Kapital: Reverence and Humor in Mending

It is no secret that the best jeans are made in Japan. Even the best Levi’s 501s are made in Japan now – just not by Levi’s. Brands from Full Count to TCB study different 501s through the decades and make replicas using some of the best cotton and most refined indigo dyeing techniques in the world. Miss those old 501s from 1947? Look to Japan.

 

Toshikiyo Hirata founded Kapital in the 1980s. He was teaching karate in the United States when he developed a passion for denim, moved back to Japan, and founded Kapital – named after Okayama Prefecture, often called the denim capital of the world.

Hirata shared a vision with the other denim houses in Okayama. So, he started making replicas of classic American denim garments of his own. Kapital’s Westerner Jacket remains one of their few pieces with such a clear lineage, its lines taken from Lee denim jackets dating back to the 1940s.

In 2002, Toshikiyo Hirata’s son Kiro joined Kapital and soon took over as head designer. Kiro Hirata felt that his father’s brand had mastered the replication of old garments and wanted to steer Kapital in a new direction. In this shift, there seems to be an acknowledgement, an appreciation of Kapital’s foundation always having been a cultural mashup across continents and across decades, that there was always some element of cross-continental time travel in making meticulous reproductions of old American jeans in Japan.

Today, father and son work together hand-in-hand. Toshikiyo as expert in technique and Kiro as artistic visionary. Kapital continues to play with mashups across space and time that are at once often transgressive but with unrivaled attention to craft. In recent years, they released a Coogi-style sweater – like the ones Biggie was famous for – with images of the Virgin Mary knit into the fabric.

Kapital might be most famous for its pieces that celebrate visible mending. In Japanese pottery, these is an art called kintsugi – literally, “golden joinery” – in which broken pottery is repaired with golden lacquer; instead of hiding the seams, they are celebrated. Kapital utilizes mending techniques like sashiko that date back centuries to Japanese peasants who would repair their clothing over and over again using whatever scraps of fabric might be on-hand. While traditionally, those repairs were made out of necessity rather than an aesthetic or philosophical statement, Kapital presents those visible seams as golden in their own way, in the skill and the labor of each stitch.

But – as always with Kapital – there is something else going on, too. There is a subtle tongue-in-cheek quality about manufacturing garments that have all been pre-worn and pre-mended in the exact same way. On the one hand, this seems shockingly laborious. On the other, there is a humor to it. Mended garments are supposed to be unique physical manifestations of the life of the garment and of the wearer. Not here. Kapital goes to excruciating lengths to make sure each mended garment is not unique, is just like the next one.