Roberto Cherchi is an Italian who lives in Japan and sews jeans in the world's most radical hand-made way using just a needle and thread. No machines and no compromises, just meditative manual labor day in and day out. Why he chose this way? Read in our interview.
Roberto Cherchi is an Italian who lives in Japan and sews jeans in the world's most radical hand-made way using just a needle and thread. No machines and no compromises, just meditative manual labor day in and day out. Why he chose this way? Read in our interview.
You're Italian living in Japan. Tell us about your background before moving to Japan. Any last memories of Italy and living there?
I moved to Japan in 2007, after completing my education in Italy. I studied art in high school, and in the last year I started developing a profound interest in Japanese culture, especially literature, and art. I also loved watching Japanese movies from the classic era. I was lucky because the Italian national tv often broadcasted very rare Japanese movies late at night. So, I decided to study Japanese at university, and I moved to Venice, where there is an important department of East Asian studies. I specialized in Japanese art, and my final essay was about Japanese cinema. I spent six years in Venice. It is of course one of the most beautiful city on earth, and every time I go back to Italy I try to spend at least a few nights there.
When you moved to Japan, how was it? Which things impressed you the most?
Since I studied Japanese language and culture at university, I was well prepared, and I didn't have problems in getting used to live in the country. Japan is also a very well organized country, a clean and safe place to visit and to live in. Probably the thing that shocked me the most was the summer heat: it is so hot and humid compared to my hometown, and in my first summer here I thought I would lose my mind.
Tell us about the area you currently live in. Any features?
Since the beginning, I have been living in Fukuoka, which is the biggest city in the Kyushu island, the southernmost of the four main islands of the Japanese archipelago. It is a big city with a vibrant merchant culture. It is also a very well known place for food.
Remember the time that you started to be interested in vintage clothing or sewing? How was it?
One of my friends is a fashion designer and he owns the brand "Fujito". When I had the opportunity to work part-time for him, I came in contact with a new universe made of vintage American working clothes, and hand made traditional Italian bespoke tailoring. I already had a passion for hand craft. I studied art, but I have never considered a career as an artist. In fact, I have always preferred the humility of the artisans to the egocentrism of the artists. In my opinion, modern and contemporary artists are more interested in showing their massive ego than creating art works. When I came in contact with traditional Italian tailoring, its beautifully handcrafted details, I fell in love, and I started studying tailoring books, reading every website and blog about bespoke tailoring on internet. I also looked for used garments in the second hand shops.

The more I became familiar with bespoke cloths, the more I found horrible and cheap the average off the rack suits or the major designer brands clothing. But since I could not afford a bespoke suit, the only way was to make it myself. I started with a pair of trousers: I copied the pattern from I pair I had and I started sewing them piece by piece. I made of course a lot of mistakes, but I also learnt from them. I was sewing by hand from the start: I did not want to buy a sewing machine, and I did not even have the space for it in my super small Japanese apartment.

After the first pair of trousers, I started another one. Then a suit, then another one, and so on. When I could not figure out how to make something, I checked on internet or I asked to some old retired tailors in town.

I also started an Instagram account (@kerukism) about my hobby, that I called "a sartorial diary". I received many compliments, and that was a big help in going on with my passion.
How did you come up with the idea to start sewn "hand-made" jeans in such a radical way? What was the reaction of your friends when you shared that idea?
My first and biggest passion was classic tailoring, but I also liked jeans, vintage workwear and military garments. I started modifying, repairing, and embroidering some pairs of jeans that I owned, and since I was already hand sewing trousers and jackets, for me it was very natural to hand sewing jeans too. Then, people following my Instagram account started asking me to make a bespoke suit for them. But since I didn't have the training nor the experience to make such thing for someone else than me, I always declined. Making a bespoke suits for a customer requires a lot of technique and experience that I certainly did not have. But I thought that maybe, I could make a jean, which is a far far more simple piece of garment compared to a wool trousers.
Remember Keruk's first time. Which things were most difficult for you? Which details of jeans were especially hard to do?
The first complete jean I made was a pair for myself. I chose a 14 ounces fabric from a well known Japanese mill. I drew a pattern based on a vintage pair I owned, and I just started sewing.

You know, when you sew wool by hand it is very important not putting strength in the stitches: you must apply a force just enough to close the stitches and to make the thread briefly run through the needle's eye. Soon I realized that stitching such a thick fabric was a completely different way of sewing: I just had to put strength in every stitch, otherwise the seams would have become loose after few minutes of wearing. But after a few hours of work, I realized that my middle finger couldn't bear the stress applied by my usual brass thimble. I struggled with the pain for several days, but the edges of the thimble just seemed they wanted to carve my phalanx! I tried different types of thimble I found in the shops, but none of them was good. Eventually I tried to make one by myself: I cut a 35 x 80 mm piece of thick leather; I folded it lengthwise, and I stitched the sides together. This rudimental leather thimble turned out to be just perfect, and it is now the most essential tool I have for hand stitching my jeans.
It seems that your sewing needs more than a time, it also needs a lot of perseverance. Your process is kinda meditated. What effect does this process have on you?
It is indeed a very long process. It takes me between 70 and 80 hours to complete one jean, depending on the size. It seems like a huge mountain to climb, but step by step, you gain elevation, and eventually you'll reach the summit. I am not scared by the long hours of work needed to make one pair. I actually enjoy immersing myself into stitching, I find it quite relaxing. Measuring, drawing patterns, cutting, those tasks aren't my favorite. Going on stitching is the best part for me.
Why don't you do sashiko / boro stuff? It seems that these traditional sewing methods are really close to your style, or not?
I actually did a good amount of sashiko years ago, before starting making jeans. I did on traditional furoshiki, and on my own jeans too. I would love to make sashiko on Keruk jeans, but at the moment I don't have time to do those kind of side project. If I had to repair a Keruk jeans, I would definitely use the sashiko technique.
Based on your own experience and mistakes, share a few pieces of advice to some hand-stitch enthusiasts?
As I told you before, make your own thimble! It is just essential.

Also, starting from repairing your own jeans is a very good training.
Who's your clients?
Usually they are passionate about denim, sometimes collectors, looking for something unique. I thought that most of my direct clients were a bit crazy, since they ordered a very expensive pair of jeans that they have never seen in flesh, never tried, from someone who they have never met, who lives thousands of kilometers away! So far I always received very good feedback. Some of them send me pictures of their Keruk jeans, after months of wearing, and that makes me feel very proud of the work I did. Strength and durability of my jeans are my main goal.
How do you run Keruk now? Has it become your regular job or it's just a hobby?
At the moment, jeans making is my second job. During the day, I work in an office, and at night and in my day-offs I make jeans. I usually work 3 to 4 hours every night. Considering the increasing number of orders I am receiving, it is a bit hard to keep the pace, and sometimes I feel very tired. Working in an office and tailoring are both extremely sedentary jobs, not very healthy and potentially bad for the posture. I try to balance that, doing as much sport as I can, which also benefits mental health. I just wish my days were made of 50 hours!
Not so long ago you sewed a leather jacket in the same radical way as usual. Would you like to do something absolutely new again?
Stitching heavy denim is quite similar to leather works, so I found it natural to dedicate some time to making some leather garments. I love vintage sport jackets, and biker jackets in horse hide, and I have always wanted to make one. I really enjoyed making that jacket. After so many jeans, making a something different was a breath of fresh air. It was very challenging, and I did a couple of mistakes during the process so that I had to do the same parts again: not very pleasant when it takes so much time!

At least once a year I would like to dedicate one month of work to a side project. In 2022 I made a leather jacket, in 2023 I want to make my personal version of another legendary piece of vintage workwear: it is going to be in denim, and it is going to have sleeves...

Keruk jeans official site

Grade Moscow
3 May, 2023