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Creating Tomorrow’s Vintage Jeans at Hiroshi Kato

Travis Khachatoorian
Expertise:

Boots, Heritage Fashion, News, Journalism

Travis is an Emmy and Edward R Murrow award winning journalist with 10 years reporting experience with NBC and CBS. He's followed stories around the world: into the path of Hurricane Michael in Florida, with Alaskan dogs on the trail of The Iditarod, and in the belly of a C-130 with US Paratroopers off the coast of Australia. Travis left the news to live a less action packed life with his wife and son in Southern California, but he’s still passionate about quality reporting and heritage style boots. Read full bio.


Published: Apr 30, 2024
5 min read

In a factory in an industrial neighborhood between LAX and Compton, Nick Noguchi looked at a mood board to gather inspiration for his latest line of jeans. He’s got new washes, new fabrics, and new styles for next year’s releases, all still living in his head.

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Noguchi is the heart, soul and brains behind Los Angeles-based Kato Brand, a mens clothing company specializing in Japanese selvedge denim and vintage-inspired Americana garments. The business is a little more than a decade old but is already making a name for itself among denim-lovers.

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I wanted to meet Noguchi and learn more about his process, so I took the trip out to where Kato Brand jeans are designed and hand built. 

I walked into the factory’s winding corridors and massive halls, taking a left, a right, and maybe two more lefts (?) as I was led to Noguchi’s office. Hundreds of people worked diligently at their stations, cutting, sewing, washing, sanding and stacking tens of thousands of jeans onto pallets for distribution. 

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The noise was deafening.

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Tucked away in the corner of the facility, I arrived at the office for Kato Brand.

Inside, the factory’s sounds were much more muted, as about a dozen employees quietly typed away on computers. Racks of jeans, shirts, and pieces of fabric of varying textures and colors lined the walls. 

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Noguchi greeted me with a handshake and a slight bow. He was wearing a pair of faded indigo jeans with a single cuff at the bottom, a vintage Casio watch, and a custom indigo jean jacket. He told me you won’t find his jacket for sale anywhere because he individually designed and created it for himself.

Noguchi was welcoming, thoughtful, and spoke with a thick Japanese accent. He told me he was born in the countryside of Fukushima, but eventually moved to Tokyo for university. After graduation, he found himself working in the Japanese clothing industry for more than 20 years, running a few different brands and consulting for others.

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Noguchi’s life has had its fair share of unexpected turns, but throughout his story, he said he’s always had a passion that never left him: American vintage clothing. 

He has a robust vintage collection that he keeps in his office for inspiration, including a number of Levi’s from the 1970s, a few Japanese denim brands that I didn’t recognize, like Hysteric Glamour, and a notable pair of bright yellow corduroys Noguchi said he used to wear in his younger days. 

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At just nine years old, Noguchi began collecting denim. His first pair of coveted pants were Levi’s 501 jeans, which remain to this day among one of his favorite brands and cuts. The excitement of developing a fade on those first jeans never left him. 

“Each person creates a different fade. I respect their personal fades. All fades have different stories,” said Noguchi.

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Kato Brand launched in Los Angeles in 2013. Noguchi soon joined the company and relocated to the United States for the new job. He would lead the company in developing a brand revolving around USA-made clothing built with quality Japanese selvedge denim.

His fashion philosophy is baked into Kato: Make it timeless. Make it last. And make it comfortable.

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Noguchi gave me a whole tour of the factory floor, from start to finish.

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The factory is massive, housing more fresh jeans and new denim than I’ve ever seen in my life, but it’s not all for Kato Brand. This is a shared workspace among a handful of other garment and denim brands, including Madewell, Imogene and Willie, and MOTHER, to name a few.

“Our office is in the factory, so we can see every process in here, so we can do the quality control,” said Noguchi.

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First, Noguchi showed me where the rolls of selvedge arrived from Japan. Kato’s denim is created on vintage looms in Okayama before being shipped to the US.

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Next was the cutting room. From each roll of denim, jeans are cut to exact specifications by hand. 

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Once cut to size, the jeans were then sewn together. Final stitching was completed on old industrial sewing machines. Noguchi said each worker can complete the stitching for about three pairs of jeans per day.

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The raw denim was then sent to the washing room.

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Rows of tall laundry machines nearly ten feet tall lined the factory floor. Depending on the desired wash or fade, the jeans were piled into the washers with dyes, bleaches or pumice stones to destress the fabric.

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If the style of Kato jeans called for a specific fade, the pants were sent over to a team of workers manually sanding the top layers of the denim.

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A Dremel tool with a sliver of sandpaper on the end was used to carefully rough up pockets and edges.

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Finally the pants were sent over to the finishing department, where buttons, rivets, and patches were sewn on before packaging.

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It was clear to me that Noguchi is an expert in each part of the process. He visually inspected the jeans, from the washroom to the final riveting, to assure their quality. He pointed out fine details in production I missed on first glance that made Kato Brand clothing unique. 

“I wanted to add those vintage details so people will be able to continue to wear long time and pass down the generation,” said Noguchi.

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Kato Brand is a growing company, but Noguchi said he never wants the business to get too big. It’s the quality control and the hand-made touches from American workers that cut to the brand’s core.

That same passion for quality over quantity is what draws Noguchi to Heritage style boots as well. He has his own collection that includes White’s, Alden and Red Wing. His favorite pair right now are his Red Wing Moc Toe boots.

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At the end of my tour, Noguchi walked me back out through the bustling factory to my car in the parking lot. I could see him waving goodbye to me as I drove off. 

I’m interested to see what’s in the future for Kato Brand. The denim company has expanded to include a number of interesting garments, from fashionable oxford shirts to fatigue pants. 

Only Noguchi knows what will come next. And based on the few glimpses I saw on his mood board for his Spring 2025 line, and his commitment to making clothing the right way, I have no doubt whatever clothing he helps create will be around much longer than me.

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