Levi’s and Jeff Yokoyama on "Mottainai"

Eastern philosophy meets Western culture on a denim collaboration highlighting the importance of sustainability.

Fashion 
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The Levi’s® Eureka Innovation Lab in San Francisco is a think-tank for the future of denim. Home to VP of Technical Innovation, Bart Sights, the huge open workspace houses everything from an archive of Levi’s Vintage Clothing, to the machines and materials needed to create a pair of jeans from scratch in just one day. The Eureka Lab also houses Bart’s personal collection of jeans. The carefully curated selection hanging above the workspace is a shrine to the past, but also serves as the muse for shaping the company’s journey in the years to come. In the words of Jonathan Cheung, Levi’s SVP of Global Design, “Eureka embodies old meets new. It is science and it’s tradition. It’s artisan craftsmanship and then it’s absolutely cutting edge technology and cutting edge chemistry… We’ve always got one foot planted in our history and we’re using that foot to push off into the future.”

Jeffrey “Yoki” Yokoyama is an OG in the streetwear scene and he is eager to help shape that future. The founder of a number of brands including Maui & Sons and Modern Amusement, Yoki has played an influential role in the surf and skate fashion community since 1980. Yoki entered the industry in his early 20’s and in the years that followed, rubbed shoulders with those who would make the scene what it is today — even working with Sean Stussy as a designer for a number of years. With his own brands, Yoki achieved success both in the United States and overseas in markets like Japan, selling a number of his companies to larger corporations like Mossimo and Quicksilver before making a dramatic change in his career direction.

Today, Yoki lives in Newport Beach, California where he operates a boutique called Yokishop. The space is part design studio, part workshop and part retail space. Inside, Yoki is deconstructing old garments and repurposing the fabric into new objects. These new pieces are one-of-a-kind examples of a Japanese saying, mottainai that Yoki has come to embody while working from his shop in Orange County. Mottainai, as Yoki explains, means “to use the whole fish.” It’s a principal of less waste that guides his passion to make new from old and increase visibility around sustainability in the fashion industry by participating directly in it. Yoki’s projects include repurposing military surplus, sports uniforms and most recently brought him to the Levi’s Eureka Lab to bring his ideas to the world of denim.

Levi’s and Yoki are a great match for each other. The San Francisco-based denim behemoth is constantly looking for ways to repurpose and reuse. Over the past few years, Levi’s has introduced the WasteLess and WaterLess programs — weaving recycled materials into denim and saving millions of gallons of water in the production process. Consistent with the Levi’s brand’s commitment to sustainability, Yoki’s concept was to deconstruct old Levi’s denim samples and worn-out thrift store finds and use the pieces to create a pair of unique, one-of-one, Levi’s 501® jeans.

Yoki’s idea would both eliminate waste and create new custom garments using salvaged pockets, rivets and waistbands. The signature detail would be an upside down left back pocket. Turning the Levi’s branding upside down on one side would signify what Yoki described as “flawed space” — the lack of perfection, but also the beauty and individuality of each individual pair. Yoki’s jeans represent the Eureka Lab via the concept of remixing and remastering classics: letting the old inspire the new.

During his time at Eureka, Yoki worked with Jonathan and Bart from Levi’s to hone the concept and craft the jeans — paying careful attention to the smallest details at every step of the way. The finished pair of jeans features an unfinished selvedge seam with accent panels and fabric pulled from a discarded pair of light wash Levi’s 501. The dark indigo of the newly cut fabric serves as the backdrop to the repurposed bright blue back pockets, belt loops and waistband.

Check out the photos to see Yoki working on the first sample of the jeans in his workshop, as well as the collaboration process between Levi’s and Yoki as they contemplated, cut, sewed, finished and finally, revealed the completed product. Keep an eye out for new Levi’s artist collaborations coming soon, and take a look at previous Levi’s artist collaboration stories here.

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