As emerging denim trends point to post-ath-leisure styles and performance fabrics, industry experts such as Amy Leverton, the owner of Los Angeles-based consultancy firm Denim Dudes, explains the “why” behind current consumer preferences.
Leverton is a consultant for specialist denim and fiber mills, manufacturers, laundries and brands. She began her career at Oki-ni, a British collaborative company, where she worked with denim brands such as Lee and Evisu. Later, Leverton transitioned to trend forecasting and consultancy, which included working for WGSN and Stylesight. When the two companies merged in 2014, Leverton took on a new role as the denim and youth department head. In 2015 she released “Denim Dudes,” a book that highlights “inspirational men in denim” across 15 cities.
Here, Leverton talks to WWD about the current state of the denim market, upcoming denim trends and the power of the consumer.
WWD: What are the market demands in denim?
Amy Leverton: The market has shifted a lot recently and there has been a strong push toward transparency in recent years. The heritage movement that started 10 years ago in the men’s sector has helped to educate today’s consumer and encourage them to ask questions about where things are made, by whom and how. Of course we’d already started seeing that happen with mills such as Cone Denim in North Carolina, being celebrated for their “made in the U.S. White Oak” denim, but most recently we’ve seen this trend hit the more mainstream market with brands like Everlane launching their new denim line. It’s all made in Vietnam at a manufacturer called Saitex and they’re encouraging their customers to engage with the factory using VR tours of the facilities.
With that in mind, what we call “premium” has changed and the jeans market is polarizing [as a result]. What used to be considered premium 10 years ago is not necessarily the same now. Premium in the early to mid-2000s was about the “It” brands of L.A., which drove trends and must-have labels into our lives. Now people are becoming less like sheep; they can’t be told what’s cool, they can decide for themselves through increased information on the Internet and of course social media influencers.
Brands have to come across as genuine and authentic in order to appeal. You only have to look at something like the disastrous Kendall Jenner and Pepsi advert to see that. Consumer power is decisive, immediate and king.
WWD: Are premium denims high in demand? Sustainable denims? Performance denims?
A.L.: So I do believe that the original premium denim leaders will struggle to stay premium unless they figure out their DNA, stay true to who they are and increase their cultural IQ. They either need to address the return to authenticity and transparency or have more confidence to do something outside the box and stick to it. Brands with a very clear identity who stand out from the crowd are the current leaders and that is why Vetements have been able to disrupt the market so successfully in recent years.
[And] finally, performance denim. This comes under the value-for-money and premium umbrella I mentioned when talking about Everlane. People are looking for more out of the denim: more versatility, more transparency and value for money and, of course, technological advances come into this.
But essentially I do think the whole ath-leisure movement is starting to wane. Ath-leisure has turned nostalgic and now we’re seeing Eighties and Nineties Adidas stripes, classic re-issues and a re-emergence of underdog brands such as Fila, Kappa and Champion. It’s a return to everyday, non-threatening brands and an anti-ostentation movement as touched on above.
WWD: What’s the psychology behind these denim trends?
A.L.: I’ve probably already touched on it but it’s a direct by-product of the Internet. Now we can go on forums and discuss the pros and cons of certain brands, we can share experiences and also excitement over new brands on social media, we have our more powerful and dominant influences, such as pop stars and actors but we also listen a great deal to micro-influencers who are maybe within our direct network or perhaps a couple of degrees of separation out. Basically, things have become more peer-to-peer and authentic and any brands who are seen to try and tap influencers in an un-authentic way are immediately called out. Things can go really well or really badly very quickly.
I think it’s this movement that has ended up influencing all the above current trends in consumer behavior. It’s about familiarity, trust and authenticity.
WWD: Are there any specific colors high in demand?
A.L.: Colored denim might well be on the cusp of a resurgence but for now, authentic stonewash indigo rules the day. With the Eighties obsession now getting into full swing, I am seeing a lot of acid washes coming back and Levi’s are doing a whole program of colored acid wash overdyes for SS18, which is interesting.
WWD: What are some of the strengths in the denim market?
A.L.: Right now as I said the denim market is polarizing. And denim’s versatility is helping to make that possible and also secure its dominance and stability within fashion. Because we’re seeing this return to authenticity but on the other end of the scale there’s the high-fashion denim trend going on, led by brands such as Y Project, 69 Denim and Vetements.
These brands are pushing the envelope of denim design, silhouette and detail and are not afraid to stand out from the crowd. In fact, standing out as a brand is the best thing you can do right now if you want to cut through the noise in the market. So you’re either in the “value for money, transparency and authenticity” camp or you’re doing crazy fashion denim and being hyped. There is no middle right now and that’s what’s really interesting.
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