By Recevva Saunders | JAPAN TIMES |
Mehervan Sethi isn’t your typical Japanese guy, nor is he your typical non-Japanese — for a start he didn’t come to Japan for work or a career, or even for the experience. He’s always been here.
His grandfather first immigrated from India to Japan in 1952 and found a new home in Kobe. His father was born a decade or so later, and is full of tales of what it was like growing up in Japan in the ’60s and ’70s as a Sikh Indian.
“You hear these stories over the generations about how things have changed,” Sethi says, “even from me and in my life.”
Sethi’s Japan is instantly fascinating.
I meet up with him at a cafe in Tokyo’s trendy Daikanyama neighborhood on a hot, stifling day. He is naturally chatty and full of energy about his business, Okayama Denim — the company he founded himself, born out of his urge to help Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Sethi tells me that he had an idea to create bracelets from hundreds of meters of belt loop jean fabric and sell them to make money for the Japanese Red Cross.
“It was the very first thing to do with denim that I produced,” he says. “The idea was called the Okayama Denim Project. I hopped in a car and drove down to Okayama and I was just hoping I could meet somebody.
“I met the right person who worked in the factory and that was the birth of everything.”
The project was a success, selling out in stores from London to New York and gaining traction online thanks to nods from sites like Hypebeast. Aiming for something more than a one-off project, however, Sethi was able to use the relationships he had begun to build with the denim factories in Okayama, and combine them with skills he picked up from a previous job of selling products online in Japan.
Out of these relationships with the mills and his love for the Japanese denim industry, the 33-year-old has spent the past few years building up Okayama Denim into a well-loved brand that customers seek out for its quality jeans and Sethi’s knowledge of denim; fans even name-drop the company in dedicated denim Reddit threads.
It’s clear after a few moments of chatting that Sethi has more than just an interest in the denim industry: His obsession with the fabric goes deeper than just style and cuts. He is a supporter of Japan and its homegrown textiles, in love with the history of the old Japanese techniques and has a deep knowledge of the process, from the yarn dying to the stitching. He’s keen to help the industry.
Read the story, ‘The man behind some of Japan’s most stylish denim has one main rule: fabric first’ (Japan Times, 10 July 2019), here. You can follow him on Instagram @tokyoturban.
(Asia Samachar, 29 June 2019)