I know a lot of you have been looking forward to this one, so my apologies for taking so long to finally getting around to interviewing the man, the myth, the legend: Yoshiyuki Hayashi.
Hayashi-san has been in the denim game for a long time, first co-founding Denime back in ’88, and now running Resolute from a small apartment office in downtown Osaka. I was able to spend the afternoon with Hayashi-san and his lovely wife, and to say the least, it was an education. Laid-back, friendly, funny, and endlessly stylish, Hayashi-san gave me a schooling in denim history the likes of which I’d never experienced before. I normally translate my interviews into English word-for-word, including everything that was said between us, but that just wasn’t possible in this case, such was the length, depth, and breadth of our afternoon musings. Much of our detailed conversation was focused on different pairs of jeans, or thread and denim samples he was showing me, so only translating the words wouldn’t have much meaning to you, the reader, without you also having the same items in your hand as reference. Nevertheless, I’ve done my best to capture the best of it and just paraphrased where things got too deep and fast, or where we were staring into the fibers of a vintage denim sample. I hope you’ll enjoy my chat with denim legend and and all-around nice guy, Yoshiyuki Hayashi.
Wow…it’s so awesome to be here. Thanks for having me.
No, no, thanks for coming down. Here’s some cold tea so you can cool down a bit. Been a crazy hot summer eh?
Thanks, it is a hot one today for sure, even by Osaka standards. And…this is your wife?
Yes, yes, we’ve been together for a long time. She actually designs ladies’ jeans. We love traveling together: Europe, Hawaii, meeting friends, surfing…you know, going places together. We’re lucky to have friends all over the world so we’re able to see them when we travel.
It’s tough these days though eh?
Absolutely. We’ve been just staying close to home but yeah…it’ll be nice to be able to travel freely again once this all calms down.
Absolutely. I wasn’t able to head home this year either so…yeah, it’ll be nice to get home hopefully next year.
Yes, we’ve canceled a lot of trips this year due to the virus. Was supposed to go to Thailand, China, Hong Kong…had to cancel them all.
I’m off to Shimane tomorrow for a quick vacation…that’s as far as I’m getting these days.
Shimane is great. Soba is good. The water and sake there are awesome too. You know when the Emperor goes overseas he brings rice from Shimane. Try the sake.
Okay, would it be okay to first ask you a bit about the old days? About Denime?
Sure, sure, of course. 1988 it was, when we started Denime. There were of course already a few other Japanese brands at that time, but for me I always just wore Levis no matter what. Even when I was at Denime. I was born in 1956 so you know, I’m old (laughs), so when I was younger it wasn’t like we were wearing ‘vintage’ Levis, it was just what was being sold at the time. They weren’t vintage yet (laughs). They were just sold normally you know. For me, it was like the ivy league kind of 501 style. It was timely for me you know, the style at the time that I liked wasn’t so much the workwear thing that a lot of the vintage guys would eventually get into, it was the prep school ivy league look. So what later became vintage was just sold normally in my era for like 5900 yen a pair. At that time having selvedge denim wasn’t like a big thing, it wasn’t really worth it. That was something that the Japanese replica brands picked up on later and started making themselves.
As far as work went, I first traveled for about a year after university, and then got into denim sales, going from store to store, then advertising. You know it’s funny…at that time I wasn’t really interested in the whole American fashion thing at all…it was Europe for me. I went to Paris and I just loved it. I thought that the style they were putting out was awesome, both in England and in France. Leather shoes, 501s, proper white shirts worn correctly, I just thought that was so cool at that time. They weren’t worn as workwear like they were in the States. You know that jeans were there even long before that time eh? Nimes. And Genova, Italy sending denim over to the States. I saw all this history there so I really thought it was different from the U.S. It was really a different background and style.
Were you satisfied with what you yourself were making at first?
My first stuff was just copies of European stuff. You had American casual and then this European style going on back then. Chevignon leather jacket, 501 jeans, no selvedge. I first got into this style, which was kind of what Europeans were taking for American style. I mean the look in Europe was kind of their interpretation of American casual at the time, from their point of view. There were a lot of brands like this at that time, even before Levis became really popular in Japan. There was a place in Paris that sold 501s at that time. They were actually cheap. I think it was around this time that Levis then got super popular in Japan and then the price suddenly started rising. I think the whole replica boom in Japan really started from that.
Do the Osaka 5 guys all get along?
Mmm…yeah, I think so, for sure, the Osaka guys. You know though, everyone has their own style and is doing their own thing. Like we often see each other some of us, like the Warehouse guys we often hang out and they are like, “Hey, check this out…what year do you think these are?” or something and I’m laughing like, “You know I don’t care, why are you even showing me those?” or whatever. (laughs) We’re friends, having fun, but we’re all doing our own thing though so we don’t interfere with each other…but sometimes we go out for drinks. We’re all different ages and have our own styles…like for me I’m not too keen on that whole work style thing, the big fat pants and work boots, I don’t get that style at all, but that’s okay, we’re all good with each other.
What’s the difference between Denime and Resolute?
I think Resolute is a more stylish take on jeans. You know we had the whole replica boom but…for the Japanese body style, your butt just doesn’t look that great in 501XX, right? It’s a totally different body shape than the average caucasian – our butts are totally different. They just didn’t fit that great, no matter how much we loved them. So for Resolute I really wanted to address that and I’ve taken a lot out of the back of the jeans so that they fit well, even without a belt. This is the style. Maybe again, kind of ivy influenced. You know that look when there’s this massive gap at the back of the waist? I don’t like that. You know, the details and fabric I’ve been doing pretty much the same as back in the Denime days, so much so that that part of it is kind of taken as a given now, so it’s really the shape, the silhouette that has changed with Resolute. The other thing is that you don’t need to cut them. I mean you don’t hem them. The 710 cut comes in 86 different sizes.
(Here Hayashi-san takes some jeans and folds them back on themselves at various lengths to show the effect of hemming has on the taper). So most people cut their jeans at various lengths according to their height, right? But you can see that, depending on how much they cut, how far up the jeans they go, it’s totally affecting the taper…it’s disappearing. This is what happens with normal jeans when they come in a set length and then you rely on hemming to fit every customer. You ruin the silhouette. And you know, back in the day not every jeans shop in the States even had a sewing machine there to do this anyway, and Levis used to have more sizes than now, like this back in the day. I want Resolute to fit perfectly, and the taper to start and finish perfectly according to each wearer. So that’s why I decided to really make only four different jeans models and just forget about making anything else and just focus on these. At Resolute I want to keep making the same things for as long as I can. I want to be able to have something for those people who wear their jeans for 4 or 5 years and then think, “I want another pair of those same ones.”
Yes, I know that Miki (Tsujita) at Full Count also has a similar line of thought on that. But isn’t it expensive to make so many different sizes like that?
Not really, because I’m just making jeans. That’s it. With somebody like Full Count, they’re making all sorts of things…so I don’t see what I’m doing as expensive. It’s a bit of a hassle at the very beginning maybe, but after that, the making, the sewing is just the same. I think also, a lot of brands are always questing after new denim and advertising that they’ve revolutionized their fabric, but for us, yeah we have changed the recipe a few times, but you’d never know just by looking.
So you have changed your denim over the years?
Yes, 4 times. We’ve been using the same mill for years. (Here we went into a huge discussion about Japanese indigo history, the difference between Japan using pure white threads as opposed to yellow or ecru threads, and how hard it is to really tell the difference between different types of thread, thread twist, etc. in samples. This was all done while looking at various denim and thread samples so it’s a bit hard to translate without actually seeing the items Hayashi-san was talking about. Part of what he wanted to say was that even jeans makers themselves really can’t see or tell all the subtle differences in the thread samples..only the spinners can spot that level of detail. I must admit, they all looked pretty similar to me too!)
How about the name, Resolute?
I thought it was cool in King’s English, the meaning like not giving up or being strict about what you’re doing. Kind of stubborn? Unwavering? Being really serious about what you’re doing, not compromising. So I’m only focusing on 4 models of jeans, trying to do what others aren’t doing so…it seemed like a good name for what I was trying to do.
Like not giving up…staying true…
Exactly. So many brands are making so many things these days…I’m not sure if I can think of another one that makes just jeans, so I wanted to be…resolute about that. I think most other brands are into…apparel…but we’re only made up of 3 people. Me and 2 people in Tokyo.
But we don’t have to do exhibitions so…
You mean this year?
No, like ever. We don’t go to exhibitions. We’ve never done them. Just fitting fairs. So I can talk directly to the end user and help them select the perfect jeans for them. For me, that’s the best way to do business. The only way really. It’s pretty interesting actually.
What exactly do you do at a fitting fair?
(Here Hayashi-san grabs a rack of Resolute jeans in various sizes and stages of aging).
They just try on a bunch of sizes?
No, I first start out with the old ones. You know, new jeans are stiff and tight, right? You don’t know how they’re going to turn out. They’ll slowly stretch with wear, the waist will get bigger. These old ones are soft and you can then see what the actual silhouette is going to look like after being worn for a while. You really can’t tell what the jeans are going to look like just by trying on a stiff, new pair. So that’s why I travel and do the fitting fairs…Hong Kong, Manila…
I haven’t really heard of any other brands doing that.
No, I don’t think they do it. It’s really cool actually. They try on the soft, old ones before the new. A lot of denim is really rough to the touch, but this is actually really soft after washing. (Hayashi-san here senses that this conversation is partially going over my head so he digs into a big trunk and pulls out some fabric samples). You see, people don’t really know what the silhouette will look like at first, right? Feel this fabric here, it’s kind of rough…it’s got to be softened up before you’ll know what the silhouette is going to look like, it changes…so I just think it’s easier to do the sizing from having them first try on what the jeans will become, and then go back and get a new pair of the same size. (Here Hayashi-san shows me swatches of worn in fabric from different eras to demonstrate how it softens with wear and washing. We then get lost in various pairs of vintage Levis as I struggle to absorb all that he is teaching me. 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s…).
Wow, I’ve never seen this kind of stuff.
Really? Don’t the guys you interview have this stuff?
I’m not sure, but they don’t bring it all out…so this is cool for me.
Here’s some cool old kids’, boy’s XX. But you know, you can’t really wear this old stuff now, the fabric’s all gone bad.
Yeah, from all the humidity and temperature swings here in Japan, it just goes bad after a while. In the States, yeah the weather changes, but not so much like the humidity here. This stuff is shot, rotten.
Okay, that makes sense.
And check out this vintage fabric..can you see how there the thread thickness varies? Like some threads are fatter and some are thinner? And also some parts are a lot whiter than others, this is how Levis used to be, dying yellow thread. But if you look at this Resolute fabric now, it’s not like that because we are dying pure white threads. There’s no like partly-dyed parts…it looks equal in terms of thickness and light and dark. I only just finally figured this out three years ago. Can you see it? It’s beautiful, isn’t it? You know…in Japan…I think Japanese love to make beautiful things, right? The level of sewing here is really high, the techniques. (Here we went again deep into fabric, construction, and fade talk while going through several types of fabric. Also Cone mills history, Levis in Japan, etc).
Do you like any other Japanese brands or at least think they are doing good work?
Yeah, Warehouse for sure. I don’t even know if it’s like a “I love that stuff”, kind of feeling, but they are making good stuff. We’re buddies. We complained together about the whole Levis red tab debacle, you know…we joked about all of that. But you know, our styles are different but we both want to do our best and not compromise. I think everyone is pretty good you know, we’re all good…Full Count…and Iron Heart, Haraki-san, we’re roughly the same age and I’ll bump into him sometimes at a factory or something.
Are you friends with Nogami-san from Samurai?
I’ve never met him actually. He’s maybe like closer to my age, a bit younger, but I think Samurai kind of joined the game a lot later so… I know we use the same mill but he’s into the heavier denim. So yeah I know that they use a lot fatter thread than we do and want to make heavy stuff…at least that’s what I heard at the mill.
How about the industry in general these days? Do you feel the mills are okay?
Yeah, I think they’re fine. There’s not that many places that can make denim like they do in Ibara so…they’ve been doing it for a long time so I think they’ll be okay. There’s still the same old fellah taking care of all the machines there. They can make stuff that nobody else can.
They’ve just changed owners eh.
Yeah that’s right. The daughter is now the president. Used to be the grandfather. Back in the old days, when I launched Denime, maybe 1988, there was really, really gorgeous denim…not like rough or slubby like these days. I went to Kurabo, which is where he had worked, back then…there was nowhere else really that could do it. There or Kaihara. So I went to Ibara for two days to check out this place and they made me good denim, the old guy. I think Shinya is probably the best place these days. Really interesting history.
Do you see any differences between your domestic and international customers?
Hmmm…that’s a tough one. I find overseas there’s some really serious denim fans, like the kind you saw here back in the replica boom. So hard to say though you know…there’s different kinds of people everywhere. Sure we’ve got some customers into the whole tailored wear thing…but for me the straight up vintage outfit looks a bit childish these days, but…I don’t know. Compared to the old days, even in Japan you don’t really see the real denim maniacs out there in the city much, do you? Like how guys used to wear their jeans super long all stacked up over their shoes, you just don’t see that much now. You have to go out in the countryside now to see those crazy denim styles I think. Remember like the huge, baggy jeans, all stacked up on their leather boots..or the big white Evisu seagulls on the back pockets? Yeah, that stuff is mostly gone now, you just don’t see it any more.
What’s the best and worst part of your job?
The best part is finding a customer that perfect fit. And the worst is when I’m not able to do that. (laughs) But seriously, like a long time ago it was fun to make up new fabrics and just do what I wanted as far as jeans making went, but you know this whole process takes well over a year, like from when you dream up a new fabric to it actually being made into jeans people can wear. What I mean is that making jeans is such a crazy process…it feels like 1 plus 1 doesn’t equal 2 sometimes. And you’ll never know what the jeans are going to be like until you try them on and wear them for some time. You know, even when I was at Denime I never wore any jeans that I made. Always Levis. Just Levis.
Why was that?
I guess I just loved them. Even now. You know, to be honest….back in the old days, Studio D’Artisan, Evisu…Full Count, Warehouse, and Denime…magazines would come to take pictures of all of the Osaka 5 and of course told us to wear our own jeans. I wore my 501s and got told off. (laughs) But now with Resolute I know it’s important to wear the jeans to know how they are going to work out for the customer, just as it’s important for them to try them on, both new and worn-in, to know how they’ll fit over time.
(laughing) So you do wear Resolute now?
Yeah, for sure. But I want to wear Levis too if I’m honest (laughs), but yeah…these (Resolutes) are good.
How would you describe yourself?
Uh…as a normal person? (laughs). But seriously, I really, really love style.
Clothes that look and fit well. Check this out (grabs and puts on a new Italy-inspired blazer jacket to show me which looks fantastic over his jeans). This is the stuff I like, what I want to wear. I love this fit and this color…I don’t like harsh or deep colors…more subtle, lighter colors like this. So many things go with jeans, especially when they fade like this.
That label is paper, right?
Yes. The only one with leather is this one (grabs a nicely-faded pair from the rack).
What do you like doing when you’re free?
Shikoku. And Maui. Surfed Oregon a lot. But you know, I’m getting old so…
What’s good about Osaka?
The people are good. Honest. They aren’t going to bullshit you or try and trick you or something. And the food is good and cheap. Tokyo is a bit…you know. Lots of denim fans and makers here too, it’s a good place. But you know, I’m not even from here originally.
Nah, I’m originally from around Ibara..Fukuyama…Onomichi (Hiroshima prefecture) actually. You know the Onomichi Denim Project? That was my idea. We wanted to do something that nobody else in the world had done. (The Onomichi Denim project is an amazing endeavor where Resolute jeans are worn for a year – and washed weekly! – by the local inhabitants before being sold to the public. 540 pairs at last count. See more here: https://www.meridian.net/2016/9/28/13093838/japan-tour-onomichi-denim-project
Where is your cotton from?
About that. You know, every brand says proudly where there cotton is from, right? But the reality is that most is mixed, with varying percentages that nobody really knows. There are professionals who deal in all of that and I personally leave that to them. It’s all mixed. And add to that the fact that the harvests are different each year anyway, even in the same place…the cotton is different each year. Of course there are differences between staple lengths, but even that can actually be controlled by machines now. I don’t want to be rude and say too much about us or other brands but…for Resolute we are more focused on the quality of the color and the silhouette.
What do you want for the company after you retire?
Even if I retire, I want things to keep going how they’re going. Same as now. I don’t think there’s much more I can do to change or improve the silhouettes, but I’ll never give up on trying to think of ways to improve quality. Updating the quality but not the shape. I think it’s cool to not have to change the shape…I mean to have gotten to a place where I’m satisfied with the silhouettes.
Hey, can I ask you just some kind of not-so-serious questions?
Tonteki. (Japanese fried pork cutlet with various kind of sauce)
(laughs). Tonteki? I like that too.
Kind of like a pork chop right? Awesome with ketchup!
Outside of Japan, what places do you like?
Some people have commented on how much leg twist Resolute has, maybe more than other brands. Is that part of your design? Like you purposely wanted that?
Really? No way…it’s normal, same as other brands. That’s totally not on purpose, that’s just the fabric doing what it does. You know the front and back tension is different so that’s the result of that over time. At first it looks like this (shows me a new pair that has almost no leg twist). But you know it totally depends on the pair too…some really do that and others don’t.
That was something some of your fans wanted me to ask…whether it was on purpose or not.
You can’t do that on purpose so….no.
How many pairs of jeans do you personally have at the moment?
Well I don’t wear Levis these days so…if you mean Resolute, maybe 8 pairs right now? Any more than 8 and…you know, jeans fade right so…(shows me more jeans in various states of wear).
What’s your jeans washing regime?
Yeah, everyone is different is different eh? Once a week for me. Just normally…in the washing machine, normal detergent, not the “made for jeans” stuff… You know all this stuff about never washing our jeans…they’ll totally start to fray and rip! If you go a year without washing, you’re just asking for trouble and you’ll get blowouts and tears. Sweat is an oil. The crotch is the first place to go…that area gets the most sweat and this weakens the threads. So I just wash them normally and let them dry in the sun. Or the dryer if you’re looking for some shrinking. Stinky jeans are not good. I mean I don’t want to tell anybody what to do but…wash your jeans (laughs).
Anything you’d like to say in closing to Resolute fans out there?
Message eh…. Just have fun and wear jeans the way you want. Try different fits and looks and see what you like. It’s hard for me to say really, like give some advice or something because everybody likes different things so…you just have to try things on or try them out and see how it feels. If you like loose jeans, wear loose jeans. Tight, then wear them tight. I think jeans and fashion transcend sex, age, whatever so…just do what you like.
Well thank you so much for today…such a pleasure and an education.
Thanks to you too. Hey by the way, check this out…this is the first Resolute denim ever, from May, 2010. The first samples we made (hands me some sheets of denim to handle). Different from the stuff we make now. But you know, like I said earlier, these differences are so subtle between this thread or that thread…it’s sometimes made such a big deal of, all these details that nobody can really see or feel, but you’ll never know what’s going to work for you until you actually try the jeans on. I really believe that.
Can I take another picture of us sitting here with all this denim?
Sure. But don’t you think people are going to think we’re like, a couple of denim nerds? (laughs).
And there ended an amazing late-summer afternoon of denim talk. It was an honour and a pleasure to be able to speak with Hayashi-san, and I’m already looking forward to going back next time for some tonteki and cold beer. Hope you enjoyed our little chat.