Continuing the Kasuri tradition through a rocky era
Fukuyama City in Hiroshima Prefecture, where Kaihara holds its headquarters and factories, has long been known as a region of Bingo Kasuri production. Kaihara was founded in 1893 as a private hand-woven indigo kasuri manufacturing business. The founder, Kaihara Sukejiro studied the art of kasuri manufacturing and first trademarked it as Marusu. It was a difficult era right in the middle of the First Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese War, but the business grew steadily and had 30 employees in the first 10 years since its foundation, growing to produce over 5000 pieces of kasuri per year. In 1920, the son of Sukejiro, Satoru received the inheritance and aimed to expand the business.
However, the Pacific War’s outbreak in 1941 stopped yarn distribution completely, and the business faced a crisis. Kaihara was able to survive by switching over to manufacturing “Bangkok-Boushi” (paper hats) and “Kazura-Nawa” (rope made of arrowroot) for military use. The demand of kasuri plummeted postwar, and for that reason, 300 looms that worked throughout our golden age decreased down to 34.
Creating quality products that people enjoy
Third generation Kaihara Sadaharu was in charge to survive the crisis and bring the business back to life. Sadaharu enthusiastically expressed to his employees to “be in the shoes of the person wearing our products, and create a whole-heartedly good product.” The employees diligently continued research, and by 1956 they succeeded in figuring out a way to manufacture kasuri the width of western-style clothing. The 28-inch (71cm) wide kasuri was a product of hard work and received high praise and attention from many corporations to have such a product be born from the countryside of Hiroshima.
Afterward, we partnered up with Dainippon Spinning Co. and started mass producing the wide kasuri fabric. We also made a mark in Japanese fashion history by creating the world’s first 36-inch wide “Koni Kasuri” fabric. In 1960, we started manufacturing and exporting sarongs worn by Muslims, which received high praise from people in the Middle East as a high-end product. With Sadaharu’s determination and great efforts, the company was able to overcome suffering a period of crisis.
Moving on to denim through inheriting the skills and knowledge from kasuri
Although Kaihara was steadily recovering, we faced another crisis in 1967. British troops retreated from the city of Aden in the Middle East, which was a major export destination, causing the British pound value to drop suddenly. Sarong exports followed this and revenue was cut to 1/3 of what it was before. The companies employee numbers were also cut in half, and Sadaharu was in great distress when a proposal was made that became the turning point. Weaving companies and clothing manufacturers requested Kaihara to apply the skills cultivated by making kasuri fabrics to make denim fabrics. At that time, anti-war movements were at its peak against the Vietnam War, and the youth around the world wore denim as a symbol for peace. Japan’s first jeans brand was also born during the same time, and the demand for denim in the future was expected to rise. Sadaharu was determined to turn the company around from a kasuri manufacturer to a denim fabric manufacturer. The road to becoming a denim mill began.
Making Japan’s first rope dyeing machine, enables domestic production
Kaihara quickly faced with a difficult challenge, with the change in direction as a denim fabric manufacturer. When making kasuri, the yarn is fully dyed to its center, a technique called kasezome. However, that technique did not produce the distinctive fading effect unique to denim. Sadaharu received information that in America, they dyed the yarn in rope-like bundles, and by applying a kasuri manufacturing process called Eki-chu Shibori, originally invented by Kaihara, he took on the challenge to create a rope dyeing machine. After seven months in 1970, he completed Japan’s first rope dyeing machine, stepping foot into becoming an authentic denim manufacturer.
A little after this, orders rushed in from fabric makers and spinning mills. By the next year, there was a total of orders equaling to 300 thousand pairs of jeans. And in 1973, Levi’s made an order from the company, which brought us global attention as a denim fabric manufacturer.
Growing into a global company through innovative manufacturing
We strove for further development after the success of rope dyeing and stepping into a domestically made denim fabric manufacturing process. We established the first integrated production system in Japan of manufacturing denim fabric by completing woven fabrics in 1978, the finishing process in 1980, and the spinning mill in 1991. At first, people said that entering into other manufacturing processes was a reckless step, but it was necessary to make the highest-quality denim fabric.
Currently, Kaihara holds four different production bases in Fukuyama, and a new factory in Thailand producing the same domestic-quality denim fabrics. The domestic share is about 50%, and currently export to over 30 different countries. The strength of Kaihara lies in our ability to create new products that combine old and new technologies, such as making full use of old shuttle looms while actively introducing the latest equipment, similar to how we made use of the skills cultivated through years of making kasuri fabrics. While inheriting the traditions and the spirit of innovation, Kaihara aims to become a global company.