Denim Fights Back
The denim sector is bouncing back after years of decline, but shifting consumer demand calls for more distinctive styles and sustainable solutions. An expert weighs in on what’s driving a revival.
In recent years, denim has lost its cool to the meteoric rise of sportswear, but new findings show that a resurgence is on the horizon. According to a November 2018 report by new market research firm Wise Guy Reports, the global denim jeans market is expected to be worth $9.32 billion by 2025 - growing 8.5 percent annually from this year.
“Denim wear has struggled to battle athleisure over the past decade as consumers opt for more comfortable styles such as leggings and yoga wear,” explains Samuel Trotman, a consultant and specialist for trend forecasting company, Denim Dudes. “But now there is slowing demand for athleisure wear and, after three years of global decline, the jeans sector is expected to rebound over the next few years.”
The luxury market, in particular, has seen a huge uptick in this category in recent seasons thanks to a boom in denim’s natural habitat: streetwear. Trotman says that for SS’19, denim styles were highly visible on the global fashion week circuit, most notably on the runways of established houses like Chanel and Dior. He pencils Gucci as leading the trend: “Gucci’s eclectic, customisable denim designs have been hugely popular amongst Millennials and Gen-Z consumers who have a strong appetite for uniqueness.”
Top-tier brands are not the only ones recognising the category’s value, however, and many other newer or edgier designers are propelling the movement. “Off-White and Vetements have captured the cultural zeitgeist with their reconstructed and concept-cut styles, paving the way for fashion-driven denim,” states Trotman, adding that elsewhere on the catwalk designers like “Ben Taverneti's Unravel Project, Y Project and Sacai” have gained attention for their “unexpected hybrid designs, and off-beat silhouettes.”
But denim is also being tapped for its cultural appeal. According to Trotman, it has become a signifier of stability and realness: “luxury designers [are] looking to the humble appeal of the fabric to ground and commercialise collections.” But he warns that in order to stay ahead of the opportunity in today’s fashion climate, brands need to push designs to new heights so as to “express individuality and creativity including customisation, dramatic silhouettes and novelty details.”
After three years of global decline the jeans sector is expected to rebound over the next few years.
Given that denim’s environmental impact is alarmingly high – a single pair of jeans requires roughly 10,000 litres of water to produce, while fabric dyes contain toxic chemicals that pollute natural water sources – this new uptake means sustainable brands will be more sought out. “Consumers are not only shopping with the latest fashion trends in mind, they are increasingly making ethically conscious purchasing decisions, and are becoming more concerned about climate change and their impact on the planet,” argues Trotman.
A number of brands are adapting well to this challenge by cultivating new techniques to become more ecologically responsible. Balenciaga, alongside Alyx Studio and Cmmn Swdn, is turning to scalable solutions such as laser for fading jeans - requiring less water and energy. However, Trotman suggests that small startups and emerging designers are innovating too: “Younger labels like Copenhagen-based Blanche and Ganni are using low impact denim processes and organic cotton, as well as up-cycling as a way to minimise their environmental footprint.”
He adds that, when it comes to pushing boundaries with fabric innovations and waste solutions, Ukrainian ready-to-wear label Ksenia Schnaider have been leading the field since 2011. Championing upcycling, its signature ‘fur’ design reworks denim offcuts to replicate the look and feel of animal fur. Pre-fall ‘19 featured a unique patchwork quilting technique, which aims to reduce waste for neighbouring manufacturers.
While brands are rethinking their denim strategy in light of changing consumer preferences for comfort, functionality and individuality, Trotman feels that they need to engage in even more sustainable practices to push this category in new directions: “Millennials and Gen-Z consumers, in particular, are gunning for industry transformation in the luxury denim sector, and both brands and retailers should be taking note.”