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3 Emerging Sustainable Denim Consumers Brands Need to Know

From luxury brands banning fur, to Levi’s adoption of laser finishing technology, a new level of fashion consciousness is rising. And it is as complicated as it is exciting for the denim supply chain and brands to navigate.

Denim experts Sue Barrett of Denim Forum and Sinem Celik of Blu Projects are teaming up to help guide the industry with “Address the Future,” a new initiative to help guide brands toward sustainable products with effective consumer-facing messages. “Sustainability can feel like a dark art,” Barrett said. “There so much to know, but no one knows where to begin.”

“We are clearly the last generation that can change the course of climate change, but we are also the first generation with its consequences,” Celik said. “Fashion is the most powerful industry to spread and communicate change.”

Understanding new consumer values is part of the puzzle. Through “Address the Future,” Barrett and Celik have defined three emerging consumers—each with their own sustainability blueprint and ideas on consumerism. At Bluezone in Munich, Germany, Barrett and Celik described the groups’ characteristics and how denim brands can design for their unique preferences.


With an upbeat, can-do attitude toward change, Posify is a group of millennial and Gen Z consumers motivated by happiness and joy.

“Happy is the new rich,” Barrett said. Lighthearted messages about serious topics is the most effective way to reach this consumer. “The new spirt of rebellion isn’t punk, its consciousness,” she added.

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This group wears their heart and beliefs on their sleeve—literally. Lively, nostalgic ’90s vibes, garments with positive messages and bold uses of color appeals to this group. “Color is a 30 percent incentive driver at retail now,” Barrett said.

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Flexing logos is increasingly important, as consumers may resell items. Resale, Barrett added, bodes well for the mid-tier market. “The new business model of resale is adding value to branded products again,” she said. “Brands are regaining market share in denim.”

Memorable retail moments are valuable to the Posify cohort, who want to feel like they are changing the world, but as a collective group. “There is a huge hunger for experience,” Barrett said. “Experiences are creating a new level of engagement and excitement in retail.” And bonus points if brands can create these experiences in an Instagram-friendly environment.

And this group is not just tolerant of differences and flaws—they embrace it wholeheartedly. Inclusivity is the new “contemporary hippy vibe,” Barrett said, adding that brands have a lot to gain by shining a spotlight on underrepresented groups.


Posify’s good nature isn’t for everyone. Protect is a darker and angrier consumer group that favors reactive solutions to sustainability. This consumer believes the social contract has been broken and it’s not only their right, but their moral duty to rebel.

“Protect reflects a more dystopian youth,” Barrett said, adding that this group is united by crisis. Local and global protest give consumers a new sense of unity. “And it’s having a big impact on retail. You don’t want to shop when cars are burning on the street,” she added.

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Dystopian denim speaks to the Protect consumer. Recoloring old stock, high energy laundry looks, badges, protest messages and reworked items are key. “Waste is a big design flaw,” Barrett said. “However, the deconstructed aesthetic continues to drive excitement in fashion. And it shows no sign of slowing down.”

Protect is also rewriting the script for traditional retail. “The era of ownership is over,” Celik said. “The lifespan of fashion products is being stretched as pre-owned, refurbished, repaired and rental business models continue to evolve.”


The Essentials is a group of millennials and Gen Z consumers Celik says base purchases on “eco-credentials and brand reputation.”

Barrett describes Essentials as a “serene and minimalistic consumer.” Having less and being “off the grid,” is increasingly appealing to city dwellers, she said. This consumer favors buying products built to last and embraces a lifestyle that rejects mass consumerism.

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In fashion, Celik says the focus on sustainability sharpens. Low impact yarns, hemp and linen come into fashion. “Recycled noble fibers” like recycled cashmere gain importance. “To source from Lenzing or similar nature-friendly companies should be preferred,” she added.

The priority on the environment is also reflected in an earthy color palette as well as the return of dark indigo enhanced with new technology like Tejidos Royo’s foam dyeing.

Barrett says the premium heritage look is back, too. Understated, ’90s western looks—reconsidered with sustainable fibers—are gaining traction. However, rather than heritage brands pushing the aesthetic, Barrett said look for inspiration from small independent brands with a niche audience.