The last time I did a top ten article, I wrote about leather jackets and that list was the finale of a three part series discussing leather jackets. The first article talked about why leather jackets are awesome and what to look for in a good one. With jeans, I feel this is unnecessary. Leather jackets are not as often discussed as jeans and it seems that everyone on this planet who thinks that indigo-dying anything automatically makes it better has waxed poetic about why jeans are so awesome and what they think a good pair of jeans is.
I am going to do my best to not bore you with that, unless for some reason people really want to read my thoughts on those subjects. Instead, I’m just going to go straight to the list of top ten best denim brands. This comes with a massive, 25oz-level disclaimer though. Please note that any list like this is subjective and while in many cases I am discussing objective facts such as construction quality, amount of choices, where the materials come from, etc, denim is a deep, messy subject with far too many variables to truly have a single best pair or maker. With the exception of the top two makers, who do make the best constructed pairs of jeans, this list is really just the brands that I think are the best. Of course it would have been more accurate to title the article with that, but saying ‘best’ makes people more interested so I figured I would just clarify that here.
With that said, I am trying to be pretty objective here. These brands are on this list for their construction quality, fabric quality and uniqueness, and options in terms of denim, details, and fit. I want to clarify that this is absolutely not a list of my favorite denim brands or the brands that I like most. If it was, the list would be completely different and at least four of the brands here would be replaced with other brands that I personally like more. I made this list attempting to be as objective as possible while being fully aware that this is not completely possible. There are certainly other brands that could deserve to be on here such as Dawson Denim, Trophy, Warehouse, The Strike Gold, Freewheelers, Resolute, Denimbridge, Momotaro, and more. This is just my list and I hope you get something out of it, especially if you are newer to raw denim.
10. Stevenson Overall Co
I really love Stevenson as a company overall. Interestingly, their jeans are what I care about the least, but they’re still amazing. First of all, they’re unique, which is difficult to do in the denim world. Their main line of jeans which all have 7 in the beginning of the model have unique features such as curved rear pockets, leather backed buttons, belt loops made by hand, and single needle stitching. Their other mainline models which begin with a 3 have curved front and rear pockets that are different from the other models, check patterned pocket bags, and stitching embellishments on the front and rear pockets along with many features of the 7 series models.
They use some very nice proprietary fabrics made by Kuroki Mills and the fades that the 7 series unsanforized denim achieve are seriously beautiful. There are quite a few fit options available from a true classic fit to very slim and tapered fits. The sewing quality is very high, the jeans are made with durability in mind, but still have very unique and vintage styled details. If I wasn’t such a huge fan of one of the other brands on this list, I’d probably be wearing Stevenson Overall Co jeans right now.
If I were to buy a pair of heavyweight jeans, I would definitely buy a pair of Samurais. They are quirky to say the least. Samurai jeans have some insane fabrics that include 25oz unsanforized monsters, organic cotton jeans made with cotton grown on their own private soil in Japan, and perhaps craziest of all, 100% cotton thread even on their heaviest jeans. On top of this, this brand is infamous for over-the-top branding and details including gold fly buttons, different colored arc threads, crazy patch designs, unique pocket bag and liner material, and more. All of this is possible because of another infamous aspect of Samurai which is that they do more limited editions than a microbrewery.
My biggest criticism is that in my personal experience, their construction is not quite at the same level as the rest of the brands on this list, but it’s still quite good overall. The biggest issue for many people is the all-cotton thread being used on super heavy fabrics, but to me, it’s just another of Samurai’s eccentricities that makes them who they are. At the end of the day, despite the quirkiness of a slice of life anime, nobody offers fabrics like Samurai. Their jeans have wonderful texture and character at all weights without being gimmicky like some brands and they fade beautifully. To me, the heavyweight 19, 21, 24, and 25oz jeans are their most special because they have wonderful texture and heavy weight, which is especially rare at 24 and 25oz. These jeans are not for everyone, but they have a ton of character and are very special.
I despise Tanuki’s marketing. It’s really corny and demeaning to the intelligence of denim heads. All of the fake intrigue and ‘industry experts’ garbage is annoying and if the public knew who was actually behind Tanuki, they would be severely disappointed. With that said, Tanuki’s jeans are pretty great. They have an impressive range of fabrics already despite their young age and of course they focus on unsanforized denim with a lot of character. Their denims are very detailed and have a lot of character up close, but aren’t overly textured just for the sake of texture or too gimmicky.
While not an objective measure of quality, I am impressed by Tanuki’s cuts. They are too slim for me, but they are some of, if not my very favorite slim cuts that I have seen, having high enough rises and generous enough thighs while still tapering as much as most people want. As with most of the rest of the entries on this list, construction is top notch with excellent details and thread color/size variation. Tanuki may be new and their marketing may be pretentious and misleading, but their jeans are still incredible.
7. Studio D’artisan
Studio D’artisan is another brand on this list where I prefer their t shirts and sweatshirts to their denim. Still, they have a pretty impressive range of jeans available. In fact they have a positively dizzying array of denim fabrics available. Everything from fairly standard-looking unsanforized denim to Memphis and Zimbabwe cotton blends, Suvin gold cotton denim, denim from rare G3 looms, unique colored wefts such as kakishibu, and even hank-dyed natural indigo jeans are available all from Studio D’artisan.
They also have excellent construction overall with great vintage details. They use a wide range of colors and appropriate thread sizes on their jeans. Additionally, SDA has a lot of fun details on some of their jeans, especially their special editions such as their Champloo jeans. These are far from gimmicks, however as the real reason SDA is on this list is because of their excellent range of extremely high quality fabrics and high quality construction.
6. The Flat Head
The Flat Head’s future is in doubt. As of now, it seems the brand will no longer truly exist as it once did, but I just have to put it and its sister brand Real Japan Blues (RJB) on this list because their jeans are just that good. Several years ago, The Flat Head was the pair of jeans to have in the raw denim world. To my experienced eyes, no brand has balanced character and subtlety as well as The Flat Head/RJB. The brilliance of their fabric is that they don’t really look too insane when brand new, but the character really jumps to life once they start fading. They tend to fade fast, which is another hallmark of The Flat Head 30xx denim.
Specifically, Flat Head denim is known for quick, vertical fading and it really does deliver on this aspect. It has beautiful texture when worn that really must be seen in person to be fully appreciated. I know this doesn’t mean much, but it really is a fabric with beauty that is impossible to describe. The colors, the texture, everything is just right and in my opinion, Flat Head and RJB denims age more beautifully than anything else I have ever seen. The construction is also top notch in terms of stitch quality with a lot of nice custom details and a fairly wide variety of fits if you don’t stick to western retailers. These jeans may not be easy to find anymore, but I would grab some now before they are gone for good.
5. Pure Blue Japan
I am not actually a huge fan of PBJ personally. Their jeans are wonderful and have a tone of character, but their fabrics do sometimes venture into the gimmicky category, though definitely not to the degree of many brands not mentioned here. Still, Pure Blue Japan aka Syoaiya is on this list and fairly high on the list for that matter. Their construction is overall very good, though in my experience, not as jaw dropping as most of the brands on this list. The reason they are here is because of their incredible fabrics. Texture is off the charts on these jeans and the fades are extremely unique as a result. They have a high amount of slub and nep depending on the fabric, making their fades highly revered by denim heads.
They have a pretty good variety of fits and weights, ranging from very light all the way to 24oz unsanforized at times, though they tend to stick to 13-19oz. They have a lot of crazy colored wefts that some love, but I find to be too much, but even if I don’t like them, I have to admit that they are extremely well done. In fact, I would say that Pure Blue Japan is the poster child for why most people who love unsanforized Japanese jeans love them so much- over the top, but well executed. Their most beautiful fabric in my opinion is their natural indigo hank dyed denim that costs over $500, but looks like rain in fabric form and unlike the rest of their jeans, essentially doesn’t fade. PBJ fabrics are often quite loud, but nobody can deny that they do volume well.
4. Conner’s Sewing Factory
See? I told you that I was at least trying to be somewhat objective with this list. My favorite denim-maker by a parsec is only at the number 4 spot. Still, this is pretty high considering how many denim brands there are so why is CSF so high? Quite simply, it’s because owner Yoshiaki Konaka makes the best 1940s Levi’s reproduction jeans and jackets in the world. Even Levis themselves can’t reproduce their own jeans as well as this car enthusiast from Japan. The high end line, called the S Series is made entirely by Konaka-San himself in his workshop with a devotion to detail that would probably even make Stanley Kubrick look twice.
Konaka-San has experienced and owns an extensive collection of original Levi’s jeans (many of which are in deadstock form) to replicate. He only uses period correct sewing machines, all cotton thread from the US, proprietary denim fabrics from Japan that correctly change depending on the exact model, and even the exact right placement of tabs, buttons, and more. He even sews using the same methods and practices as they did in the 1940s. Essentially, Conners Sewing Factory isn’t just making reproductions of 1940s jeans. He is making 1940s jeans today. Of course, this means the jeans are far from perfect. They are the Alfa Romeo of jeans- beautiful and oozing with character that nothing else has, but they have the quirks to go along with it. Still, if you want the most authentic product without shelling out for actual vintage, this is the best there is. He has stopped taking orders for the time being in order to catch up on his year-long waiting list, but you will still be able to buy his jeans at stores and he will likely not keep orders closed forever.
I hesitated to put Viapiana on this list at all because custom jeans are sort of an anomaly in the denim world. People seem to love the brand identities that denim companies cultivate, but simultaneously, many are frustrated that no brand provides exactly what they want. This is why Ben Viapiana and his one man operation are on this list and on it so high. He can make you anything you want and I mean just about anything you can imagine. What’s more is that he can do it in any size and any fit and he will make it extremely well. Just look at his Instagram feed and you can see his versatility. He may not have a signature style or a proprietary fabric that everyone identifies him with, but he has some clout to the point where he got some of that previously-mentioned Pure Blue Japan natural indigo hank-dyed fabric.
Ben didn’t get this through some grey market or anything like that either. They sent it to him because they were impressed with his work. He’s also friends with Konaka-San of Conners Sewing Factory. This demonstrates that he is not just respected by customers, but also respected by other denim brands and makers. His construction isn’t at the same psychotically neat level as the final two members of this list which is why he is at number 3 and not number 1, but it’s still incredibly excellent and consistent. Importantly though, he definitely offers what nobody else on this list or perhaps any other denim maker can. His skill is that he has the ability to make so many different products all at a level that rivals the best denim companies in quality. He made me chinos, red denim jeans, and Harris Tweed trousers all equally well. If that isn’t impressive, then I guess neither is the fact Saquon Barkley lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage as a rookie while playing for one of the worst teams with arguably the worst offensive line in the league.
Here’s a confession- I don’t love Roy’s jeans. I wanted to love them. I was supposed to love them. Everyone told me I would love them. I even told myself that I loved them when I first got them. Alas, I don’t actually love them and my two pairs are either sold or up for sale with only my all ducks that I got for a pittance and my baja shirt remain. So if I don’t love Roy’s jeans, why is he this high on the list? It’s because I understand the different between preference and objective quality and I cannot deny that at one time, Roy made the objectively best-sewn jeans on the planet. Now, some people say his jeans are the best jeans in the world full stop and I don’t think that’s true.
As cool as it is that he had the clout to get Cone Mills to make him a proprietary fabric, the denim is not objectively the best in the world. No denim is. His details are very well thought out and beautifully executed, but different pocket shapes, linings, and superfluous details are not objectively better than each other, they are just different. Still, his jeans absolutely have their own signature details that are distinctly Roy even though he goes through interesting cycles of different fits. The reason Roy is this high on the list is because of how incredible his sewing skills are. My old Big Bro II jeans are easily the best sewn jeans that I have ever seen and only one brand even comes close. The reason Roy is not number one is because his jeans have gotten slightly worse objectively recently. The jeans I have seen and owned from him in the past couple of years are still amazingly well constructed, but they are not at the same level as his older pairs. Still, his jeans are incredibly special and even if I don’t love them enough to keep them, I am so glad that I experienced the sewing perfection of Roy Slaper.*
1. Ooe Yofukuten
While Roy’s jeans have gotten slightly worse recently, Ooe Yofukuten’s jeans have gotten better. From what I have seen, Hiro is now the best denim sewer in the world right now, even above Roy. She isn’t at the level of Roy at his best, but she’s darn close. Of course, she is one half of the team along with her husband, Ryo who does the patterning and cutting while she does the sewing. They have made a nice niche for themselves as being reproduction-style, but with higher quality sewing. The husband and wife brand makes everything from 1960s-style Levi’s jeans to 1870s overalls and everything in between and all are done at the highest level.
Fabrics from them are also pretty special. They get some great duck and twist denim fabrics for some of their more unique projects, but their proprietary indigo denims are quite nice as well, especially with unique features such as their timewash feature, which makes the jeans look like older deadstock denim. They are vintage fabrics in flavor with nice texture and fades, while still being fairly subtle. Still, you won’t ever mistake them for sanforized jeans and close inspection will show how dense and neat the sewing is. I owned a pair of OA jeans in the past and while I don’t own a pair now, I knew they were number one before I even started this list and me not currently having a pair will likely change in the near future.
That’s the list! As I said before, It’s not 100% objective. No human can do that, but nobody can deny the quality of these brands overall. I am sure that everyone will have a different list and that’s totally fine. As with the leather jacket list, it gets more easily discernable near the top. Conner’s Sewing Factory is the best reproduction denim brand, Viapiana is the best custom maker, and Ooe Yofukuten and Roy are the two best in terms of sewing quality. If you value fabric more, then maybe you would consider a brand like PBJ to be the best and that’s fine.
If you are denim expert, you’re likely reading this for the same reason I read Indigoshrimp’s reviews of belts that I’m never going to buy and not because you’re looking for my advice. If you are newer to denim, I will say that none of these are beginner brands, but if you want to dive head first into denim, these are my top recommendations. If you take everything together, I don’t think there is one single best denim brand. I am also not the biggest denim expert in the world. I care more about leather jackets and boots than I care about denim. If you really want to learn more about high quality raw denim, you should go read Superdenim and Denimbro for more information. There are many people on those forums who know more about denim than I probably ever will. This list is just a starting point. The next top ten list is boots and that one will be interesting because I think that list is a lot more clear in terms of objective quality, so look forward to that.
*I’m still keeping the baja shirt and all ducks, so it’s not like I won’t have any Roy products anymore.