To keep up in the competitive denim market, brands must keep up with trends, and make sustainability part of their agenda.
For consumers and retailers alike, denim is a staple product. Always dependable, denim is a core part of retailers’ product offer and shoppers’ wardrobes.
But, thanks to denim’s timeless appeal, competition in this crowded sector is fierce. The market has also been taken on by a new rival in the form of leggings, as the athleisure trend has swept through fashion over recent years. However, demand for denim remains strong, brands and suppliers tell Drapers, while sales are also in good health on the high street.
Authenticity is key, and brands need to have a clear story to tell
Sean Gormley, Wrangler
Sean Gormley, creative director of Wrangler, argues that success in the denim market depends on brands and retailers having strong stories to stand out from the competition: “There was a time when athleisure was a really key trend and a lot of denim brands were trying to make their jeans more like leggings. We’re now seeing a resurgence in interest of rigid denim thanks to trends inspired by previous decades.
“Authenticity is key, and brands need to have a clear story to tell. Our Icons collection [for women and men] is our first global collection and campaign because we wanted to build a collection that the Wrangler team from around the world could get behind – it helps with customer’s understanding of the brand.”
Tom Noakes, UK account manager at denim-focused menswear brand Jack & Jones, argues that the balance of price, comfort and style are key to a winning denim offer in today’s crowded market: “Customers, especially men, are making a statement with their T-shirts and sneakers, so they are looking for affordable, good-quality jeans to go with that.
“There used to be more engineered, detailed denim in the market – that could make a return over the next 12 months as utility and workwear becomes a big trend. Denim has had to adapt to more aggressive pricing – customers want something that won’t break the bank.”
The launch of denim ranges from rapidly growing fast fashion etailers and a strong performance from premium brands is also helping the breadth of the denim industry to thrive, argues Rosey Cortazzi, former vice-president of womenswear at Levi’s and now global marketing director for Turkish denim supplier Isko, which works with Topman, Diesel and Guess.
“We’re extremely optimistic about the health of the denim market and have expanded our capacity to meet increased demand,” she tells Drapers. “We’ve upped our number of looms from 1,700 to 2,000, and increased our annual production capacity from 250 million metres annually to 350 million metres.
“Growth is coming from ecommerce players, who are really expanding in the denim market, and from the premium sector. Our customers are looking for shorter lead times, as they don’t want their inventory tied up in the wrong place.”
Growth is coming from ecommerce players, who are really expanding in the denim market, and from the premium sector
Rosey Cortazzi, Isko
Both Noakes and Gormley argue that retailers and consumers are increasingly concerned about whether or not the denim they are buying is sustainable. Wrangler’s Icon collection is made from 20% recycled denim, while Jack & Jones relaunched its low-impact denim range last year. And Primark, meanwhile, has launched jeans made from 100% sustainable cotton.
“We’re finding that buyers want to be able to give their customer a better, more sustainable product,” Gormley says. “Increasingly, you can’t call yourself a premium product unless your credentials are sustainable.”
Noakes adds: “We rethought our low-impact denim range. It used to be about just saving water in the washing process, now we’re focusing on recycled and organic fibres, how we dye the fabric using less water and finishings using techniques that save on water and energy.”
Hans Ates, founder of London-based denim supplier and brand Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, argues that, like beer and burgers, denim has gone through a “craft” movement that has led to a demand for quality product.
He is also optimistic about the denim market, although adds that for Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, Britain’s looming departure from the European Union is a potential concern: “Demand for denim is very healthy, although we’re feeling a bit nervous in the short term because we don’t know what the outcome from Brexit will be. We sell 60% of our product to Europe. But at the same time, we’re very positive because we’ve experienced healthy growth.”
Brands will need a clear story, a strong identity and a focus on sustainability if they are to continue to capitalise on denim’s timeless appeal.
Denim’s top sellers
Drapers asks high street design and buying directors about what is driving the market, what is selling well and the trends we can expect over coming seasons.