StyleForum member Nutcracker recently posted some beautiful photos of his visit to Edoya, Japan’s premier maker of handmade brushes. Founded in 1718 during the country’s Edo period, and named by the eighth shogun Yoshimune, Edoya started as a paintbrush manufacturer. As the Japanese lifestyle became more Westernized after the Meiji Restoration, however, the company began producing other varieties, not least of which included clothing brushes and shoes brushes designed to care for Western style clothes.
The shop itself looks very charming. Bundles of bristles are hung from the ceiling, and every corner of the shop seems to be occupied with a brush of some kind. Kitchen brushes, toothbrushes, and back scratchers are neatly displayed under some framed Japanese prints. On a glass display case, spread out for our photographer, there’s a range of shoe brushes you didn’t even know existed. Horse mane hair is used for dusting off shoes; regular horsehair and pig bristle for raising a shine; and goat hair for final polishing. There’s also a suede brush made from metal fibers so densely packed that the brush head feels almost solid when you run your finger over it.
In the past, these brushes were only bought and used by professionals, but as people became more interested in high-quality clothing and footwear, Edoya has started selling directly to consumers as well. The brushes are considerably more expensive that what you’d find elsewhere (roughly $30-50 in Japan, and double that outside of the country), but they’re uniquely made. High-quality hairs are sourced from different parts of in the world and each brush is produced by hand. For example, boar hair from Chongqing, China is used for clothing brushes because it has just the right stiffness and flexibility for removing lint and dirt. The hairs are bundled and implanted by hand into each hole of the wooden body using a “two-level fixing” technique. This allows for longer, soft bristles to come in contact with your clothes, while shorter, harder bristles surround the base of those hairs in order to give them support and ensure they don’t bend too easily.
At the moment, the only US stockist I know of is LeatherSoul. They sell the horsehair brush (Uma) for $85, the pig hair brush (Buta) for $85, and the bronze suede brush for $65. The horsehair brush has bristles that are slightly stiffer than what you’d typically find elsewhere, and the pig hair is stiffer still. Truth be told, if I were limited to just one brush, it would be horse mane, as it’s soft enough to really raise a shine. Edoya sells one, but I don’t believe they do mail orders. The Uma is nice to use in combination with a softer horse mane brush (which you can find today in almost any cobbler’s shop), but I don’t know if I’d use it alone. The bronze suede brush, however, is the true gem. Although a cheaper suede brush does just as good of a job, Edoya’s brush feels a bit nicer in the hand. An appreciated thing when you’re doing something as mundane as cleaning shoes.