Make Your Mark Moments: Mehervan Sethi
Founder of Okayama Denim, Mehervan Sethi is one-of-a-kind.
Following the Partition of India in 1952, his grandfather fled to Amagasaki, a city located just outside of Osaka, and started business as a fabric trader importing and exporting materials.
When the Tohoku Earthquake hit Japan in March 2011, Merv felt an overwhelming urge to help and developed the Okayama Denim Project, an initiative that saw him creating and selling bracelets made from belt loop jean fabric to raise money for the Red Cross. “I wanted to have something like a bracelet, a tangible product that anyone could wear, male or female.” With a strong focus on details, right down to the red and white stitching, the “rising sun” brass buttons and characteristic chopstick inspired packaging, Merv felt the bracelets were a great way to showcase what Japan is all about. The initiative was a success with the bracelets selling out in stores worldwide, and became a gateway introduction for Merv to Kojima’s Jean Street, an iconic precinct just outside Okayama city lined with 30+ individual denim brands. With a burning desire to share the Kojima Jean Street scene on a platform that anyone in the world can access, Okayama Denim was born.
After Launching in 2011, Merv’s Focus Has Been On Creating Loyal Communities and Redefining Tradition.
From conception to present day, Merv’s appreciation for his community is unwavering. Built on mutual respect and adoration for the craft of Japanese denim, Merv makes no mistakes labelling the devoted, responsive community that stands today as something he is most grateful for. From watching how the fabrics are made to how they fade and stitch, he indulges his audience in the local experience that he has created, and emphasizes that he owes his success to this community he shares his passion with.
As a man who challenges norms himself, it is only natural that his professional environment follow suit. From yarn selection to baseline fundamentals, Merv is constantly exercising innovation and subsequently uprooting the denim industry. Having previously dyed their fabrics with the likes of matcha and turmeric, his latest initiative is 100% hemp selvedge denim. With this project, Merv is leading a complete overhaul of traditional cotton denim, effectively re-establishing what denim is and what it can be; and with the entire world shifting in a sustainable direction, this project is the future of fashion.
He describes this level of innovation as his greatest satisfaction. Designing new products and fabrics, much like Okayama Denim’s proprietary frost denim and bamboo blends, is a way for him to encourage others to experience and see the world in different ways. By taking an iconic material and re-inventing its recipe, Merv strives to always challenge tradition and explore the creative side of life.
A Lesson on Taking Risks and Embracing Uniqueness
As a non-Japanese person in an industry established by generations of locals, Merv says it was challenging to be heard, and then to be taken seriously. In an industry where you need more than money to enter the market, creating relationships and building loyalty has taken a lot of time, energy and dedication. However, with a sincere adoration for Japanese denim, Merv has persevered with passion and patience on his side.
2019 saw substantial recognition for the years of hard work as Merv was featured in Japan’s most widely circulated English newspaper - Japan Times. Growing up as an avid reader of the publication and being admittedly different to many of his Japanese peers, the feature in Japan Times was both a positive affirmation to his journey and a nod to others who may not fit the mould in a relatively homogenous society. Merv explains that he finds Japan to be one of the greatest places on Earth, peaceful and filled with humbled people, however “if there is a younger me out there who was born and raised in Japan but is struggling to find their identity, if the article inspired even one person, then I’ve done what I had to do.”
When looking for inspiration himself, Merv turns to his love of art and architecture. In his words, he “just wants to keep making cool things that people will love.” With Nathan Spoor, one of Merv’s favourite LA artists, working with Okayama Denim on the company’s branding, Merv surrounds himself with people he respects and admires. He also mentions iconic architects who have been a source of inspiration for him over the years: Ando Tadao and Kengo Kuma, as well as Virgil Abloh, the Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton menswear who is an architect by trade. Having studied economics at University, Merv is not discouraged by his alternate education, and instead appreciates the value in his diverse knowledge. “People that studied and trained in those trades are incredibly intelligent and very inspirational and we can all find inspiration from places like that.”
How do you #MakeYourMark?
Merv keeps his answer simple: staying unique and creative.
In both his personal and professional life, Merv strives to keep things light-hearted but deeply intriguing by continuing to push boundaries and venture towards the paths less taken. Career-wise, this has translated to the question: Can he take the traditions of organic denim and create a new world of opportunity with alternative fabrics?
Reception of his innovation is a symbol of his Mark. “Whoever gets our product, if they appreciate it and they put it on the gram, or they post on our website with a great review, then that’s all we’re doing it for. That’s the whole point of this.”