Lions and tigers and bears make jeans

Lions at the Kamine Zoo in Ibaraki, Japan, chew on denim wrapped around a tire.


TOKYO -- "The Designers are Wild Animals!" said the headlines in Japan.

In a departure from the usual collection box, whimsical t-shirt or wine-and-cheese fundraiser, a struggling zoo in Ibaraki, Japan, enlisted the claws and fangs of its own large mammals in a most unusual charity campaign: The zoo's Bengal tigers, lions and brown bears were given yards of denim to maul, mutilate and manhandle -- and the tattered results were sewn into high-fashion jeans.

This week the exclusive "Zoo Jeans" -- two pairs of men's size 32, and a single pair of women's size 27 -- were sold in an online auction for a total of 350,000 yen ($3, 443). The proceeds will benefit Kamine Zoo and the World Wildlife Fund.

Almost $3,500 might seem a high price for some shredded jeans, but Aya Miyashita, a spokeswoman for the advertising firm behind the Zoo Jeans concept, I&S BBDO, said to the fashion consumer with a conscious, they're well worth the premium.

"These weren't your usual, artificially 'distressed' jeans," she noted. "The holes where the animals bit in were big, and they left scratch marks."

As for the large predators, they adapt seamlessly to their new role as clothes designers; provided their usual playthings -- tires and balls -- are wrapped in durable fabrics, like denim.

"The animals have plenty of toys," said Miyashita, "but wrapped toys were new for them, and I think they were really happy. It was a great way to burn off stress."

The material was turned into clothes by skilled craftsmen in Kurashiki, Okamoto Prefecture, Japan's "denim capital," which specializes in manufacturing small-lot, luxury jeans.

Takuji Miyamoto, an I&S planner who grew up in the Ibaraki city of Hitachi-Omiya and frequently visited Kamine Zoo as a child, was moved to lend a hand when he heard the menagerie had fallen on hard times.

The zoo has no plans for a second batch of mauled apparel, but the idea itself may yet have legs, if the scores of inquiries from abroad are any indication.

"A lot of people want to try it at their local zoos," said Miyashita.