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Year in Review: How Denim Bounced Back in 2021

Following an unprecedented year that saw loungewear sales explode and jeans be relegated to the back of consumers’ closets, the denim industry jumpstarted its comeback in 2021 with collaborations, sustainable innovations and new product categories.

From red-carpet moments and circular collections to denim’s leap into home and footwear, here’s a look back at the year in jeans.

January

• Office of Textiles and Apparel reports U.S. denim apparel imports declined nearly 25 percent to a value of $2.8 billion in 2020 compared to $3.73 billion the prior year.

“We witnessed an assault on the citadel of freedom—the U.S. Capitol—incited by a compulsively dishonest sitting President of the United States, enabled by cravenly opportunistic colleagues in Congress, designed to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in our country.” —Mark Walker, Outerknown CEO’s response to the Jan. 6 insurrection

• Garth Brooks wears Wrangler jeans to the presidential inauguration.

• TikTok users, particularly Gen Z, begin a movement to dethrone skinny jeans and all other things deemed “cheugy.”

• Wrangler launches a limited-edition home collection with Pottery Barn Teen.

• Unspun releases custom jeans that align with Ellen MacArthur’s Jeans Redesign guidelines.

• Weekday debuts first-ever jeans made with Infinna fiber.

• Archroma partners with CleanKore to bleach jeans without PP spray.

• Guess cuts its style count by 38 percent.

• Cone Denim completes first verification of origin audit through Oritain.

• H&M brings online secondhand shop Sellpy to the Netherlands and Austria.

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• Soorty introduces Re-Sync, an adaptive fabric that fits a range of four sizes.

• Levi Strauss & Co. president and CEO Chip Bergh says women’s represents 34 percent of the company’s business, compared with 20 percent in 2015.

• Lee and H&M release a co-branded collection of jeans made with post-consumer recycled cotton and organic cotton.

• NYDJ’s SpanSpring jegging collection sells out in one week.

• Cos bows a circular denim collection in the European market.

• Saitex introduces Rekut, a program that provides work opportunities for differently abled people.

• Patchwork, bleached and Y2K denim designs trend at Fall/Winter 21-22 men’s fashion weeks.

February

• Soorty achieves one gold certification from the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

• Ganni and Levi’s bow a collection made with cottonized hemp.

• Guess founder Paul Marciano is sued over allegations he sexually assaulted a model in 2017.

• Denim is a staple in Fall/Winter 21-22 collections at New York Fashion Week.

• Levi’s and Kontoor Brands support a program to combat gender-based violence and harassment in Lesotho garment factories, in response to reports of abuse within Nien Hsing Textile, a manufacturer that produces jeans for the brands.

• Marks & Spencer sets sustainability standards for its denim assortment.

• Lenzing debuts Tencel Modal fibers with Indigo Technology.

“By upending traditional manufacturing processes and implementing our pioneering technology along with renewable and eco-responsible materials, Tencel Modal with Indigo technology sets a new benchmark for indigo application and sustainability in the denim industry.” —Florian Heubrandner, Lenzing AG vice president of the global textiles business

• Weekday experiments with food waste as dye for hemp-blended denim.

• Mother upcycles deadstock fabrics and products into new designs.

• Levi’s for Target home collection arrives in stores.

• Denham bows ultra-exclusive selvedge jeans with Grivec Bros.

• Mango launches a low-impact denim collection.

• Outerknown turns denim scraps into new garments with The New Denim Project.

• Sean “Diddy” Combs sues Global Brands and Missguided over Sean John’s women’s collection.

March

• Stony Creek Colors joins Fashion for Good’s Accelerator Program.

• A.P.C. and Sacai launch a denim and nylon collaboration.

• Uniqlo BlueCycle debuts, reducing the amount of water used in denim finishing by up to 99 percent.

• Outland Denim ventures into ready-to-wear for the first time.

• Advance Denim joins the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

• Reformation adds FibreTrace’s traceable technology to jeans.

• Transnomadica opens a vintage denim popup at Fred Segal in L.A.

Maurizio Donadi’s latest vintage apparel project Transnomadica is running a popup at Fred Segal centered on vintage Japanese denim.
Transnomadica at Fred Segal. Courtesy

• Archorma and Jeanologia develop a room-temperature dyeing process that reduces water usage.

• Boyish names new commitments that align with the UN Sustainability Development Goals.

• Officina+39 bows Aqualess Mission, a collection of water-saving solutions for laundries.

• Chinatown Market pledges to change name after a social petition highlighted the racial insensitivities demonstrated by the brand.

• Bestseller joins Milliner Organic Cotton initiative for supply chain transparency.

• Saitex flips the switch on U.S. facility.

“Saitex USA is another step in our journey, providing an opportunity to bring sustainable
manufacturing and jobs to the United States, a first step in reevaluating and reinventing global supply chains.” —Sanjeev Bahl, Saitex CEO and founder

• Trend forecasting firm Fashion Snoops names ’70s, country and destroyed denim as trends to watch for fall.

• Diesel x Diesel updates iconic pieces from the brand’s archive.

• Levi’s revives the Levi’s Red collection from the ’90s.

• Calik Denim sets new sustainably targets for 2025 that will help reduce its carbon footprint.

• Willy Chavarria named senior vice president of design for Calvin Klein North America.

April

• Erdem and Universal Standard debut size inclusive denim for women.

• Unpsun introduces genderless denim designed by Jonathan Cheung.

• Tencel promotes smart fashion purchases in new social media campaign.

• Levi’s Chip Bergh says business is entering a new denim cycle.

• The Rose Bowl Flea Market reopens after closing due to Covid.

• Soorty introduces organic cotton initiative in Pakistan.

• Gucci’s Balenciaga hack ushers in a new era of collaboration.

New data from retail analytics firm Edited underscores streetwear’s increasing presence in designer and luxury fashion collections.
Gucci x Balenciaga WWD

• Kontoor Brands and AGI Denim ink deals with industrial hemp provider Panda BioTech.

• Mud Jeans designs a couch with Ikea.

• Naveena Denim Mills updates its Wraptech product line with more Lycra fibers.

• Mother Denim introduces a loungewear line.

• PETA tells Levi’s to ditch leather—again.

• Heron Preston designs raw denim classics for Calvin Klein.

• Advance Denim promotes eco-friendly dyeing with BioBlue Indigo.

• AG introduces biodegradable jeans.

• Isko receives Bluesign approval.

• Asda adds secondhand apparel in 50 stores.

• Cone Denim reports it will produce nearly 3 million pounds of certified Organic Content Standard cotton by year end.

May

• U.S. jeans imports rose 9.42 percent in the first four months of the year compared to the same period in 2020.

• Miu Miu upcycles jeans with Levi’s.

• Wiser Wash bows AI-powered devices.

• Rag & Bone opens the first of several pop-up concepts in NYC.

Rag & Bone and Nordstrom Pay Homage to the NYC Deli
Rag & Bone x Nordstrom in NYC. Courtesy

• ADM inks deal with Recover to scale traceable recycled cotton.

• Berto drops minimum orders for new and emerging talent.

• Cordura releases a line of hemp-blended fabrics.

• Diesel creates an evergreen denim collection called Diesel Library.

• Coats unveils biodegradable thread.

• North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly bans skinny and ripped jeans.

• Artistic Milliners teams with Retraced to launch farm-to-garment cotton traceability.

• The U.K. government-funded Textiles Circularity Center opens.

June

• C&A invests in a jeans production facility in Germany.

• Gap unveils first product from Yeezy Gap, a blue puffer coat with no buttons.

• Mavi, Levi’s, Gap and more release Pride collections.

Afterpay launched a Genderfree curated shopping experience that invites brands to showcase their products in a more inclusive way.
Levi’s Pride 2021 collection. Courtesy

• Everlane bows Clean Denim, a collection made with Candiani Denim’s organic cotton and Roica V550 blend fabrics.

• Orta debuts the Scenic Route collection with an AI experience.

• Candiani Vision opens in Milan, showcasing its Coreva technology.

• Holt Renfrew sets sustainability standards for the denim it sells.

• Gap launches a broad home collection on Walmart.com.

July

• Levi’s strategically reduces its markdowns and increases pricing by about 5 percent.

• Isko licenses its Future Face fabric technology to Soorty.

• The growth trajectory of U.S. jeans imports flattens.

• Ellen MacArthur’s Jeans Redesign adds a new requirement: a minimum of 5 percent recycled content.

• Trendalytics says searches for baggy jeans increase 74 percent YOY.

• Madewell Forever, powered by ThredUp, begins incentivizing consumers to bring in their preowned denim to Madewell stores to earn Madewell shopping credit.

• Diesel teases buy-back program for jeans on social media.

August

• Levi Strauss & Co. acquires activewear brand Beyond Yoga.

• Adidas and Beyonce’s Ivy Park label cosign the western trend with a denim collection.

• Mavi, Morrison Denim, Silver Jeans Co. and more receive Rivet x Project Awards in Las Vegas.

• A co-branded Lee and Wrangler store opens in their hometown of Greensboro, N.C.

“What an exciting time for denim. You know, this doesn’t happen very often where the industry sees such an incredible trend happening.” —Fran Horowitz, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO in the company’s Q2 earnings call

• New York & Co. debuts men’s denim.

• Arvind Limited enters a partnership with traceability platform, TextileGenesis.

• NYDJ and Abercrombie & Fitch debut footwear collections.

• Old Navy announces Bodequality, an omnichannel shopping experience that aims to democratize women’s sizing.

“Our customers embraced summer with optimism, hungry for mood-boosting clothes, and vacations and reunions became reality. We saw a celebration of American style, of ’90s nostalgia and the resurgence of denim.” —Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal in the company’s Q2 earnings call

• Edited says jeans “officially usurped sweatpants.”

• Lee and Artistic Milliners develop Cradle to Cradle certified jeans.

• More than 600 suppliers and 13,400 international visitors gathered on site for the first edition of Munich Fabric Start and Bluezone since February 2020.

September

• GenovaJeans debuts as a consumer-facing event that celebrates Genoa, Italy’s denim roots.

• Unspun raises $7.5 million to further its mission of eliminating waste in jeans production.

• G-Star Raw drops a catchy tune with Snoop Dogg to promote its fall collection.

• OshKosk B’gosh partners with Kith Kids for a back-to-school collection.

“We have several categories where we feel that, even though we have a strong presence in the market, we don’t think that those categories are maximized. A good example of that is denim, a category that is the biggest part of our DNA.” —Guess, Inc. CEO Carlos Alberini at the Goldman Sachs Global Retailing Conference

• Lupita Nyong’o, Debbie Harry, Ben Platt and more attend the Met Gala dressed in denim.

• Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger parent PVH Corp. joins the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

• Supreme and True Religion team on a Y2K-inspired jeans and tees.

• Calik Denim bows a waterless denim dyeing process enhanced by Aware traceability technology.

• American Eagle introduces a new premium denim brand called AE77.

• Christian Siriano teases his upcoming jeans collection for Gloria Vanderbilt.

• Wrangler launches jeans made with Infinna fiber.

• Levi’s WellThread introduces a fall collection made with plant-based dyes.

• Versace and Fendi debut co-branded denim pieces at Milan Fashion Week.

October

• Glenn Martens, Jennifer Sey and Miko Underwood are among the 2021 Rivet 50 honorees.

• California Governor Gavin Newsom signs the Garment Worker Protection Act into law.

• Denim PV returns with an in-person show in Milan.

• Replay debuts a 32-piece gender-fluid collection.

• Abercrombie & Fitch invests in new Arizona distribution center.

• Zara taps Charlotte Gainsbourg to co-design a denim-centric collection.

Zara tapped musician, actor and all-around cool girl Charlotte Gainsbourg for a 23-piece denim-heavy capsule collection for women.
Zara x Charlotte Gainsbourg collection. Courtesy

• Pacsun incentivizes customers to recycle their jeans.

• Scotch & Soda plans to open 24 new directly operated and franchise stores by year end.

• Levi’s prepares to launch a visual search engine to find jeans.

• Material Exchange acquires digital denim showroom Kingpins Exchange.

• Lenzing bows Tencel Matte technology.

• Re/Done launches its first Jeans Redesign collection.

• Good American earns B Corp status.

• Spanx plots expansion in denim.

• Candiani Denim opens a microfactory to make custom jeans in Milan.

• Abercrombie gives same-day delivery the green light.

• Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) causes a stir by wearing a denim vest to the Senate Chamber.

November

• Gap and Walmart add furniture to their home décor partnership.

• Diesel begins to sell pre-owned Diesel jeans in Europe.

• Primark is the latest fast-fashion brand to release jeans made following Jeans Redesign guidelines.

• Mud Jeans unveils “Messy the COP Ness Monster,” a London sculpture made of upcycled denim, to highlight textile waste’s impact on the environment.

• Levi’s loose-fitting jeans named the most-wanted item of 2021 by The Lyst Index.

• AE77 opens a second store, this time in outside of Philadelphia at the King of Prussia mall.

Reclaimed materials, sustainable packaging and local design are some of the elements in AE77’s second store at the King of Prussia mall.'s King of Prussia store
AE77’s King of Prussia store Courtesy

• Asos and H&M release open-source guides to help advance circular design.

• The allure of vintage fashion and TikTok trends drive holiday resale purchases.

• Ganni inks deal to include Infinna fiber in future collections.

• The death of Virgil Abloh, Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton artistic director of men’s, stuns the fashion industry.

December

• Levi’s introduces the slouchier 501 90s jean.

• Frame debuts a unisex children’s collection.

• Diesel releases Glenn Marten’s first sneaker for the brand and a NFT to match.

• Guess steps into home décor with a line of plush blankets and cushions.

• Global technology research and advisory company Technavio reports that the premium denim jeans market is set to grow by $9.06 billion at a rate of 6.64 percent from 2020 to 2025.

• Silver Jeans Co. debuts jeans that fit up to four waist sizes.

• Pinterest points to goth, hellenic and colorful fashion as key trends for 2022.

• A report by Cotton Diaries reveals that 69 percent of denim brands don’t know where their cotton’s origin.

• DenimFWD opens a facility outside of L.A., offering brands and designers state-of-the-art digital tools powered by technology partners like Jeanologia and Kornit.

• Wrangler launches a 43-piece footwear collection for men, women and children.