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Japanese Brand Develops Deer Hair-Blended Denim Fabric

A Japanese denim brand has developed a method for creating denim enhanced with hair from culled yezo sika deer.

A report from Tokyo-based news agency Kyodo News followed the story of Kunihide Iwamatsu, a hunter and dairy farmer from Hokkaido, Japan tasked with controlling the yezo sika deer population in his community. Rather than waste the deer hides, he tapped Hiroshi Oikawa, owner of Japanese denim label Oikawa Denim, to put the hair to sartorial use. The denim brand, which produces men’s jeans and accessories meant to withstand the changing fashion cycles, was able to produce a product with the fiber.

According to the report, Oikawa experimented with different methods for weaving the fiber into denim while maintaining a soft handfeel, and landed on a process of covering bundles of the hair with thread. The result was a smooth, heat-retaining denim fabric with breathable properties.

Animal-derived products such as wool are sometimes used in denim to achieve a heavier fabric that can help the wearer withstand harsh weather conditions. Isko and Raymond UCO Denim Pvt Ltd are just some of the mills working with wool-blended denim for its thermoregulating qualities and moisture and odor resistance.

Despite the benefits, animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) remains committed to persuading brands to drop animal-derived products. The organization has long been an outspoken critic of brands such as Levi’s, which continues to use leather back patches in its jeans. In response to Levi’s latest animal welfare guidelines, the organization submitted a shareholder resolution asking the company to commission a report on the slaughter methods used to procure leather so the organization could determine whether or not they actually measure up to the brand’s new standards.

Still, other brands are stepping further away from their use of animal-based materials. Kering, which owns Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and other luxury labels, recently announced it will become fur-free beginning in Fall 2022. The fashion conglomerate joins a number of peers that have made similar pledges, such as Prada, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Tory Burch.

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Though previously on the verge of extinction, yezo sika deer are now considered to be a major source of agriculture crop damage: According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, a Japanese Forestry agency, the animal caused $46 million (5.3 billion yen) in losses in 2019.

“The increase of yezo sika deer is said to be linked to global warming,” Oikawa told the publication. “I hope people think about animal damage and environmental issues when wearing these jeans.”