The future of denim

Denim is so integral to today’s fashion industry that it’s difficult to imagine it getting any bigger. But, it is. In fact, denim looks set to become an increasingly significant aspect of fashion over the next few years, and, possibly, even over the next few decades. In a recent press release, Premiere Vision announced it had “broken a new attendance record” for its Paris “Denim” show, held twice a year. The most recent Denim event took place on 25 and 26 May at the Halle Freyssinet convention center. There were 83 exhibitors, and attendance was up 18% over June 2010 and 13% over the December 2010 Denim event. According to PV, “Countries specializing in jeanswear such as Sweden and Denmark are well represented [at Denim], the United States is reinforcing its presence, and Brazil’s attendance is increasing.” In fact, international visitors accounted for nearly 70%, with people coming from 50 countries, including Italy, the UK, Germany, and Turkey.

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Photo from Superfine denim A/W ’11 collection

Denim economy – think big

A good indication of the strength of denim in the fashion market over the next few years is the expansion of already-large denim and jeans manufacturers, as well as the regular emergence of new, smaller, funky denim designers. With the economic rise of China and India, the younger and more affluent of these nations are finding jeans appealing. That they are comfortable but flattering, tough but stylish, no doubt accounts for their continuing appeal both in the East and West, but, in the East, at least, jeans are also symbolic of moving into economic modernity, and becoming a player on the world stage. India currently produces 700 million meters of denim, and is set to increase its output by 50 percent in the next few years. And, Indian-based LNJ Denim, which supplies fabric to household US names such as Levi’s, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Diesel, and Tommy Hilfiger, plans to treble its production next year. But there is also expansion in the US. Brazilian denim manufacturer Santana Textiles’ has also recently established a factory in the US city of Edinburg. The factory is so large, and will employ so many people, that the city is being nicknamed “Denimburg.” (Okay that’s also partly due to Santana Textiles’s PR campaign. But it makes a point: Denim is big news.)

Like some smaller denim companies, Santana Textiles (one of the five largest denim manufacturers in the world) may want to capitalize on the “American made” label, that helped to establish American Apparel as a chic, quality line. But it’s probable that the company also wants to be able to respond to changes and trends in the US market quickly.

Smaller denim designers – the ones to watch

According to a Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor survey, Levis, Lee, Wrangler, and Gap are the four most popular brands for jeans in the US. But, a respectable 26 percent of consumers purchased jeans in specialty stores, which, by their nature, concentrate on smaller labels.

With younger, hipper consumers looking for cut, fabric quality, and a twist on the classic theme, jeanswear is one area where young designers have proved that they carve out their own niche. And several design companies have initially concentrated on jeans, before moving into other areas of apparel.

One to watch is the Iowa-based boutique Raygun, which launched its own jeans line just in time for Independence Day 2011. Retailing at a low price of $55 each, Raygun has created a relaxed fit boot cut and relaxed straight leg for men, and a fitted straight leg, fitted skinny leg, and a fitted boot cut for women. Raygun’s Merchandise Manager Ryan Looysen told Iowa’s Gazette, “it’s really hard to find jeans that are not overly styled. It’s hard to find a good pair of simple jeans that doesn’t have too much going on, something that has good denim, clean lines, simple and unmarked.” Having received positive feedback on products that they had previously put their name to, the boutique decided to produce their own jeans line, to get exactly what they, and their customers, were looking for.

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Jeans from Raygun’s range

The company’s marketing model is an interesting one (and it’s bound to be emulated). Sold in its Des Moines and Iowa City stores, Raygun is focused on these cities, which, like others in the US, have their own style and fashion trends (compare Surf City, California with artsy, hipster Brooklyn, NY, for example). Raygun jeans are currently manufactured in China, but the company says that it intends, eventually, to manufacture in the US, and even locally in Iowa.

Raygun’s current offerings are classic, stylish, and clean. Mostly, dark Indigo, with creases and abrasions kept to a minimum. Raygun wanted to produce a line of stylish essentials, or “basics,” and designed its jeans to have a similar look as Levi’s 501 jeans from a distance. Up close, however, Raygun jeans have some stylish details to distinguish them from the crowd, such as printing on the inside of the pockets, special “Raygun rivets,” and – very cool – the brand name and style type printed in white on the inside hem, in Helvetica font.

Denim style – from hideous kinky to classic sexy

When it comes to personal style, Lifestyle Monitor has found that 74% of women prefer wearing jeans, to 22% who prefer casual slacks, and, similarly, that 71% of men prefer jeans, to 25% who prefer slacks. Not surprisingly, then, the average US consumer owned 6.8 pairs of jeans in 2010. The most popular styles for women are boot cut (28%), relaxed fit (21%), loose fit (13%), and skinny (12%). For men they are relaxed fit (38%), regular fit (22%), loose fit (13%), and boot cut (10%).

Many of the more expensive of designer jeans will continue to be defined by sexy rips, abrasions, bleach spots, embroidery, and more. However, with the economy still not fully recovered, style and sex appeal is replacing designer-slovenliness. The worn and weathered look is taking a back seat for most jeans. There are fewer designer abrasions and rips, and faded areas are subtler. (The hem of denim shorts might be subtly frayed; jeans might have a patched rip at the knee, etc.) Instead, clean denim, in bold colors (especially indigo) are looking strong for 2011 and 2012. Jeans and denim skirts are becoming more classic in cut, and morphing into more formal styles of pants and skirts not normally associated with denim.

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From Banana Republic’s Mad Men collection

Part of the reason for this shift is Mad Men, the television series, set in the 1960s, that has become known for its sharp suits and slinky, “real woman” dresses. The program is already affecting non-denim fashion. (Notably, Mad Men recently inspired a Banana Republic collection.) Similarly, 2011’s 1970s fashion subplot has inspired denim cuts from high waisted to flared styles. As such the classic smart and sexy look is also penetrating into jeanswear. New jeans from Level 99, yet another denim label, are so sharp they border more formal pants. And the company’s stretch denim, knee-length Mikada mini skirt is classic sexy.

With smart denim classics as well as casual denim pieces continuing to build in strength, the future of denim remains glowingly bright.

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