The threads returning to the cotton
The secret of the softness of “Ise-Momen”

In starting the “SANGOU” brand, this was a material that was absolutely necessary. This was the material that would make creating a “T-shirt you can wear for 10 years” a reality. Just like a leather jacket or fine denim, this is a material that matures as you wear it, the feel improves - a fabric that grows with you. With this dream in mind Kikuta researched all manner of fabrics a and manufacturing methods, but soon reached a dead end. One day whilst surfing the net he came across an article that caught his attention about a cotton kimono that could be washed at home. After further research it became apparent that this kimo-no was made from a special kind of cotton named “Ise-Momen”. This was the one. This is a traditional fabric that has been made for around 250 years in Mie Prefecture, Japan - since the Edo period. As the threads are relatively weakly wound, the more you wash the mate-rial the softer it gets - in actual fact the threads are trying to return to their original unwound state. Kikuta knew that this was the one, this was the fabric that he had been dreaming about. An excited Kikuta decided that as “a fabric that grows with you” this was surely the perfect mate-rial from which to make a t-shirt that you can wear for life. Without wasting a moment he quickly called the manufacturer, Usuishokufu, and made plans to travel to Ishinden in Mie Prefecture to learn more about this wonderful fabric, “Ise-Momen”. Upon arrival in Ishinden, he found it to be an atmospheric small town, tucked deep into the calming rural landscape, not too dissimilar to his own hometown in Miyagi Prefecture. On further inspection he found a building that gave off a remarkably profound ambience. A building that one couldn’t help but feel a sense of history from - the headquarters of Usuishokufu. Going through the gates, Kikuta came face to face with Mr Usui, who then proceeded to tell him with great fervor all about the history and special qualities of “Ise-Momen” as well as the town’s spe-ciality dish “Unadon” (grilled eel on a bowl of rice).

  

The planting method of these cotton seeds has been handed down since the Muromachi era of Japanese history - the Ise district is blessed with fantastic quality of earth and water, whilst the weather is also perfect for cotton, and so it became the biggest area for cotton production in Ja-pan, producing only the finest quality materials. First sold around the harbour area as a souvenir to people who were there to visit the Ise Shrine, it was subsequently used as a material for eve-ryday clothes for people all over Japan, from the Edo period right up to pre-war days and be-came a key material in the economic foundation of businesses in the Ise area. What was once started as a side business to agriculture, this fabric started to find its way into markets in Edo (the old name for the Japanese capital) and the name that people gave to this fabric from the Ise area was “Ise-Momen”, a name that is still heard all over the country today. Using only the finest pure cotton and equipment inherited from Meiji-era Japan, the manufacturing process is still the same today, and results in an incredibly warm, difficult to crease material. In contrast to most ‘regular’ cotton, which stiffens when washed, “Ise-Momen” gets softer and softer the more you wash it and the more you wear it. The secret of this is in the weakly wound yarn. Without twisting the threads too much, the cotton remains as close to its natural state as possible, and is only gently toughened up through the use of starch. In a manufacturing process that has hardly changed since its inception, the threads are gently woven together. As the fabric is washed, over time the starch begins to disappear and the threads return to something close to their natu-ral state.

 What is absolutely indispensable in weaving “Ise-Momen” threads is some incredibly specialized machinery from Toyota. Used since the Meiji era, this machinery is now out of production but was one of Toyota’s finest pieces. Seeing the factory in person, it soon becomes clear that this is a piece of machinery that has an immense presence, an incredibly cool machine. This is a presence that comes from having made “Ise-Momen” cotton in the same place for over 100 years, and it is truly quite overwhelming. The maintenance on the machine is all carried out by Mr Usui, who is the fifth generation of people to do so.
To weave one 13m screen of “Ise-Momen” it takes one machine a full day. This is hardly an in-credible speed - in fact by today’s standards it seems remarkably inefficient. However, material of this quality cannot be woven by today’s high speed machines. Because “Ise-Momen” is made from the finest threads, if the cotton were to be fed into today’s machines, the threads would lit-erally not be able to take the strain put upon them and would simply break. The pure threads that are used in the production of “Ise-Momen” are the most fragile there are. As they’re so frag-ile, these threads are incredibly hard to weave, and the process of weaving them demands that a lot of care be taken. If this is done correctly then the resulting threads are incredibly soft to the touch and can be made into garments that can be worn for a very long time.
Nowadays, due to the rise of technology and the Westernization of the world, the demand for cotton is becoming less and less. Because the manufacturing process is inefficient and takes so much time, all but one of the “Ise-Momen” manufacturing plants have ceased business, the last remaining one is Usuishokufu.
SANGOU garments all use this incredibly precious material. Primarily this “Orimono” fabric is used in the manufacture of kimono, but by looking at things from a different angle and changing the shape and usage of the material we’ve been able to make “casual, carefree kimono”. Prod-ucts that we’d like you to spend at least ten years with.

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