PARIS — Forget the factory.
Ultimately, a customer’s pair of jeans will be completely tailored and made in the store.
Following the lead from denim label 3×1 with its SoHo space at 15 Mercer Street in New York serving as both a production facility and high-end flagship, European denim manufacturers and retailers, including Amsterdam-based denim brand Denham, Le Bon Marché and Selfridges department stores in Paris and London have climbed on board. All are now embracing the concept of an in-store atelier.
But opportunities come with challenges, and as the technology isn’t always affordable — depending on the machines and craftsmen needed — multibrand stores are finding creative ways to offer services such as pop-up installations, events where they’re showcasing the machines and collaborations.
Denham reopened its flagship in hometown Amsterdam on Oct. 13. The new concept features a service center providing free, low-temperature washing done by hand with an organic product made with pure natural enzyme so that the jeans won’t shrink and will maintain their color.
Repairs on jeans are done by a full-time “repair artist” named Clinton James. The service center for repairs and embellishments comprises a Union Special machine used for chain stitch hem detail on denim that costs around 7,000 euros or $7,848 at current exchange, and a Singer machine for embroideries that costs around 5,000 euros, or $5,606.
“The investment is quite heavy, but [the machines] are great investments that hold their value. They’re essential for our business,” said Denham, noting that for the smaller stores, they organize “Service Co. road show” where a team travels around the stores and wholesales customers.
The Amsterdam flagship also has an all-round mirror for the women’s side of the store, a gallery space, a Japan-inspired garden and a coffee shop.
“We’re the first fashion store to open in the city, we are licensed to open at 8 a.m. because we’re a coffee bar,” said Denham.
Le Bon Marché saw its denim sales jump 70 percent since it opened “L’Espace Denim” in April stocking labels including 3×1, Mother and Seafarer. It’s a 2,690-square-foot denim space that includes a 970-square-foot mini-denim factory behind glass called “L’Atelier” in partnership with the French denim label Notify that includes eight machines.
There’s a resident designer and a tailor. An average of 30 pieces are customized every day, with prices starting from 20 euros, or $22.
“All brands are benefitting from it,” said Lisa Attia, the store’s commercial director. “The demand for customization keeps increasing, starting with embroideries, studs and transfers.”
Selfridges’ sprawling 26,000-square-foot Denim Studio includes the “The Denim Tailor” offering two-hour alterations across brands. “The Fit Studio” consisting of 18 fitting rooms and a personal shopping suite dedicated to denim with a “Jeanius Bar” for digital content including look books, brand biographies and fit guides.
The department store partnered with Levi’s last summer for Levi’s Tailor Shop concept with a collection of patches designed by socialite Poppy Delevingne.
“This pop-up was one of the most successful projects ever hosted in this space,” said the store’s denim buyer Sarah Cartwright. “It proved once again how denim personalization is a trend that is here to stay and showed the potential of this growing area.”
There is currently another personalization pop-up installation with Tommy Hilfiger.
“The whole market is driven by personalization as a result of digitization” said Kitty Koelemeijer professor of marketing and retailing at Nyenrode Business University, outside Amsterdam. “Ultimately, everything will be completely tailored,” she said, noting that sportswear is ahead of denim on that front. She sees “huge opportunities” coming from denim measurement, citing apps measuring your shape for instance.
“Washing your denim in store however remains a problem as to set up an in-store laundry is another story, as you need special permits to do this due to water discharge. So the in-house experience will remain only for the rigid denim fanatic,” said Neil Bell, global R&D and innovation director at Artistic Milliners. “They need to reach much further into the supply chain and need to be flexible and agile and in the future be prepared to send fabric to the local denim store.”