Story of Samurai Cotton Farm
This project started with the dream of creating things 100% organically and domestically with our very own hands. The cotton would be grown and hand-harvested by us, and then used to make the highest-quality clothing possible. It sounds like a simple enough idea, but it’s extremely difficult in practice.
By about 1970, data shows that cotton production in Japan had fallen to basically zero, with 99.9% of all cotton used in Japan being imported from overseas. As you can imagine, the reasons for this was a combination of modern, efficient production coupled with improved cotton varietals, but this of course comes at a price and requires huge amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It may mean that cotton can be had at lower prices, but the whispers you hear about the health problems of the growers and the soil contamination this modern production can cause is not something we could just ignore...
“Making things in Japan, for Japan, in the Japanese way”
Cotton has a long history in Japan, flourishing first during the Edo period (1603~1867), especially in and around Osaka where Samurai jeans is located, but then going into steady decline from the Meiji period onwards (1868~) as demand outstripped supply and importing became the norm.
It was right in the heart of this decline that we decided to stand, take up the challenge of our ancestors, and restore the pride once found in the old, traditional ways of doing things. We aim to revive these age-old techniques, and pass them on to our children and grandchildren to ensure these traditions get passed on to future generations. This is our pledge.
What we’ve actually been up to:
There is no instruction manual for the growing of Japanese cotton, and we found out that just having the raw materials on hand wasn’t enough to get things right and start producing cotton right away. Truly a trial-and-error affair, it took us years of toil and making mistakes to produce any cotton at all. We looked back on our ancestors for inspiration and tried to glean what wisdom and experience we could, while at the same time reaching out to the kind of knowledgable locals for their assistance. We could not have realized this dream without the help of our many volunteers.
We feel it is part of our mission to involve locals, especially the children, and we take time to educate and provide opportunities for them to get involved and see how clothing is actually made. We do this through classes at a local elementary school close to our cotton fields in Sasayama, Hyogo, where cultivation, harvesting, spinning, weaving, and dyeing can all be learned about and experienced firsthand. We should keep reminding ourselves of the importance of passing things on to the next generation, and we believe that the garments we create don’t become true clothing unless many people are involved in the process.
Pesticide-free: friendly to the Earth and people.
The cotton we grow is completely free of chemicals. Learning year-by-year, we have been able to improve the quality of the soil by drawing on the experience gained in maintaining the local bamboo forests that surround out cotton fields. We use bamboo charcoal, bamboo chips, chicken poop, and even old seeds as our fertilizer. Our fields are also teeming with mammal, reptile, and insect life of all kinds.
From March to October each year we hold monthly events out at the fields. These are awesome opportunities for people from the city who might otherwise have very little contact with nature to come out, participate, and refresh their minds, bodies, and souls, while at the same time learning an ancient skill.
Using abandoned farmland.
The number of abandoned houses and vacant fields has been increasing in Japan as people leave the countryside in search of a life in the big city. Not many young people want to farm like their grandparents did. To counter this trend, Samurai has been both revitalizing and using these vacant fields while at the same time creating employment opportunities for locals in cotton cultivation.
Employment opportunities for people with challenges and disabilities.
After harvest, the removing of seeds from the cotton is all done by hand. We outsource this work as an employment-support project for people with challenges that might not otherwise be able to find conventional work.
We mentioned that Japanese cotton production had dwindled down to almost nothing by about 1970 due to various factors discussed above. A further reason behind this decline is the fact that the fiber of Japanese cotton was too short to be properly machined or spun, especially when compared to other long-staple varietals like Zimbabwe or Sea Island cotton. In spite of this however, Japanese cotton does hold certain advantages - it has excellent elasticity, moisture absorption, and heat retention owing to the short fibers. It might not be a fancy or high-end variety by conventional standards, but it is very well-suited to the environment and circumstances in which it is grown and used.
After repeated trial-and-error, we were eventually able to find skilled craftsmen who shared our mindset and agreed to take on our project, eventually spinning our Samurai cotton into yarn.
In order to maintain this unparalleled level of quality, we pledge to continue this battle on our own, never compromising, and always keeping in mind the origin and roots of our manufacturing.