MILAN — The denim segment is increasingly polarized, with high-end fashion brands giving the category renewed impulse and fast-fashion giants following suit, investing heavily in innovation on both ends of the spectrum — leaving the mid-market floundering.
Held in Milan for the third time as part of its roving format that touches down alternatively also in Berlin, London and Paris, the fair closed Nov. 24, registering 2,027 attendees, up 27 percent compared to the June edition held in Berlin and a 65 percent increase versus the first Milan event in 2021.
Denim Première Vision has found its sweet spot in offering a good representation of the top-of-the-pyramid producers that supply high-end fashion brands, which represent 20 percent of the overall denim market.
According to show manager Fabio Adami Dalla Val, the move reflects the polarized market.
“I see two different clusters dominating the market. On the one side, high-end brands are giving impulse to Italian manufacturing that is able to meet their demand for innovation, while on the other mass market is offering basic denim, much more static, not only produced abroad but also very basic style-wise,” Adami Dalla Val explained.
“The mid-market is poised to disappear as it can hardly keep up with new production cycles and efficiency,” he said.
Executives polled at the fair agreed that the contemporary and premium-affordable markets are losing ground, crushed by fast-fashion players and luxury labels.
Business acumen suggests catering to those two ends of the spectrum, especially at a time of geopolitical and economic uncertainty.
“It’s a complex scenario, but I feel there is a lot of interest in innovation,” said Italy-based Officina39 managing director Andrea Venier. “The real issue is market volatility, it’s hard to make plans even two months in advance.”
The company’s response to this has been versatility.
“We have a versatile offering to collaborate with fast-fashion and luxury players alike,” Venier said. “It’s going to be ever more polarized with mid-market brands selling jeans for 80 to 100 euros suffering the most as fast fashion is upscaling its offering,” he added.
A similar nimble approach defines Calik Denim’s business.
“We should cover all segments,” said Tolga Ozkurt, deputy general manager of Turkish mill Calik Denim, who conversely believes the breaking point depends on how fast-fashion giants will be able to retain their customers, in light of increased pressure regarding sustainability issues.
“It’s not going to be an easy year,” he said, referring to 2023. Calik Denim is poised to post revenues of $209 million this year. “The company has done the right work to be prepared, sustainability is a kind of umbrella that we keep [investing on]. We need to be close to the market and clients, and also collaborate with third parties and suppliers,” he said.
Turkey, a trusted denim hub, is enjoying momentum after the COVID-19 supply chain fallout as brands and retailers shifted production from Asia to the country, which proved more reliable. “This is likely to continue in 2023,” Ozkurt said, mentioning Japan and the U.S. as emerging markets for the company.
“It has been a challenging time for everyone in the industry,” echoed Fatih Konukoğlu, Isko’s chief executive officer. “We have been busy over the last few years investing in new technologies, expanding our sustainable processes, growing our teams with experienced talent from across the globe and most importantly, listening to our customers and focusing on their needs.”
These, he said, include transparency and sustainability.
“Bridging the gap between beautiful, fashionable products and responsible innovation is one of the major demands of the market right now and it is something we take great pride in doing,” Konukoğlu said. The company has mounted recycling facilities on site to be able to meet delivery times for textiles rich in recycled yarns.
The abundance of sustainability geared innovation on show at the fair for spring 2024 spoke volumes about its target attendees: representatives of premium brands, those most likely to afford and request new-gen, higher-priced fabrics.
The circular economy is a hot-button topic in the industry and denim players are trying to embed as much recycled fiber as current technologies allow.
At Isko, the CtrlZ collection was made with no virgin raw materials, blending 70 to 80 percent of pre-consumer, post-industrial cotton and 20 to 25 percent regenerated cellulosic fibers, while at fellow Turkish mill Maritas, the Rejuvenate range comprised denim made of regenerated cotton currently coming from global suppliers, especially based in Brazil.
The company has launched a program supporting farmers in Turkey to commit to regenerated cotton backing their investments and shouldering risks, which should allow the mill to entirely source its cotton in its homeland.
Along the same lines, the CycleFX line guarantees relevant stretch performance and contains only cotton, recycled cotton and elastane with other man-made yarns that would impact recycling.
Taking the concept a step further, Calik Denim introduced its B210 denim spun and finished with a patented technology that guarantees it biodegrades up to 99.38 percent in anaerobic environments in 210 days, and even faster when denim is treated, stonewashed or bleached, for instance.
It contains virgin and recycled cotton and just 8 percent of Lycra T400, which is also a recycled yarn and equally biodegrades. Recent tests on soil toxicity showed the process is not harmful and the company claims it could be easily applied to all textiles.
On top of that, Calik’s DyePro technique minimizes water consumption, achieving a reduction of 30 percent and 80 percent in carbon dioxide emissions and water use, respectively. The company aims to roll it out across its catalogue by 2030.
Overall, futuristic eco-yarns and blends were worked into subtly distressed designs looking like 14 oz or upward jeans but in fact were breezy and lightweight, befitting the spring season.
In sync with the Y2K denim aesthetic paraded on the designer runways for spring 2023, candy-colored denim, oftentimes dyed with bio-pigments, also grabbed the spotlight at the trade fair.
Italy-based Officina39 built a whole range around its Recycrom trademarked technology, which resulted in lilac and zingy orange denim bearing different effects, from acid washed to marbled and distressed. The dye comes from the upcycling of pre- and post-consumer textile fibers turned into powder, while the effects are achieved employing a waterless enzyme.
At Maritas, the Terra collection of clay dyes entirely avoided the use of chemical compounds, not even in the finishing steps. It comprised grey, beige and ice blue iterations, slightly faded but occasionally enhanced via coating techniques.
Stronger on colors and almost sci-fi effects, the Isko Luxury by PG collection, developed with denim maven Paolo Gnutti and geared toward luxury brands, included selvage denim with strong distressed effects for a vintage look and feel, nodding to either Japanese denim or jeans used by miners, dirtied and worn-out, as well as flocked and crackled styles that are trending in Los Angeles and Japan, Gnutti said.
The denim veteran also experimented with laminated effects and exotic skin patterned jeans, pushing style boundaries as per his partnership with the Turkish mill inked last April. “My ambition is to deliver denim that I wish I could find on the market but I don’t,” Gnutti said.