In fashion retail, change is in the air — and denim is no exception. But change is good, and as a result, denim has segued into new fashion products, transitioning from basic blue jeans to impressive and contemporary denim looks that underscore a resurgence of creative and experimental design talent in the market.
Albeit, jeans are a growing segment: 42 percent more product is in stock so far this quarter at key U.S. and U.K. retailers compared to the same quarter last year, according to data from Edited. And, of course, prices have shifted accordingly. Women’s jeans are up 10 percent, at $165.44 per pair and men’s up 28 percent, at $210.86 per pair. The cuts leading top trends include cropped lengths, ripped and long-loved skinny jeans, which are representative of 58 percent of the assortment.
Denim’s resurgence is partly due to consumers’ waning interest in athleisure, particularly in the U.S. Retail analysis and insights director at Edited, Katie Smith, told WWD, “U.S. denim is going through a huge amount of change. Not only are consumers returning to the category after a few years firmly in athleisure’s court, but there are also shifts in the U.S. brand space, like Wrangler and Lee spinning off from VF Corp. All of which means the denim category needs to get innovative fast.” She added, “Globally, denim is growing quickly and much of that is thanks to the proliferation of streetwear, which has toughened the aesthetic casual-dressing away from the fluid lines of athleisure. Overall, we’re seeing a return to oversize silhouettes, chunky footwear and heavier fabrics, including denim.”
U.S. apparel brands such as Reformation, American Giant and Outerknown have all entered the denim market within the last year, signaling that the demand and potential for denim is tangible. And the premium denim market is poised for more growth, as its already grown 11.7 percent so far this September across denim styles available in the U.S. premium market. Smith told WWD, “This reflects a consumer divergence currently underway, with a group of consumers shifting away from throwaway fast fashion. Instead, this set of consumers are embracing longer-lasting, more-sustainably made apparel products that define the consumers’ unique styles and taste levels.”
Smith added that 1990s trends have “put a huge focus on the denim category” and fueled a significant portion of the staggering 101 percent growth in the past two years for denim outerwear, another emerging trend. Checkerboard, leopard and snake prints have recently been featured in matching denim skirt and jacket sets, and shoppers will also see creatively cut denim dresses for fall and spring 2019, according to authors of the Edited report.
Tricia Carey, director of global business development for denim at Lenzing, told WWD, “The denim market is seeing an uptick as there are more fashion styles appealing to consumers in truckers, shirts and dresses. Heading into fall we see basics, like the skinny jean, with cleaner finishes. There are some great marketing campaigns around soft denim from Mavi Jeans, DL 1961 and The Gap. We continue to see some excellent product execution in mass market price point, especially with the new Target brand, Universal Thread.”
And heritage brands are undoubtedly shifting their focus on sustainability, which plays a central role in consumers’ reignited interest in denim. Companies such as Closed, based in Europe, recently introduced its new eco-friendly denim line “A Better Blue,” in eight different styles and several washes. “A Better Blue,” in partnership Candiani, implemented Candiani’s patented technology based on a natural polymer found in shrimp shells that drastically reduces water usage. The company’s streamlined jean production is “now cleaner and more sustainable,” according to the brand, due to ecological washing and dyeing methods that save water, energy and use fewer chemicals. Forty percent of the cotton sourced for “A Better Blue” hails from sustainably cultivated cotton farms.
Or, on the domestic front, L.A.-based heritage brands such as AG Jeans, a vertically integrated denim manufacturer, regularly updates and invests in new technologies to streamline efficiencies throughout its manufacturing facilities, including the use of heat-saving equipment that recycles heat generated from commercial dryers. This results in a reduction of laundry energy consumption by as much as 46 percent, according to the company. And Guess Jeans upped its sustainability efforts through its “Guess Sustainability Plan”: The company said it is focused on “transparency, our determination to provide an open and honest account of our sustainability journey,” and “our purpose, [that] we stay true to the Guess brand and vision of creating a positive impact in the world through the products we sell and the organizations and people we work with.”
Also of note is the launch of Wrangler’s foam-dyeing process, described by director of sustainability at Wrangler, Roian Atwood: “Over the past few decades, the denim industry has been incrementally moving toward sustainability. Small innovations like efficiency improvements of dye chemistry or reductions in the toxicity of the dye process, when taken together have a huge impact and, at Wrangler, we’re proud the denim industry is the most sustainable it has ever been. The foam-dyeing process, however, is not one of those incremental advancements. It’s a revolution in dye technology, one that fundamentally changes the way indigo is applied to yarn and in the process, it saves thousands of liters of water. Wrangler is excited to be the first denim brand with a foam-dyed indigo collection, but we don’t expect to be the only one. We look forward to a day when most denim is dyed with foam.”
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