BERLIN — Faced with more knowledgeable consumers and increased pressure from quick-moving vertical retailers, the denim market in Germany has become more fluid than ever.
There was a time when consumers could at least count on jeans for continuity from season to season. But in today’s fast-moving market, denim trends now change seemingly overnight. Vintage gives way to rock, boot-leg becomes skinny and waists go up and down with startling rapidity.
“Thanks to the globalized international media, today’s customers are incredibly well informed,” said Uwe Boser, sales director for Germany at Pepe Jeans. “It doesn’t matter whether the latest jeans hit Paris, Milan or London first, people see them straightaway on TV and on the Internet. Consumers are very demanding nowadays and everyone wants to be the first.”
Heiner Sefranek, head of the German jeans label Mustang, Europe’s oldest jeans manufacturer, has seen how things have changed.
“I remember when we started in this business 50 years ago, we would get inspiration from Italy, have the collection ready for the following year and we would still be the first in Germany,” said Sefranek. “Now, every trend is all over the world within two weeks.”
The massive boom in celebrity magazines in the last five years also has had an impact. No sooner is Kate Moss photographed in supershort denim cut-offs than they’re seen in H&M store windows. The Spanish retailer Zara, one of Europe’s fastest-growing retail chain, needs just three to six weeks to turn out new product, from coming up with the idea for a piece to having it in the store.
Many manufacturers say it is the speed from catwalk to high street managed by fast-fashion retailers — such as H&M and Zara — that have set this furious pace. But can jeans designers further up the price scale match this speed and also maintain quality?
“We have to. We have no choice,” said Boser. “The industry needs to become faster, but at the same time, it is imperative that we don’t lose out on quality.”
Pepe now comes out with 10 collections a year and Boser foresees a time when the company will be producing 12.
“Any label that doesn’t manage that will have to reposition itself by finding alternative avenues of distribution,” Boser said.
But not everyone agrees that direct competition with vertical retailers on speed is necessarily the correct approach.
Holger Hirsch, marketing manager of the German denim label Timezone, said there is no question that the jeans market has gotten faster. But he also is noticing the opposite trend.
“For us, continuity, which goes beyond the current trends, is also important,” said Hirsch. “People don’t always want to buy something new every few weeks, but sometimes would just rather stick with what suits them and what they like.”
Although Timezone does cater to short-lived trends by occasionally producing small flash collections capable of being rolled out into stores within 10 weeks of the design, the label focuses on keeping to a consistent image that goes above and beyond the look of the moment.
“The key is to have your own signature,” said Sefranek of Mustang. “The denim market is going in two distinct directions. On the one hand, you have the fast-food fashion of the vertical retailers — cheap and trendy, which you buy more often. On the other, there are labels, like Mustang, which you buy less often, but turn into favorite pieces. We regard ourselves as providers of a lifestyle concept.”
Mustang has achieved the jump from a jeans to a lifestyle brand by massively expanding its range of licensee products to include bags, socks, leather goods, accessories and cosmetics. Over the last few years, this has become common among traditional denim labels.
G-Star is about to present its shoe range and Miss Sixty has just launched its new perfume. Now Mustang is going a step further by introducing bedroom and bathroom furnishings in the fall. The company is considering expanding into furniture and is even weighing the idea of offering adventure holidays, an appropriate fit considering Mustang’s Wild West cowboy image.
This all means that jeans now make up only 20 percent of Mustang’s goods, although, according to Sefranek, denim is still responsible for 45 to 50 percent of the label’s total volume.
“The core products that people associate with us are blue jeans, and that will never change,” he said. “From the point of view of value for money and in terms of comfort, flexibility and durability, you can’t beat denim.”