By  on May 30, 2018

PARIS — Denim is at a turning point. That was the key takeaway from the recent Denim Première Vision trade show here with its new fashion-forward focus aimed at a broader diversity of buyers and designers.“It’s about repositioning denim within fashion,” said Première Vision fashion director Pascaline Wilhelm. “Denim was self-sufficient for so many years, but today it is part of fashion, and this is opening up new development opportunities.”The two-day show partnered with designer Lutz Huelle to showcase bridges between high fashion and denim, with installations featuring Huelle’s designs as well as innovative fabrics and finished products from exhibitors. “Denim is changing, it’s in all the collections,” Huelle told WWD. “It has enormous potential.”“The aim is to offer a denim that’s more democratic, more fashion-focused,” agreed Denim Première Vision director Guglielmo Olearo. “What’s great about denim is that it’s a democratic product, for all sorts of brands and every positioning,” he said.Held at the Parc Floral de Paris, the edition was the first step in a new strategy that will see Denim Première Vision traveling to a new city every other session, alternating with different Paris locations. The show attracted 1,400 visitors, down from 2,000 in May 2017.Turkish mill Kilim Denim’s sales executive Olgun Oral questioned the show’s relevance in today’s market, and observed that several key mills were absent at the show, which welcomed 73 exhibitors compared to 84 a year ago. “If we cannot take all the strong mills to the shows, the brands will not come here,” he said. “I see less people, less energy. The last Kingpins in April was really good. Maybe Europe can’t handle two shows.”Generally, exhibitors said the denim market is on an uptick this year. “It’s a decent year for denim,” said Barry Emmanuel, president of pocketing specialist Copen, whose main customers include retailers like Inditex and H&M. “A lot of it has to do with technical fabrics, sustainability and laser technology,” he continued. Among the company’s latest developments is RFID pocketing that blocks off information from credit cards and mobile phones, preventing fraud.While traffic on the show floor was slow, designers and buyers praised the innovation on offer and exhibitors’ increasing investment in sustainability.“Generally speaking, we work with a lot of more well-known Japanese mills, but it was good for us to see what other mills are working on in terms of innovation,” said a designer for one high-end American brand. “In the past, they weren’t really working on innovation, the rest of the world is really upping their game.”Among innovations and trends on show, particularly strong were rough cotton fake furs, padded and origami-like fabrics, needle punch denims and high-shine. “Our exhibitors have really played the game,” Wilhelm said. For fall 2019, she anticipates that denim trends will be cleaner than in recent seasons, with less stressed effects and softer lines, although ath-leisure developments and streetwear influences continued to be strong, too.Kelly Harrington, a U.K.-based Instagram influencer, denim collector and designer for H&M, was particularly impressed with some of the innovative fluffy denims on show from mills like Pakistan’s Soorty. “At the moment, people are wanting to have that craft feeling, that’s something we might see more of,” she observed. “I liked the section about furry denim, it’s quite creative and a little bit crazy,” she continued, saying she was also looking out for denim/linen blends at the show.Craft fabrics were also top of the list for French rapper Orelsan, who with business partner Sébastian Strappazzon created the Avnier high-end streetwear label four years ago. “We’re extremely interested in Made in France, new fabrics and new means of production,” said the musician, praising the offer at France-based Velcorex, which specializes in corduroy and is working to bring large-scale sustainable linen production back to France.Velcorex managing director Pierre Schmitt bemoaned the slow footfall, but said business is good, generally. “Corduroy is to a certain extent replacing denim culture, our challenge is to bring it into the fashion world,” he said. “There are new generations who don’t have the 'grandad' references, and they are taking it on board, playing with new lighter-weight wide corduroy in bright colors,” added the firm’s area manager Christophe Bitton.Sustainability, meanwhile, is consistently the number-one priority for denim buyers today, exhibitors said. “Denim is at a point where sustainability is now profitable,” said Marina Coutelan, Première Vision product manager in charge of the new Smart section of the show, focused on innovation in sustainability. “It’s an industry that has seen so much criticism. The mills just don’t have a choice anymore. In three years’ time, at least half of products will be organic or sustainable.”“The focus on sustainability is key. It’s the most important thing in the denim industry, it’s one of the filthiest things in apparel, one of the hugest impacts on the garment industry as a whole,” said a U.S. designer on condition of anonymity.Demand for sustainable products is strongest among pre-consumer recycled content and organic cotton, she said, with several exhibitors highlighting their developments in these areas. Less intensive surface treatments and environmentally friendly dyes were also a recurrent theme. Pakistan-based mill Soorty, for example, was highlighting its Black Forever sustainable dye and Herbal Blue, a natural indigo dye created using a zero water process.“Business is really good, because we are getting a lot of new customers, it’s quite easy to attract the customer,” said Soorty’s manager of product development and design Umer Tahir Rana, notably thanks to the firm’s innovation in sustainability. Later this year, Soorty will bring its new LEED-certified plant in Karachi online.Pakistan-based Rajby will also open LEED-certified mill next year, is shifting toward renewable energy at existing facilities, and is working on reducing water use with its latest dying techniques. “Right now, the customer is asking for sustainable products,” said Rajby’s senior research and development manager Mian Sajeel Sohail. “But customers are unfortunately becoming a lot more price conscious. The economy in Europe is not growing that much, they just want us to produce cheap goods. It’s very important that we conserve out ethics,” he said. In order to do so, the firm is working to implement more automation, improve efficiency and reduce labor costs. “The industry is growing every year, so we don’t have to fire anyone, we reallocate,” he continued.Wing Chan, sales manager of China-based Advance Denim said last year’s tightening up of environmental regulations in China had forced many mills that did not conform to close down. “It’s good for the market, it’s less competitive,” he said, although pressure on prices remains strong. Advance Denim highlighted its new Freecross fiber, a lightweight bi-stretch fabric that does not shrink or lose its denim character over time.In other markets, however, competition between mills is higher than ever, several exhibitors said. “Because there are a lot of new mills, especially from India, Pakistan and the Far East, it’s really difficult,” said Kilim Denim’s Oral. “The prices are going down so we feel the pressure.”

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