CH Japan: Indigo Dyeing Leather + Cotton

From the Tokushima farm of Yoshiharu Toyama to the vats of dye master Naoyuki Asai in Kyoto

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Many people don’t know where natural indigo comes from or realize how few indigo farms are left in Japan—only five in Tokushima, the country’s traditional indigo farming region. Indigo is a green plant that has a higher percentage of blue than other green plants (though most have some). Traditional indigo dye in Japan is made from sukumo, which is what the harvested and fermented indigo plant turns into; it’s a crumbly, blueish dried substance that is then mixed with lye and other ingredients to create the beloved Awa-Ai indigo dye that items eventually get dipped in.

We had the opportunity to visit one of these farms, the Toyama family farm, run by Yoshiharu Toyama and his son Hirofumi. During our visit, they were planting their crop in the spring. The resulting sukumo, obviously limited in quantity, is some of the most coveted in Japan.

One brand that we admire loves sukumo so much they have named their company after it. SUKUMO Leather, run by Makoto Horii, offers whole hides and a range of finished indigo-dyed leather products. The hides are first tanned at the Yamakuni tannery in Himeji by master tanner Hidekazu Sakamoto. Master indigo dyer Naoyuki Asai, in Kyoto, then dyes the hides in unique and spectacular ways, from shibori to unique patterns created by tools that he’s created.

Our CH Japan guests had the honor of meeting Asai-san, where they were able to learn about the process and his work. Then they were able to get hands on with the master to dye their own items—from jeans to sneakers to all types of shirts and fabrics. Our guests got their hands into magical vats of the bluest indigo we’ve ever seen. It was an experience that activated so many senses at once and created lasting memories.

Images by Josh Rubin