The Town Factory that Breathes New Life into Used Jeans

Yamasawa Press, a Tokyo-based company specializing in iron pressing clothes, revitalizes abandoned American jeans and fashions them into their own branded creations.
Jeans after being washed and before their materials are reused. The distinctive fade of denim fabric enhances the unique design of the new creation.

Trove of Levi's 501 Jeans Unearthed in Los Angeles

Nestled within Adachi City, Tokyo, the establishment of Yamasawa Press dates back to 1995. Currently led by Yamasawa Ryoji, the second-generation owner, the business specializes in iron pressing clothes, as well as in inspection, metal/needle detection, repairs, and laundering services.

"I've been a huge fan of the iconic Levi's 501 jeans ever since my junior high school days. In 2019, I went on a trip to Los Angeles to talk with a vendor in the hope of starting a new vintage clothing business, and it was on that trip that I was told about the mountain of used 501s about to be discarded. I couldn't possibly let them go to the landfill, so I decided to buy them. I ended up importing 20 tons of jeans in total."

A mound of jeans piled in the warehouse, in an unusable state. In 2019, a total of 35,000 pairs were imported at once.

The imported jeans were unsuitable for direct use due to severe damage and soiling, but they could still be salvaged by disassembling and reassembling them into a marketable fabric. The first task for Yamasawa Press was to leverage their expertise in and equipment for clothes laundering by washing the large quantity of jeans. Afterwards, they separated and salvaged the reusable sections during the disassembling process, ultimately creating a patchwork fabric.

The factory staff meticulously disassemble the jeans one by one, carefully assessing their conditions.

"Regenerating the jeans was a more arduous task than we anticipated. I had numerous negotiations with apparel companies to have them incorporate the finished fabric, but we had no luck because the inconsistent fabric quality caused issues and posed sewing challenges. At that point, we decided to take matters into our own hands by launching our own brand, 'One-o-Five,' which incorporated the fabric."

Embarking on a New Stage and Setting Sights Internationally

Thus commenced the production of the company's own brand of jeans and bags using the regenerated fabric. The warehouse was renovated into a retail store and opened in September of 2020.

The company's exposure on TV as a pioneering force in the fashion industry's SDGs initiative propelled them into the spotlight, culminating in a collaborative partnership with a major department store. The adoption of the fabric, once believed to be too challenging to use, has gained momentum in recent years, leading to the development and commercialization of products from over 70 domestic and international brands by November of 2022.

"We transform the material into new products through washing, processing, and designing, but we also maintain its original essence. Each stage holds its own fascination," says Yamasawa.

"The opportunities for collaboration with domestic companies have been increasing, and we've also begun collaborating with international brands. Each company and brand creatively adapts the fabric to their own distinctive ideas while also showing off the material's inherent qualities. While sustainability wasn't my initial focus when I started the business, I now see that it resonates with the current trends. I want to explore new product development opportunities in the future, not only using jeans but also utilizing leftover fabric from cutting processes. We want to grow a brand that reflects our own values, with sustainability as our defining uniqueness."

The subtle shade variations in the fabric create a distinctive character. Even with identical designs, each piece uses a different material and is one of a kind.

Yamasawa Press was selected as a certified participant in "ADACHI TIDE" in 2021, a project based in Adachi City that supports the expansion of the international market presence of manufacturing businesses. Between October and November of the same year, the company had the opportunity to showcase their products at a pop-up store in Hong Kong as part of the project. It was a moment of great validation for Yamasawa, as their processing techniques received recognition alongside the design.

"Our goal is to take jeans from the U.S., utilize Japanese craftsmanship to reimagine them, and reintroduce them to the U.S. market. We aspire to share Japan's art of craftsmanship with the world while making a meaningful contribution to sustainability."

Interview and writing by Takasuka Tetsu
Photos by Tanaka Shungo (MAETTICO)
Translation by Amitt