Why Evisu founder Hidehiko Yamane is having a comeback

    Jing Masterminds: After retiring from Evisu in 2022, as the brand operated over 200 global stores, we talk to founder Yamane about why he's starting over.
    Hidehiko Yamane and Peter Caplowe in London at the Yaname opening party. Image: Daniel Murray
      Published   in Fashion

    Japanese denim guru Hidehiko Yamane, the entrepreneurial force behind the cult denim brand Evisu, is venturing back with a new label after briefly retiring.

    Yamane, who began his career in a tailor's shop in Osaka, made his mark in the fashion world after discovering a defunct shuttle loom (a traditional weaving device) during a buying trip to the US in 1989. He transported the loom to Japan, managed to get it operational, and started producing limited runs of high-quality selvedge denim, a move that set the stage for Evisu’s founding.

    After amassing a following for his meticulously crafted jeans, Yamane partnered with Peter Caplowe in 1994 to expand Evisu globally. The brand, known for its exclusivity and artisanal quality, later entered into a production partnership with Adriano Goldschmied, enhancing its footprint by adding Italian craftsmanship to its Japanese origins.

    This strategic expansion helped catapult Evisu to global renown, eventually leading to runway shows at Pitti Uomo and Milan Fashion Week, cementing its status in the high fashion world.

    In 2022, Yamane exited Evisu, which by then boasted over 200 stores and was valued at an estimated $500 million. But retirement was short-lived.

    Driven by his passion for denim craftsmanship, Yamane launched a new self-named brand in 2024, again collaborating with Caplowe. Starting with five stores across Japan and a pop-up in London's Soho district, where he personally hand-painted jeans for customers, Yamane's latest venture is already showing promise.

    Hand painted Yaname denims. Image: Daniel Murray
    Hand painted Yaname denims. Image: Daniel Murray

    Jing Daily: What drew you to the world of denim and what continues to fuel your passion for this fabric?

    Hidehiko Yamane: My original fashion inspiration was a more general 1950s Americana look of which vintage jeans was just one part. However, as things progressed I became more of a denim maniac as I love the fact that something that was originally just functional has become such an important part of the fashion world. I also love the way denim becomes more interesting and beautiful by being worn. Most clothes you buy are at their best the day you buy them, but denim just keeps getting better.

    JD: What were some of the challenges you faced when starting Evisu, and how did you overcome them?

    HY: Well, I was quite naive when I started Evisu and thought that Levi’s would appreciate that what I was doing was a tribute and done with respect for what they achieved, but that is not the way IP lawyers think. However, I have to say that once I spoke to them and explained what I was doing and why, they were very reasonable and agreed to allow me to continue with a few minor changes.

    JD: How has your approach to design and business evolved from when you founded Evisu to now launching your new brand Yamane?

    HY: Actually very little. One of my mantras is being ‘unchangeable.’ I still basically make clothes I love first and foremost, I am lucky that other people seem to like them, too. I have become more confident in including my art in my clothing, whereas I previously kept my painting as a separate hobby.

    JD: Can you describe the moment during your trip to the US when you discovered the shuttle loom?

    HY: My first thought was ‘can I make this work again?’ I didn’t foresee where it would lead at all.

    JD: Partnership has been a significant part of your journey. How did your collaboration with Peter Caplowe and Adriano Goldschmied shape Evisu’s trajectory?

    HY: I am quite unique as a Japanese fashion entrepreneur in that I am willing to trust others to interpret my ideas in a way that is necessary for success in other markets. However, even for me, it took a minimum of five years before I was ready to let them change anything.

    JD: What prompted your decision to retire from Evisu, and what brought you back to the fashion industry?

    HY: Covid-19 definitely played a part in my decision to retire; it had a very bad impact on the Japanese fashion market. I have always made time for my other interests, and the idea of a relaxed life, painting, fishing and playing golf seemed very attractive at the time. However, after a year, I realized how much I missed making clothes. Initially, I just planned to do limited hand painted pieces, but I now feel I have one more story to tell in the fashion business.

    Yaname's London Pop Up opening party. Image: Daniel Murray
    Yaname's London Pop Up opening party. Image: Daniel Murray

    JD: Your new brand launch included a pop-up store in London’s Soho where you hand-painted jeans. What was the inspiration behind this?

    HY: Actually the London pop-up just reproduced what I do in my stores in Japan. I have five now and spend most of my time moving from one to one painting clothes and meeting customers.

    JD: With your new brand, again working with Caplowe, how are you integrating sustainability into production?

    HY: Well, this is a complicated area and I am always careful not to over promise about sustainability – the fashion business is inherently not focused on sustainability, otherwise we would make each customer one outfit to last a lifetime. I can say we avoid the worst part of the jeans business by not selling washed jeans, which are terrible for the environment, and we sell products that will be better in 10 years time rather than products to be thrown away after the weekend.

    JD: How do you balance maintaining high-quality artisanal craftsmanship with running a global business?

    HY: As it is early days for Yamane, we can still manage production in our Japanese factories. Historically with Evisu, when I moved production to other countries, I would also move there for several months to be close to the factories and teach them the standard we insist on before allowing them to make products for us.

    JD: Where do you see the Yamane brand in the next five to 10 years? What legacy do you hope to leave?

    HY: I honestly don’t know where it will be in five or 10 years. I started it because I missed making clothes; so any success is a bonus for me. I am not looking to leave a legacy in the fashion world particularly. I suppose if I hope to show anything it is that you can be true to yourself in all areas of your life and be successful.

    JD: What inspires you most?

    HY: Meeting my customers in my shops, learning from them and making something special for them.

    Jing Daily presents Jing Masterminds — a regular, exclusive interview series profiling today’s most iconic names in art, fashion, commerce and culture. Delving deep into their personal journeys, creative processes, business strategies and societal impacts, the series offers readers an intimate look at the lives and minds shaping our industries.

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