brands that are still unknown in Europe.

I knew that the TCB factory was next to the jeans museum and I e-mailed TCB boss Hajime Inoue to find out if my girlfriend and I could visit the factory. I did not expect to receive an answer, but in less than an hour, he answered to my request and offered to pick us up personally by car at Kojima train station to take us on a tour!

When you get to the Kojima train station, it’s hard to miss the main theme.

Denim is honoured in this very special little railway station.

In front of the station, hard to miss all these jeans hanging. I could see, among others, some Momotaro pieces!

Denim is literally everywhere!

Here are some pictures of Jeans Street and Kojima. The very good French website Gaijinjapan gives you a very good insight of the place, if you are interested in knowing more. I did not take many pictures during my visit, because I was too busy trying jeans from all brands represented there!

The entrance of “Jeans Street” is not very big but difficult to miss as the sign is very representative!

Part of “Jeans Street” in Kojima Japan. Many jeans are hanging in the air and we can see Momotaros or Pure Blue Japan, for example!

About 2 kilometres from Jeans Street are the Betty Smith Mill and the Jeans Museum. The Jeans Museum traces the history of denim and explains how the Japanese have developed their first denim and made their first jeans.

One of the 3 buildings of the jeans museum. It’s in this one that the history of denim in America is retraced. There is also one of the first samples that will be used to create the mythical 501 from Levi’s. The top floor has a tailored part where you can order custom jeans and choose your fabric, buttons and rivets.

The Jeans Museum is a “must-see” if you go there, as the objects and anecdotes that are exposed are extremely interesting. I learned so much about it that I did not take time to take pictures. I didn’t think at the moment that I would have to write an article about it! For those who are interested in knowing more, I recommend the very good french website Voyapon which goes through the contents of the 3 buildings with exceptional pictures.

Next to the Betty Smith factory and the museum is the grail: The TCB factory.

Here is a preview of the factory from the outside. This is where clothes are made from Japanese fabric rolls. Everything is done in this building which is close to the museum.

A famous Japanese drink distributor at the bottom of the building on the previous photo. It is also part of the TCB theme and the sentence really sums up the atmosphere I perceived during my visit.

The ground floor of the place serves as material storage which we, unfortunately, haven’t visited. The store part pictured below was still under construction during our visit but now serves as the Flagship store.

Hajime Inoue, the boss of TCB, took us on a tour of his factory, going through the fabric cutting room upstairs and the sewing workshop on the first floor. We were able to tour the very old sewing machines used to make jeans and other clothes. Mr Inoue explained why he used these particular machines and not others: to keep the same methods and techniques of production of the Levi’s factories of earlier times, to remain as authentic as possible. We were able to see every step involved in assembling jeans from cutting the fabric to assembling the different parts and finally to the latest finishes such as buttons and rivets.

The flagship store in the TCB factory as of now. Unfortunately closed during our visit for renovation. This is where the majority of the collection is visible. There are good jeans and jeans jackets but also shirts, fatigue pants and even indigo coloured leather jackets.

Hajime Inoue on the right and two of his employees from the factory. They are mostly all dressed in TCB clothes! Some employees wear TCB clothing and samples during work. The most beautiful washes I’ve seen from this brand come from employees who wear them every day at work.

The factory at the moment. It has been completely renovated and optimized in the last two years. On the right, you can see piles of freshly cut denim waiting to be sewn together. We also see the various machines used, which for the most part are rather old!

A quick overview of the TCB factory at the garment workshop in 2017 during my visit. This panorama was of course captured before the renovation of the factory. The employees of the factory, for what I’ve understood, are for the most part Hajime Inoue’s relatives. For example, his wife takes care of sending parcels when you order something from their site. You can see next to the fan my TCB 50’s slim waiting patiently to be shortened.

It was at the end of the tour that I finally threw myself on the clothes and samples in stock. I quickly spotted a pair of jeans that I had in mind and had just been released a few weeks before our trip: the TCB 50’s slim. The same denim and the same construction as the straight model that I’d bought two years ago but with a modified cut!

The cut is slightly low-rise with fitted legs and a narrower leg opening than the other models offered in TCB‘s arsenal. The details I like in the straight are all here: V-stitch, hidden rivets, 50s Levi’s inspired denim and a leather patch with an original design which keeps up with the brand’s mindset. I bought it instantly and I shortened it in length with the help of Hajime Inoue on the legendary UnionSpecial 43200G chain stitches machine. This sewing machine, called the “Bull Dog” produces the best “roping effect” on the hem that I have seen so far. As a bonus, my girlfriend also found something for herself: their only denim for women, the “Norma” jeans that are inspired by one of the first Levi’s for women (model 701).

I did not have the opportunity to officially interview Hajime Inoue during my trip. Doing it by email does not make sense to me because many interviews exist and are easily found on the internet. I invite you to read the quite complete interview of Hajime Inoue on the website Medium.

In conclusion, I was able to make an exciting and very rewarding meeting, as much as in terms of increasing my knowledge on denim and its methods of confection as on the human level. Hajime Inoue is a person with extraordinary kindness and patience. He has a real passion and has realized his dream: to work with denim. He even says that the acronym “TCB” originally meant: Takin ‘Care of Business.

The first wear of my TCB 50’s slim alongside Hajime Inoue, the boss of TCB. The photo is taken just outside the factory and behind us is a short walk to the Denim Museum. Mr Inoue wears a TCB 20 “Japanese style”, i.e. a size too big for comfort and style.

TCB 50’s slim

Now I’m going to talk to you about my jeans, the 50’s slim model.

Technical sheet :

  • Slim fit, medium to low rise
  • Unsanforized denim 13.5oz pre-wash, about 14.5oz post-wash.
    • Exclusive and custom denim for TCB.
    • Woven in Japan at Ihara in Okayama prefecture with Zimbabwe cotton.
    • A denim fabric inspired by a Levi’s 501 from the 50s. Light vertical slubs.
    • Yarn dyed with indigo with “Rope dye” method which preserves the heart of the white fibers.
    • Contrasting or uniform fades according to the frequency of washing and wear.
  • Copper rivets, with hidden rivets on the back pockets.
  • Iron buttons, designed to rust slightly over time.
  • Sewn with 5 different threads of different thickness and with 4 different colours, the threads are made in Japan 100% cotton.
  • Pink/red selveage
  • Chain stitch hem on the mythical UnionSpecial 43000G often called the “Bulldog” machine
    • Extremely pronounced roping at the hem is guaranteed if made on the TCB factory machine!
  • Cow leather patch with logo of 2 cats.

 

Here are my jeans, worn since summer 2017 about every third day. I would say that I wore them for a full year (365 times at least!). The pair saw some washing by hand, a dozen machine washes and four passes in the tumble dryer. I waited for about thirty wears before washing it the first time by hand. I then washed it with my washing machine in a delicate cycle and spinning 400 rpm.

We can see the selveage in the watch pocket. Belt loops are sewn so as to raise the middle part. It’s a vintage detail called “raised belt-loops”. Copper rivets have already acquired a beautiful patina over time.

We can see the first button getting rust and the different colors of the threads.

The hidden rivets that I love so much are there! We can see that the seams of the “Yoke” (back of the pants, top of the pockets) were worn out. I repaired them with natural indigo hand-dyed thread made by Buaisou to strengthen the weakened parts after many wears.

A rather uniform fading in the back because I sit a lot during the day. The patch aged well over time and has not yet turned into “beef-jerky” with the dryer.

 

A glimpse of the texture of the denim. Slight irregularities in the form of vertical slubs, typical of denim from the 50s. The “train tracks” are also visible. It is this particular fade that is made by the selveage seam on the side part of the jeans.

The pink-red selveage at first, it has become almost white with wear and washes.

As promised, the UnionSpecial 43200G machine “Bulldog” produces intense roping. The machine used to make the chain stitch of the TCB jeans is extremely well adjusted and the uneven tension during sewing produces the most impressive roping that I have seen so far.

What would be a review of a pair of jeans without the most important detail!

The FIT of the TCB ’50s slim

This TCB ’50s slim is as the name suggests: slim. A rather low waist with 4 buttons. If you are used to jeans with “modern” cuts you won’t be lost. There is space at the hips and thighs with a “tapering” on the entire leg. Difficult to put it in a specific category, but it is close to what is called a “slim tapered”.

The goal of this outfit was to stay simple. That’s what I wear easily in everyday life to go to class. A suede jacket, a t-shirt, jeans and boat shoes. You can not be wrong!

The selveage is well faded along the leg. This is a detail that is called “train tracks” because it looks like a railway.

Enjoy the texture that produces the irregularities of the denim fabric once faded, but especially the roping at the hem that is VERY pronounced.

The TCB 50’s slim model is excellent. The cut is not perfect for my morphology, but I had a lot of fun wearing it. It is slim with room at the thighs and hips, a detail that puts the jeans at the top of the stack for me.

This denim is a reproduction of a Levi’s from the ’50s and the colour was of very deep indigo at first. The first wears wake up the fabric which becomes gradually very hairy as the excess of cotton fibers comes off. The weight of the denim is in the middle range, which allowed me to wear it all year. It has, in fact, seen its first wears on the hottest days in Japan where the thermometer reached 35°C!

Hajime Inoue has kept the details of a 501 from the ’50s incorporated them into a fitted pair of jeans with a modern but comfortable fit. No unnecessary details like lined loops or taped seams, nor back lined pockets. Functional simplicity in its pure state as it was once. The price is ¥18,100 which is about 150€.

If you are interested in buying TCB jeans, I strongly advise you to go directly through the factory E-shop where it is easy to write on the order the desired final length. This will allow you to get the roping hem that TCB is famous for at no added cost.

For me, the TCB ’50s models “straight” and “slim” size normally with a little space at the hips and waist. Perfect for a snug fit but comfortable from the start. I take 30 US on most of my jeans and those ones are no exception.

I hope you enjoyed this first article. Feel free to post comments on topics that may interest you for future articles and any questions you may have regarding Kojima and TCB.

Thank you for reading and see you next time.

Colin

 

11 Comments

  1. Frank
    Sunday May 12th, 2019 / 11:25 PM

    Très cool cet article Colin !! Et de très beaux jeans, ça donne envie de regarder TCB de plus près !

    >. Elle est slim avec de la place au niveau des cuisses et des hanches
    Autant pour les cuisses je suis entièrement d’accord que pour les hanches je m’interroge.
    J’ai tendance à penser qu’il vaut mieux ne pas avoir trop de place au niveau des hanches pour éviter qu’il baille à chaque fois que tu t’accroupis : non seulement bonjour la raie mais en plus pas super agréable. Je me trompe ? quel intérêt d’avoir de l’espace aux hanches ?

    • Colin
      Colin
      Author
      Monday May 13th, 2019 / 07:37 AM

      Hello Franck ! Merci pour ton message. L’espace à la taille et aux hanches permet d’avoir du confort tout en restant sur une coupe slim. Je suis beaucoup assis à cause de mes études et c’est chouette d’avoir de l’espace pour respirer après un repas aha

      Je n’ai pas de problème de « raie » ou de bâillement avec une ceinture, mais pas toutes les morphologies auront cette chance. Néanmoins, je ne te cache pas que Je préfère un taille haute.

  2. Garigreo
    Sunday May 12th, 2019 / 11:35 PM

    Merci colin pour cette article qui donne vraiment envie de tester la marque, personnellement j’ai un peu de mal a savoir quel model me vas ou pas mais si il est proche d’un 501 faudrait que je teste ( et oui mon dernier 501remonte a il y a plus de 25ans).
    J’espère de nouveaux articles sur d’autres marque ou alors sur les coupes. ^^

    • Colin
      Colin
      Author
      Monday May 13th, 2019 / 07:39 AM

      Hello! Merci pour ton message. Le ‘50s straight est ce qui se rapproche le plus d’un vrai 501 de l’époque. Si tu veux une coupe qui se rapproche d’un 501 actuel, le ‘60s sera ce qu’il y a de plus proche en terme de coupe et de denim. Pas de secret, il faut essayer!

  3. Alcor
    Monday May 13th, 2019 / 10:11 AM

    Ouah ! Superbe article, bien écrit, très bien illustré, avec un supplément d’âme que l’on ne retrouve pas dans la plupart des articles consacrés au denim qui pullulent sur le web. Bravo Colin, et merci à Bobo pour ce featuring 😉

    (Bon, maintenant c’est malin j’ai envie de me procurer un TCB !)

    • Colin
      Colin
      Author
      Monday May 13th, 2019 / 12:16 PM

      Merci pour ton commentaire, hésite pas à me poser des questions ici si tu veux faire l’acquisition d’un TCB.

  4. Jeremy
    Monday May 13th, 2019 / 07:01 PM

    Article hyper interessant.
    J’ai moi meme acheté ce jean il y a 2 mois apres l’avoir vu sur ton compte insta. Je l’ai commandé avec les conseils de M.inoue en personne via instagram et j’en suis pleinement satisfait. Ne pas hesiter à lui envoyer un message, il repond tres rapidement.

    A noter qu’il déteind énormement au départ. En tout cas plus que les jeans selvedge que j’ai pu avoir. J’espere obtenir le même delavage que le tiens.

    Merci en tout cas pour l’article.

    • Colin
      Colin
      Author
      Monday May 13th, 2019 / 07:12 PM

      Merci Jeremy pour ton message. Ravi que tu aies sauté le pas et j’espère que d’autres le feront aussi. Les toiles unsanforized sont quand même beaucoup plus appréciables et évoluent beaucoup mieux avec le temps. Si tu as un peu d’espace dans ton jeans et qu’il est encore un peu large, n’hésite pas à le laver à la machine à 30 degrés cycle délicat dans quelques temps. Cette toile bénéficie vraiment de lavages à la machine si un délavage vintage t’intéresse. Elle a beaucoup d’indigo a donner au départ c’est vrai héhéhé! Si il dégorge trop, n’hésite pas à le tremper dans de l’eau froide à l’envers. (Tu peux sans autres suivre le guide sur ma page instagram)

  5. Ruedi Karrer
    Monday May 13th, 2019 / 11:31 PM

    Great post Colin!!!!

  6. Anthony
    Tuesday May 14th, 2019 / 10:17 PM

    Great article Colin! I actually visited jeans street last year but that was before I was into TCB. Wish I had known about it then! I’m a few months into my TCB 20s and I just love the fit and denim. Thanks again for the write-up

    • Colin
      Colin
      Author
      Tuesday May 14th, 2019 / 10:33 PM

      Thanks Anthony for your feedback, I appreciate it. Glad you could visit Kojima and jeans street. Next time you are around, definitely swing by the TCB factory 😉

      I haven’t bought the TCB ‘20s yet but it’s definitely on my wish list! I’ve heard the denim really benefit from frequent washing.

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