Blue in Green co-owners Gordon Heffner and Yuji Fukushima are spreading the word on Japanese denim.
When raw Japanese denim doesn’t come to you, you go to the raw denim. And then bring it back to the U.S. for everyone else to enjoy. Or at least that was the case for Gordon Heffner and Yuji Fukushima, co-owners of the New York City denim boutique Blue in Green.
After being introduced by a mutual friend and discovering their shared love of fashion—more specifically, Japanese selvedge denim—and music (Blue in Green gets its name from a Miles Davis song), the pair teamed up to open their own retail space in 2006. But when it came to the styles they wanted to sell, they quickly faced an issue: The craftsman-quality, loom-state-style denim they loved so much could only be found in Japan. So off to Japan they went.
In the early days, Blue in Green stocked its 900-square-foot store with denim from a handful of small-scale Japanese brands like Samurai and Studio D’Artisan, which Heffner would bring back in suitcases from his frequent trips to Japan. “When we decided to bring these brands over, we weren’t sure if it was going to work or not, because we didn’t know what people knew about Japanese denim and it was a lot of money for jeans compared to the average U.S. denim prices,” Heffner said.
But with demand growing from selvedge-curious customers, business rapidly ramped up and the number of brands Blue in Green stocked skyrocketed. “We started the store in April and by October, we had tripled the amount of brands we had,” Heffner said. “Every time we made an order, we’d just double and triple up.”
In a matter of months, Blue in Green became the destination for Japanese denim in America, acting as the first-ever store outside of Asia to stock the product in a retail setting. It also became many budding brands’ first point of distribution in America, helping them break into a competitive market and reach the denim heads who craved their premium product—thanks in part to Blue in Green.
“There wasn’t much of a denim scene—as far as the Japanese stuff—going on before we opened the store. A very small part of the population knew about it,” Heffner says. “But then people started to get into the backstory of the product. They wanted to know where it was made, how it was made and the artisanal craftsmanship part of it.”
In the 12 years since Blue in Green first launched, the boutique has experienced quite a shift, doubling in size and bringing in more non-denim products like soft goods, outerwear and footwear. Of the 80 brands Blue in Green stocks, just 20 are denim. “Quantity wise, it’s still the biggest part of the store,” Heffner says of the denim from designers like Pure Blue Japan, Oni Denim and Momotaro Jeans. “It’s just that we want to be able to tell the full story of how you can wear denim.”
The retailer also wants to continue supporting its Japanese denim partners—who it works with closely to hone, improve and update designs—while also growing the demand for selvedge denim and the increasing community of shoppers who love it. “I’ve had so many guys that own denim brands who have come to the store and said, ‘I used to be a customer and I started my own brand,’ or, ‘I used to be a customer and I started my own store,’” Heffner says. “I can definitely see our influence firsthand.”
What is your first denim memory?
“From a young age, I was always wearing denim, whether it was cutoff denim shorts in the summertime or denim to school. It was sort of my uniform.” –Gordon
What is your favorite pair of jeans?
“We’re the ones who brought a lot of these guys to the U.S. and broke them into the market. To pick just one is hard, because we’re partners with everybody and we have a really close relationship with all these guys. I wear a different pair every year from a different manufacturer, so I have about 12 or 13 different pairs I’ve worn.” –Gordon