Denim has never been more versatile. Ubiquitous from the catwalk to the workplace, the challenge for mills today is to make increasingly advanced denim stand out in an ever more-crowded market.
While stretch and comfort have dominated the womenswear sector, now the men’s market is sitting up and taking note. The key difference is that in addition to movement, men want an authentic, rigid denim look from the international mills that supply UK high street and luxury retailers.
“Stretch for men is an increasing trend,” says Baris Ozden, head of research and development at Turkish denim producer Isko, which produces 250 million metres of fabric per year for retailers such as Topshop, Topman, Diesel and MIH. “Young guys are wearing super-stretch skinny jeans and this trend is growing globally.”
To meet this demand Isko launched Isko XMens in 2012 to offer stretch with a rigid look. Its newest product, Blue Skin, was launched at the start of the year, and promises 360-degree freedom of movement to mimic how skin stretches and recovers. Available in different weights, it is blended with XMens for a more authentic denim look for men or with lightweight denim fabric Isko Jegging for womenswear.
Fellow Turkish producer Calik Denim, which works with Arcadia, Oasis, Boden, Burberry, Tesco and MIH, is also balancing growing demand for comfort and elasticity in the menswear market with a masculine appearance.
“When we analyse the movements of men such as riding a bicycle or motorbike, reaching to tie shoelaces or running, they need vertical elasticity as part of their daily routine but they don’t want to lose that masculine look,” says general manager Hamit Yenici.
“Considering all of this, we have developed Extend Plus for the spring 16 season, which provides extra comfort without losing that rigid look as it has the stretch fibre in the warp for vertical elasticity.” It uses a cotton T400 warp yarn that provides around 15% elasticity in the warp direction and 100% cotton in the weft yarn.
When we analyse the movements of men such as riding a bicycle or motorbike, they need vertical elasticity
Hamit Yenici, Calik Denim
Panos Sofianos, creative director of Spain-based Tejidos Royo, which supplies Burberry, Jigsaw, French Connection, Topshop and Marks & Spencer, agrees: “For men we are seeing slimmer jeans that are more stretchy than ever, alongside athleisure styles and fabrics with smart functions such as fast-drying and moisture-wicking properties.”
Meanwhile, Alberto Candiani, global manager of Italy-based Candiani Denim, which supplies The White Company, Ben Sherman, French Connection, Next, MIH and Topshop, points to stretch jeans designed for yoga as an interesting growing trend in the UK.
The company has just launched what it calls its Swenim – “sweat and denim” – concept to the UK market. It is currently sampling with several brands and expects the first orders in November. It features custom-made Nylon 6.6 in the weft and Tencel in the warp to provide a soft and lightweight fabric and is available in three colours of dark melange, light melange and black.
This year, there has also been a flurry of initiatives designed to limit the impact of denim manufacture on the environment. Candiani argues that sustainability is more important for junior styles, where the use of organic cotton and chemical-free finishes are most prevalent, but many mills have initiatives to target the mainstream market this year.
Aydan Tuzun, director of sales and marketing at Turkey-based Orta Anadolu, which supplies M&S, Topshop, River Island, Burberry, All Saints and Paul Smith, says that although cotton is the traditional fibre used in denim production, the use of more sustainable cotton such as organic cotton or Better Cotton Initiative-certified cotton – a movement backed by companies including Levi’s, M&S, H&M and Adidas that aims to make cotton more sustainable – is small but growing.
Earlier this year, Orta Anadolu launched Vegan Denim which it describes as the first collection of denim fabrics ever to be produced with vegetable and natural dyestuff on an industrial scale. The patented technology uses significantly less water, energy and chemicals than conventional dyeing processes, yet provides intense shades in both vegetal indigo and natural colours.
We’re starting to see denim blends with premium natural fibres like silk and cashmere
The Turkish mill has collaborated with Garmon Chemicals on the first application of the Green Screen for Safer Chemicals methodology on denim fabrics. The methodology, developed by the non-governmental organisation Clean Production Action, is a process for identifying hazardous chemicals and identifying safer alternatives. By working with the system, Orta aims to set an example to other denim producers.
For autumn 16, Calik Denim has introduced its Oxygene technique that treats denim with a bright, flat finish without a resin through a combination of proprietary dyeing and finishing processes. Fabric can be treated 50%-60% faster than conventional denim using smaller quantities of chemicals, water and energy.
US-based Invista’s T400 Lycra fibre, meanwhile, is an industry standard multi-component yarn used for low-to-moderate stretch denim fabrics but it is increasingly being blended with fibres such as Tencel – which Austria-based Lenzing extracts from wood – for its soft touch, or temperature-regulating polyester fibres such as Invista’s Thermocool or Coolmax for performance.
There is also a move towards new blends with other fibres not traditionally associated with the denim market.
ITV Denim, an Italian mill that supplies premium and emerging UK brands – but declines to name them – has developed fabrics that blend luxury fibres such as silk, cashmere and merino wool with cotton.
“We’re starting to see denim blends with premium natural fibres like silk and cashmere,” agrees Piyush Tejura, director of sales and marketing for China-based Foison Denim in Europe and the US, which supplies denim to retailers including Next, New Look, Arcadia and M&S.
“One retailer is already doing a silk/cashmere blend in the US and now we’re trialling it for two European customers. This is all about soft touch and a luxurious feel, but the price premium for silk and cashmere may put people off unless they have the scale or customer demand to take it.”
The latest technologies require investment, of course, but they don’t necessarily make denim more expensive
Aydan Tuzun, Orta Anadolu
Drapers understands that a European retailer plans to launch the jeans at around the £45 retail price point thanks to its vast scale. However, Tejura admits that price resistance from retailers can be a challenge for mills to push through some of the most technically advanced denims.
“For example, one retailer we were working with was pushing back a €1 (74p) per pair premium for high-quality stretch fabrics, which then makes it difficult for the suppliers to invest back into their factories,” he says. “Price is definitely a factor.”
“Everyone is pushing for innovation first but a commercial price is important,” says Tuzun from Orta Anadolu, noting that added functionality will become more affordable for consumers as the market for technically advanced denim increases.
Candiani adds: “The latest technologies require investment, of course, but they don’t necessarily make denim more expensive. And I like to think of innovation as sustainable improvements too.
“Think of the car industry: is the new Audi more efficient and less polluting than the previous model? Of course it is. Is it more expensive? Not always.”