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Denim Experts Reflect on 2022 and Look Ahead to 2023

The past year has been neither the best nor worst of times in the denim world. Fashion week runways saw a surge of creative new denim looks, customers returned to physical stores and more sustainable and traceable practices and products were introduced on what seemed like a daily basis.

However, despite those advances and many others, 2022 was not always smooth sailing for the industry. Problems such as excess inventory plagued many a brand or retailer and unprecedented energy-cost hikes threatened to put some fabric mills out of business, to name just two of several difficulties that aggravated an already difficult business environment.

So what will the new year bring?

Ebru Ozaydin, strategic marketing director of denim, wovens and ready-to-wear at The Lycra Company, believes creative practicality and industrywide cooperation will be needed to thrive in 2023.

“The industry currently has already been facing many challenges such as overproduction, excessive capacities, environmental concerns, high energy costs, greenwashing and labor force shortages. Learning to generate solutions by doing more with less and in a collaborative manner will be paramount,” she said.

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One thing is for certain, though. As with every year, 2023 will force the denim world to continue to evolve with the times and be as innovative as possible.

Here, international denim insiders share their thoughts about 2022 and what they expect to encounter in 2023.

How did the denim industry fare in 2022 compared to 2021?

Daniel Carman, principal, Over The Rainbow store in Toronto, Canada: As the casualization of the world and the workspace continues to accelerate post-pandemic, the denim industry has continued to soar during 2022. More people, especially women, are incorporating denim into the wardrobe in the most creative ways. Over the Rainbow has always approached denim as a staple in people’s everyday wardrobe and this mantra is becoming more widely accepted by existing and new clients.

Anatt Finkler, creative director, Global Denim: The denim industry as well as retail, in general, saw growth and high demand in their recovery from Covid-19 all through 2022 in comparison to 2021. Nevertheless, the supply chain was heavily disrupted, making nearshoring and localized production more important and more in demand. Prices hiked as the disruption of the supply chain continued and raw material prices continued to increase but demand on the industry increased as well making sales grow. In these last months of 2022, as the fear of a recession and high inflation comes to a head, we are seeing raw material prices balance and lower, and demand decrease to avoid having high inventories.

Adriano Goldschmied, founder, Genious Group and the newly revived denim line Daily Blue: Slowly we been on the way of getting out of Covid. For sure there was an enthusiasm about going back to “normal.” Business was moving well including for physical stores.

Sebastian Klinder, managing director, Munich Fabric Start and Bluezone: It seems like the denim industry stands surprisingly steady throughout the recent international geopolitical issues considering the fact that there have already been several global crises in the past years. The industry somehow learned how to react to that. On one hand, the high-street market slowed down which led to manufacturers and mills being affected. On the other hand, there have been enough innovative ideas, circular projects and cradle to cradle concepts broadening the niche markets, which seem to be booming and are not impacted by any type of crises.

Shannon Mercer, CEO, FibreTrace: As a traceability leader in the denim category, FibreTrace can attest to the leaps denim manufacturers and brands have made in pursuit of traceable and transparent practice over the past year, building on the previous period.

Ebru Ozaydin, strategic marketing director of denim, wovens and ready-to-wear, The Lycra Company: 2022 was a year that the pandemic was slightly losing its impact and the consumer was hungry to get outside, visit stores and buy new clothing which resulted in consumer behavior called “revenge shopping.” The brands and retailers were experiencing a high amount of demand—also thanks to the rise of online shopping—and some were challenged with the changing supply chain dynamics and longer lead times driven by availability, logistics, labor force, etc.

Therefore, 2022 was more of a year of recovery of what was lost. It was a successful year for many companies with good business results, even resulting in expansion and new investments.

However, the imbalance between overproduction and weakening of consumer buying (also consumer confidence) due to the rising cost of living and inflation has had a ripple effect in the denim value chain, resulting in idle capacity, unsold inventory, increased prices due to raw materials, ongoing logistics challenges and rising energy costs. Even if the first half of the year was a success, the last six months were extremely challenging for many players across the industry.

Brandon Svarc, founder/designer, Naked & Famous: I can’t speak for anybody else, but retail has been good for us. With fewer restrictions and increased tourism we’re seeing our stores full of people from all over the world.

Kattya Torres, founder, Denim Surgeon, a specialist in denim repair and jeans alteration based in New York: It’s heading in a positive direction. With new products and people slowly emerging from their pandemic cocoons we’re eager for “new and refreshing,” while still wanting the comforts of familiarity. Denim isn’t going anywhere but up.

What was a highlight (or low point) for the denim industry in 2022?

DC: The return of looser silhouettes combined with more rugged, less stretch-infused denim fabrics has been a nice change from the skinny elastic denim leggings that reigned supreme over the denim market over the last decade. People still appreciate comfort, and certainly the skinny jean still has its purpose, but consumers are approaching comfort in different ways beyond needing fabrics to cling to their skin comfortably.

AF: The use of new materials was a great highlight in the industry in 2022 as was the search for more circular and sustainable alternatives. As cotton prices hiked in 2022, we saw many different options and alternatives to it and mixes in constructions that I am hoping will continue. Also, a highlight was the diversity of styles and trends that we saw rise in this year due to the comeback from Covid-19 and the sentiment people wanted to express through their denim and clothing.

AG: A strong acceleration in the direction of circular fashion and consequently a good time for re-use. The recycling industry is strongly taking off.

SK: 2022 showed that denim is still an iconic product. This year brought more newness, better products, wiser designing, sustainable approaches such as indigo dyeing alternatives or the use of eco-friendly fabrics with hemp or linen blended in. We saw concrete projects and synergies between upcoming brands and suppliers. Furthermore, nearshoring seemed to gain more significance. A lower point is definitely the little awareness of the consumers when it comes to circularity issues. We need to take more effort on educational aspects.

SM: I surely appreciated the return to in-person conferences where, for the denim industry, comradery and collaboration is seen in spades.

EO: “Value”…for the consumer and the maker.

The consumer is starting to prioritize the value of the product from the design process to end-of-life. They look for authenticity, better clarification of the product’s value to justify the investment, the materials used, how sustainable it is, what impact it has on the planet, the resources and even who makes their clothes. The consumer is starting to spend more time on the product’s journey, asking for transparency and opting for better alternatives…Shopping is now an act of “taking responsibility,” to ensure money is well-spent for a high quality, long-lasting, sustainable and low-impact product to be kept in the wardrobe for a longer period of time. That is part of the reason why the resale market is booming.

The maker is realizing the value of branded raw materials; the rigorous research for innovating a product to transform the value for a better consumer experience. The denim industry has always been ahead of other product categories when it comes to investing in sustainable solutions, and this year, we have seen more solutions from fiber to garment level.

We are proud to offer Coolmax and Thermolite fiber technologies made from 100 percent textile waste or recycled PET bottles to support the sustainable design of denim as well as Lycra T400 EcoMade fiber which has 68 percent recycled content. This is one of the main ingredients of Lycra dualFX technology, along with Lycra EcoMade fiber.

We also announced our collaboration with Qore LLC to use qira for the next generation bio-derived Lycra fiber at scale which will result in 70 percent of the Lycra fiber content being derived from annually renewable feedstock.

BS: That’s a tough question…I did see some brands trying to pawn off NFTs instead of selling actual jeans. As a jeans maker I find that to be a low point of our industry.

KT: I’m happy to see more people coming back into the city [of New York] as compared to 2021.

How will the global economy affect the denim industry in 2023?

DC: People will be more mindful of how they spend their money and will be more selective about what stores they choose to support and what brands they believe offer the most value for their investment. The supply chain will continue to be unpredictable. It will be interesting to see which companies have the best control over their manufacturing. Shipping and transportation of products will also be a major challenge.

AF: This is yet to be seen; it will continue to grow as retail and demand from the consumer continues, but as the fear of recession hits, we will see the year more cautious behavior in terms of purchases from the consumer and from brands.

AG: For sure our business will be affected with a global reduction of volume. As times are uncertain the industry will go to a short-term vision. Unfortunately, this will affect the investments in technology that are the real engine for sustainability and circularity.

SK: Predictions from international research agencies point out that the first [quarter] will be critical. Only brands that understand new business models that need them to become more resilient and well prepared will successfully go through this time. 2023 will experience the increasing gap between the high- and low-price segment and budget challenges in our society: consumers seem to reflect positively on buying products with added value. These shifts will help the up-market and create more challenges for the value market.

SM: Denim isn’t going anywhere. But, as consumer values change, the way they shop is changing too. Whether it’s a personal style, financial, environmental or trend-driven decision, Gen Z is seeing the appeal in shopping denim (and other categories) vintage and secondhand.

The success of resale start-ups like The RealReal and Depop has been recognized by brands who are now entering the space with their own resale initiatives—from luxury and high-end brands to fast fashion giants, this is a market to watch.

For any of these programs to be successful and believed by consumers, however, traceability needs to be at the forefront of these types of initiatives.

EO: One of the challenges will be to gain consumer confidence. People will be cautious about spending money on fashion. Shrinking budgets will result in new buying patterns and the trend will be “consuming smartly/responsibly” with a frugal mindset.

BS: I think it depends on where you are at in the market. Premium brands with prices to match have consumers who are less affected by a rough economy; I think they’ll be fine. On the mass market side of things, I think some brands may struggle to keep prices low especially with the increased costs of raw materials and freight.

KT: We’ll see a rise in customers looking to extend the life of their wardrobe with repairs as well as a rise in more vintage clothing bought at local thrift shops.

What would you like to see more in 2023?

DC: Creative, innovative products and experiences. Real sustainable garments. More support of independent boutique retailers who set the trends rather than following them. More patience for humanity and more respect for individual perspectives.

AF: I would love to see more circular and sustainable fibers get into the mix. Not just in capsule collections from brands, but rather as an investment to transform the economy and the industry.

AG: A better understanding about real values that promote durability, quality and a better life for all. More, more and more is not the right answer for the planet.

SK: Sustainability and innovation are key—so hopefully 2023 will be about more dedication to responsible and conscious products. Under the motto “Discovery,” the denim trade show Bluezone in January will bring together the industry to show smart designs in wearability and circularity, diversity in denim fabrications, nearshoring which can bring balance to local economies and advanced automation and digital management. Last but not least, a more eco-friendly buying behavior is desirable. That includes consumers who care about eco-friendly products while they’re shopping as much as they love to communicate these topics to their friends and followers.

SM: I’m always impressed to see how the broader denim supply chain fosters innovation in an industry that, despite its love for the traditional, is enthusiastic to push boundaries.

EO: Despite all, we still need to invest in and value innovation and continue to offer solutions to consumers through the lens of new lifestyles and new needs. Transparency is the key to keeping the consumer part of the process, as better understanding will allow us to use our resources more efficiently and effectively. So I would like to see more sustainable solutions, products and services. The industry needs to support each other, collaborate more and try to find solutions to overcome all the challenges we are facing.

BS: More people wearing raw denim of course.

KT: We would love to see more unique denim pieces in 2023—pieces with hardware, embellishments, one-of-a-kind stitching, you name it. We love that denim can always enter new territory with each era of fashion and manage to stay both timeless and innovative.

What would you like to see less in 2023?

DC: I’d like to see the demise of fast fashion and less judgement of people and their opinions on important issues due to lack of understanding.

AF: I would love to see fewer ephemeral trends arise or come back. I would love to see design thinking blend into product making, where we design for longevity and circularity. This will ultimately lead to more conscious consumption and more mindfulness around how we wear clothing and more investment in new, better materials.

AG: Less Black Friday. A green Friday should be every week….

SK: Less greenwashing, less unconscious consumerism and less low-quality denim. The denim industry has seen all of that since its establishment and it can definitely help societies to improve their living—the industry should take these opportunities.

SM: I can appreciate any brand’s commitment to “sustainable” practice, but I hope to see less unsubstantiated claims in 2023. Greenwashing—and this is speaking beyond denim—is taking the power from companies with genuine claims to positive impact and undermining the intelligence of the consumer and investor.

It is in the industry’s best interest that we all act with accountability. Soon enough, supply chain due diligence will be the new standard. The time to act is now.

EO: Players in the industry who do not commit to transforming for a better, healthier future.

BS: War.

KT: As a full-service tailor shop specializing in denim, we’d love to see less denim getting tossed or unnecessarily donated when there’s the option for having your well-loved denim repaired, altered for a best fit, repurposed or upcycled.