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Denim Experts Weigh In on the Year Ahead

Will bioengineering, no gender denim and dirty Diesel style be among the trends shaping the denim industry in 2019?

Here, five denim experts—Tricia Carey, director of global denim business development at Lenzing; Bill Curtin, owner of New Jersey-based BPD Washhouse; Jean Hegedus, Invista’s global director for denim and wovens; Ebru Ozaydin, Artistic Milliners senior vice president of sales and marketing and Panos Sofianos, denim curator for Bluezone—share their 2018 denim highs and lows and their predictions for the year ahead.

Rivet: Which denim trends do you think we’ll see more of in 2019?

Tricia Carey: We will continue to see more refined and cleaner looks.

Bill Curtin: Dirty denim will emerge, first for men’s and then the ladies. Think CK Jeans and Diesel jeans with ’90s style. We have created some dope dirty washes at BPD for inspiration.

Jean Hegedus: We’ll continue to see a push for more sustainable offerings and practices throughout the entire value chain—from fibers to fabrics, dyeing and finishing technologies, reduced water and energy consumption, and addressing areas like fast fashion. There will be a continued push to deliver products that can fit into the circular economy.  In the area of stretch denim, we’ll see new offerings for example, customizable stretch through new Lycra technologies, and “modern vintage” fabrics that look like traditional denim but still have the comfort and performance consumers desire.

Ebru Ozaydin: In 2019, we will be talking more about new technologies rather than product per se. Bioengineering and lab-grown materials will start to be the epicenter of our product discussions. Although it is still in its infancy, we will feel the urge to do more research and educate ourselves, even spending more time with scientists and researchers. Material science amplified by sustainable solutions will help us to develop out-of-the-box products.

“Reverse thinking” in the design process will empower 360 sustainability concepts; pushing the limits of thoughtful innovation.

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And with online shopping being on rise, big data will empower us to better understand consumer lifestyles and preferences, make sound analysis and build strategies to meet the exact needs.

Panos Sofianos: Fashion denim goes technical and functional. Luxury denim will go street and greener. And more no-gender denim.

Rivet: Which trends will we see less?

TC: Less of the rip, repair and excessive holes.

BC: Holes, rips and destroyed denim. We have exhausted the possibilities and my destroy technicians need a rest at the washhouse.

JH: We will see less “traditional” denim processing and more sustainable fibers and methods being used.

EO: The (boring) competition of athleisure and denim. The period of last five years has proven that consumer will never totally shift to athleisure from denim (or vice-versa).

PS: Tight fits, leggings and destroyed denim.

Rivet: What was your denim highlight in 2018?

TC: Wow, that’s hard to say, there were so many great moments in 2018 from the Sustainable Denim Wardrobe with Jeanologia to Tencel x Refibra hitting retail, to working with Pawan Kumar and Sanjeev Bahl on Midnight Blues capsule. If I have to pick just one, then I would say it was the New York Denim Days event and the seminar with Adriano Goldschmied, Scott Morrison, and Jordan Nodarse because they represent five decades of denim designs with their amazing stories and perspective.

BC: Destroy, destroy, destroy—we wore out all our dremmels at the washhouse destroying denim.

JH: The introduction of two key innovations: Lycra T400 EcoMade fiber, the first in a series of sustainable stretch offerings, and Lycra FreeF!T technology, which provides soft, easy stretch but with excellent recovery.

EO: Water-saving became our real challenge, but it also helped to be more creative with production processes and machinery design. Brands created their new entourage by staying close not only to fabric mills but also technology pioneers. The partnership between G-Star Raw, Artistic Milliners and DyStar is a perfect example for such collaboration with the “Most Sustainable Jeans Ever” campaign, as it has inspired many brands and denim companies. What really matters with this collaboration is not only the product but also the Cradle-to-Cradle certification process with its rigorous assessment methods that includes material reutilization, water stewardship, renewable energy and social fairness. Therefore 360 sustainability has become much more important.

PS: The big [shift] to sustainability coming from big chain stores, mill and fiber suppliers.

Rivet: Where is the most excitement in denim coming from?

TC: From where I sit there are two areas of excitement for denim at the beginning and the end. I see more happening with fibers and indigo dyeing at the start, as well as some really cool emerging direct-to-consumer brands with fresh perspective for consumers.

BC: On the business-to-business side, it’s the automation of the denim processing manufacturing industry. BPD will be adding the latest laser technology in 2019. We will be the only facility on the East Coast where brands can develop their wash designs with laser. We have already hired our laser designer, which is now a new position in the denim industry. On the business-to-consumer side, it’s consumers’ engagement in sustainability. It resonates with them now.

JH: Our research indicates that the number one issue for consumers with their jeans is around various aspects of fit. Solving those issues through innovations that can bring more customized fit solutions can drive significant excitement.

EO: Start-ups and technology companies who make the consumer a part of the innovation process by listening them with both ears and eyes. It is all about identifying the real need.

PS: Fibers made from unexpected raw material and fibers to help the circular process. Also, conductive yarns that can transform a piece of denim cloth into an important performance tool.

Rivet: How do you see denim retail faring in 2019?

TC: Denim will continue the upswing because there are many reasons for consumers to buy. While the skinny jean is a staple, there are more styles, looks and places to buy denim.

BC: Denim is trending again and this is driven by vintage, flea market inspiration on one end and the high-end runway denim explosion from the top down. The tie-dye phenomenon is also helping the denim retail world. There are great choices at every level. Target’s new label, Wild Fable, is a great example of this.

JH: I think 2019 will be a mixed year for denim. We see some indications that activewear is peaking and consumers are going back to jeans, especially as jeans have more performance and comfort attributes built into them.  External factors such as the trade situation with China, potential economic downturn in the U.S., difficulties in the U.K. market due to Brexit will make for a challenging environment. But even in difficult markets, those who choose to innovate can win.

EO: For retail, though slouchy fits have rallied in 2018, skinny fits and shape and sculpt concepts remain as the real volume (and money) maker. Google shopping trends shows that still skinny jeans, especially among young girls, are selling more than mom and boyfriend fits.

PS: I think it will grow due to the entrance of new emerging markets in the game.

Rivet: What is the greatest hurdle the denim industry needs to overcome in 2019?

TC: How do we express sustainability to the consumer?  How do we connect with millennials and Gen Z?

BC: The denim industry needs to relax and not take itself too seriously. Basic and simple is a denim trait. Some people forget this and develop what we at BPD like to call, “The denim superiority complex.” When we teach our Denim 101 classes, we remind everyone that they dictate their own style and they are the expert when it comes to self-expression.

JH: Continuing to move toward a more circular economy and doing so on a significant scale. This won’t happen overnight but we need to keep pushing in this direction.

EO: There are three hurdles: First, the lack of enthusiasm due to many factors but mostly political and economic. Second, “industry cleansing” meaning fighting against sustainability frauds and opportunists. And finally, effective communication and helping the end-consumer to better understand sustainability.

PS: The production process. Denim must change its manufacturing philosophy and methods. Wet finishing, too. Technology is improving lately and mills must invest in this.