The changing face of the denim industry

London - The denim industry has been through several incarnations in the past few decades and is again undergoing a major transformation.

The humble jean has come a long way since it was patented by Levi Strauss in 1873 but today the business of premium denim is one that has matured, growing a lowly 1 percent per annum since 2011.

Before denim evolved into a fashion category of its own, the jean was considered work and streetwear, a basic necessity and item for everyday. Then came the explosion of designer jeans, and denim catwalk collections, which saw brands offering bespoke novelty in return for high octane prices.

The changing face of the denim industry

Affordable denim changed the jeans market

But things changed when the high street began offering better quality denim at lower price points, like Uniqlo, Zara and H&M. If enough chains are selling 30 pounds jeans at incredibly high volumes there is a point where the market reaches saturation point.

When something becomes mass produced, and done well, it affects the entire retail segment, not to mention the pressure on 'real' denim brands and small businesses who must compete against the biggest retailers around the globe.

Some brands, like Acne, the Swedish contemporary brand that began life as a denim business, started small but became huge global fashion players. What started with just 100 pairs of jeans in 1997 morphed into huge catwalk and wholesale collections. Somewhere along the way Acne lost its distinctive touch when it was simply producing great jeans.

The company is now hoping to go back to its roots, and from April is paring down its core denim offer to just three fit styles for both men and women. Stripped of too much artifice, jeans will have new wash options and detailing, with a special focus on denim trims, like rivets, buttons, stitching, etc.

The changing face of the denim industry

Economics changed denim quality

But it is not just authenticity which affected the denim market. It was also economics. When fabric companies saw an opportunity to sell more inexpensive materials they changed the recipe from indigo cotton to mix with synthetic fibers.

The opportunities for mass-market jeans production saw manufacturers replace expensive cotton with stretch and polyester. Mills and apparel companies scrambled to find more economically priced fibers for use in their denim, fueling to meet the demand of cheap high street jeans.

Where once Italy and America where the major producers, denim production for the masses has changed the course of making jeans, moving the bulk to China, Turkey, Brazil, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam. This meant domestic mills and local craftsmen are being priced out and brands are outsourcing to cheaper countries to maximize their sales.

Europe, by comparison, has a relatively small production base. But a rise in demand for authentic products and craft have brought back a demand for smaller labels and authentic product, even if these businesses are considered niche.

While the appetite for fast fashion and affordable jeans are not likely to disappear any time soon, as a consumer product jeanswear has survived more fashion changes and economic challenges than most categories.

Only a product this versatile could claim such a success.

Photo credit: Levi Strauss Facebook, Acne Studios Facebook


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