In English, ‘Boro’ literally translates as ‘rags’ or ‘scraps’ of cloth. Dating back as far as the 17th century (far before denim as we know it today), Japanese Boro is a form of production that was born out of necessity; the poorer population in the north of Japan stitching together old pieces of hemp, indigo dyed cotton and other fabrics to repair clothing and blankets for longevity.
When southerner’s cotton garments had run out of life, they would be sold to people living in the North who would patch and repair them to use. Boro dates from a time where the general population was only permitted to wear clothes dyed black, blue, grey or brown; other more flamboyant colours were reserved only for the wealthy. Families handed down these garments and continually re-patched and repaired them, giving them their unique layered appearance.
Each Boro garment or blanket acts as a physical encyclopedia of hand loomed fabrics from historical Japan. No two items are the same and each has their own soul, beauty and story to tell. After the Second World War, people in Japan associated Boro pieces with their families’ impoverished past, and they were sold in huge numbers due to shame.
Fast forward to the present day, and Boro is enjoying somewhat of a revival in the fashion and art worlds. The practice, among countless others, is central to Japanese brands such as Visvim and Kapital, where traditional production methods are so intertwined in the brands philosophy, and where nothing is wasted if it doesn’t need to be.
For the current SS15 season, Junya Watanabe’s collection is heavily inspired by Boro and indigo dying. The incredible Levi’s patchwork jacket and jeans are a direct reference to this centuries old practice, where as subtler hints can be seen on jacket linings and elbow patches. Paul Smith is another brand inspired by traditional Japanese production methods, with his Red Ear collection often heavy on over dyed indigo and featuring woven denim outerwear and patched linings this season.
A Japanese brand that will be debuting at Goodhood this season, Needles, is also a great example of taking the production methods of the past, and re-appropriating them for the now. Famous for their unique ‘Rebuild’ series, where vintage garments are deconstructed and rebuilt into a whole new piece, it is a true salute to Boro manufacturing.
In such a throwaway culture, it is refreshing to see the traditional artforms and manufacturing processes of a country such as Boro continue to be used and re-appropriated in the modern day.