The sugarcane plant thrives in Okinawa’s warm climate and is a valuable source of sugar. Bagasse is a fibrous byproduct of sugar production, which is usually just treated as waste. The Okinawan company SHIMA DENIM WORKS have found a new purpose for bagasse and is using it in the production of earth-friendly ethical denim.
A Champuru Philosophy Creating High Quality Products
In some regions, bagasse is used as a biofuel, but Mr. Gaku Tomii from SHIMA DENIM WORKS looked for alternatives, and realized there was an opportunity to create denim from it. Since their opening in the fall of 2018, SHIMA DENIM WORKS has sought to embrace sustainable development goals for a better world. Instead of promoting fast fashion, they desire to produce high quality denim products that last a lifetime, while also supporting local agriculture.
Products are “Made in Okinawa” and “Made in Japan.” They began with denim jeans, then diversified to include caps, hats and bags. They now collaborate with traditional craftsmen from Okinawa and mainland Japan, including the paper artisans of Mino City in Gifu Prefecture, and weavers in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture. Their products are created with a champuru philosophy, which means to mix in the Okinawan language. The fashion industry and its customers have come to appreciate these quality products. Mr. Tomii has seen a growing interest from a wide range of industries in the potential of bagasse and these new technologies.
Upcycle initiative from Okinawa
Mr Tomii explained that to make the best use of limited resources they must strive for the highest quality. Following ethical principles, he wants to strengthen economic commerce and spread the concept around the world. (See the company’s official website for more on their progress.)
SHIMA DENIM WORKS have begun producing order made suits and jackets, and a kariyushi wear (Okinawan dress shirt similar to Hawaiian aloha shirt) rental service named “Bagasse Upcycle”. It follows their philosophy that it is better to share products than just create more. Rather than just disposing of kariyushi wear, its life can be extended through sharing.
As a souvenir of your visit to Okinawa, you can purchase products made using sugarcane bagasse by SHIMA DENIM WORKS. Why not take home a fashionable and ethical item of clothing from Okinawa?
Posted on January 20th, 2021
Text by Kei Itaya
Magazine editor, writer, newspaper journalist in Tokyo and NYC for more than 15 years. Returned to her hometown of Okinawa in 2019.
This interview was conducted based on the guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.