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Denim Executives Map Out What’s Next for the Industry

Unprecedented times are driving executives to recalibrate their outlook for the denim industry.

Here, Rivet caught up with executives from denim mills and brands to find out how they are preparing to accommodate an industry and consumer changed by the pandemic.

Jason Trotzuk, founder and creative director, Fidelity Denim

On the changes and challenges ahead for denim retail: The biggest changes I see for retail right now are, well, basically everything. Post Covid-19, consumers are looking for new experiences—the ones that they’ve had in the past no longer resonate with them. Corporations are deemed to be the bad guys and locally and ethically made products are very meaningful to consumers.

This also includes price point, as this is a new era. Premium is not as important as purpose—if the brand has meaning and understanding and has representations in categories that speak to the consumer, those are the brands that are going to have longevity.

On when the denim market will rebound from this crisis: I see denim rebounding immediately. In fact, I don’t see denim skipping a beat at all. Yes, there is a trend toward more comfortable basics as people are in their houses more, but sweatpants will only take them so far. Denim has always had a rebellious nature, and if you ever want to bring yourself to a little bit more of a relevant place, putting on a pair of denim will get you there.

The more important question for denim brands is the way in which they will reach the consumer. In a post-pandemic world, this could mean a multitude of different experiences for people to enjoy, be introduced and reconnect with the most dynamic article of clothing they can own. In a post-Covid world, the retailer is not the only option.

On what the denim industry should look like in a post-pandemic world: I would like the denim industry to become more ethical and more sustainable. Denim is arguably one of the biggest polluters in the garment industry, but more importantly, the world has become used to cheap denim that is made unethically, supporting child labor and ignoring standards that are hurting our environment and destroying the planet. As an industry, we need to stop this.

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On how the pandemic will affect future designs: Less fluff, more meat! In a world of attrition, a smart designer knows when less is more, the consumer is unsure of their purchases, and the purchases are more meaningful. A smart designer will make sure that all of the facets of a great pair of jeans are included in one pair.

Jordan Nodarse, creative director, Boyish Jeans

On the changes and challenges ahead for denim retail: Making sure we don’t sink with the large retailers. We have to control dilution and brand image right now and be very selective of who we work with on [the] wholesale market side of business.

On when the denim market will rebound from this crisis: I think it’s more about a shift in consumer mentality. The denim market won’t be going back to the way it ever was. It’s going to change because consumers are waking up. They are getting smarter with involuntary greenwashing from brands that try to be sustainable but do not actually put the effort into learning what sustainability and circularity truly are. Replacing plastic fibers with recycled plastic fibers is just trying to solve a problem while creating two more problems. This mentality needs to change.

On what the denim industry should look like in a post-pandemic world: True transparency, true sustainability, smart design and better marketing. So many companies have amazing, young employees with great ideas but these companies are stifled by their executive teams that have become leeches within their company, sucking up huge salaries and not contributing anything to the well-being of the company besides their own desire to latch on for as long as they can.

On how the pandemic will affect future designs: Trim down the selection. Offer less. Stock only core best-selling, season-less styles. Avoid the retailers with buying teams and executives that do not understand their own business. They will try and use you and right now small brands cannot afford that. Stay strong, deliver a strong message, and your consumers will follow you.

Aydan Tüzün, executive director of global sales and marketing, Naveena Denim Mills

On the changes and challenges ahead for denim retail: The biggest changes and challenges for denim retail will be the same. Denim retail should adapt itself constantly to the upcoming new normal in an agile way. Fortunately, denim is a perfect fabric that is timeless and adaptable. I think if there is one industry that will weather the crisis easier than the others, it’s denim.

On when the denim market will rebound from this crisis: In this time of uncertainty, it is really difficult to predict a moment of rebound. I think we should be open about uncertainty, and transparent in the ways in which we acknowledge the limitations of future prospect-telling. However, I think the crisis is also maturing in a way, and the industry has already adapted itself to the new normal. We have already seen a significant increase in orders, especially on the functional fabric side.

On what the denim industry should look like in a post-pandemic world: Denim has always been a very versatile fabric. And I think it will not only adapt to the new normal, but also be a frontrunner as a symbol of change again, as it has been many times in the past. I would like to see the denim industry make jeans a symbol again for an ethical, sustainable and conscious revolution for the whole fashion industry and beyond to create a win-win-win solution for consumers, the supply chain and the planet.

On how the pandemic will affect future designs: The pandemic shed light on an already existing trend toward more functional athleisure wear, as well as a more ethical and sustainable collection. We had already been working on these, but of course, we have reinforced our efforts to adapt better to this change, focusing on clever, wearable and functional fabrics.

Another main area of focus is of course sustainability. We are working on expanding our products focusing on natural fibers such as hemp, biodegradable alternatives to polyester and elastane and sustainable processes that will bring us closer to our main vision of creating 100 percent sustainable denim.

Jeff Rosenstock, president, General Sportwear

On the changes and challenges ahead for denim retail: This year has affected every aspect of the apparel business, and at the core, severely challenged the two most important factors: supply and demand itself.

From the supply point of view, having more control that offers better flexibility and quick turn has changed from a luxury to a necessity. Owning our facilities puts us in the best position for our customers to be able to leverage our production strength and react quickly to their needs to get them what they need, when they need it.

From a consumer standpoint, it is all about what they need right now, and how they are buying it to get it quicker and easier. We are seeing more demand for buy now/wear now comfort, and better quality at a fair price. Convenience has become a critical factor in how customers purchase.

On when the denim market will rebound from this crisis: We expect pent-up demand resulting in a much better denim fourth quarter as the weather turns.

This will be supported as more people return to work and school in the fall, fueling the need for comfortable clothing that can be dressed up and down appropriately. Shorts, sweats and suits will not be able to cover that need as well as denim.

On what the denim industry should look like in a post-pandemic world: There will be many lessons learned from this pandemic. We hope one of these is that your supply chain cannot be taken for granted. Where you make your products and who you make it with are just as important as what you make. Choose your partners wisely, and understand that the cheapest and easiest answer is not always the best one.

On how the pandemic will affect future designs: Outside of seasonal items, we are taking the pressure off designing according to trends. It has become more of a logical review of where we are today, what we are missing, and where we need to be next. Indigo denim, for the most part, is a year-long business, and best-selling washes are really not specific to any particular time. We would rather take advantage of the fact that we own our factories and continue to react quickly to the needs of the brand in real time. We are constantly reordering Devil-Dog Dungarees products to keep our best-selling fits and washes in stock, and service our website customers, as well as our drop ship and retail partners with quick shipments and return on their investment.

Steve Maggard, president, Cone Denim

On the changes and challenges ahead for denim retail: I think the biggest challenge facing denim retail right now is uncertainty. With so many unknowns, planning a business in the current environment is very challenging. Everyone is trying to understand or predict what the short-term and longer-term will look like across the global markets: What government assistance will be provided? Will there be a second shutdown of retail stores due to Covid-19? Will schools re-open and how will that affect the back-to-school season and the need for jeans? How will consumer habits and purchasing ability change coming out of the pandemic?

On when the denim market will rebound from this crisis: I think that due to Covid-19 remaining at high levels and even growing in some areas of the world, a complete rebound will be delayed until early next year. There are also significant inventory issues caused by the shutdown and the resulting bankruptcies and store closings that will take several months to cycle. We are definitely seeing stronger global demand in recent months, but a complete rebound is far away.

On what the denim industry should look like in a post-pandemic world: My hope is that, coming out of the pandemic, the industry recognizes those companies that acted responsibly and ethically during the crisis and rewards them with continued business. I am referring to those companies that were impacted but continued to do the right thing—pay their bills, honor their commitments, partner within and across the supply chain to ensure mutual survival, deliver the product they committed to make, use the downtime to create new products, and focus on the safety of their workers. These are the companies that are exhibiting the heart and soul of the global denim community and that deserve to be recognized and supported.

On how the pandemic will affect future designs: Consumers are still going to want the same things as always from their jeans. They want a great-looking, comfortable pair of jeans that is produced in a sustainable and ethical manner at all steps of the process. At Cone Denim, we have become more creative in our design process. We are doing a lot more design work through video calls and remote communication as travel is limited. Our team has been using the extra time to focus, reflect and expand our innovations, and I am really excited about some of the new denim we will be rolling out over the next several months.

Arkun Durmaz, president, Mavi

On the changes and challenges ahead for denim retail: The uncertainty of both supply and demand is currently the biggest challenge. Although most of our customers and suppliers have revised their plans numerous times, the long-term effects of the pandemic are still very much unknown. Additionally, there is some unpredictability in logistics, especially when it comes down to product that requires air travel.

On when the denim market will rebound from this crisis: Fortunately, the denim market wasn’t as dramatically affected by the virus as other markets and industries, since casual attire became the norm as consumers began to spend more time at home and work remotely. The biggest challenge thus far is that most of our retail and dot-com partners reverted to very conservative plans until they could get a better idea of next steps, which ended up putting a lot of stress on supply-chain management. We are now in a quick reaction period, which makes long-term planning harder. We are expecting, and hoping, to be back to a new normal by mid-2021.

On what the denim industry should look like in a post-pandemic world: The denim industry needs to return our focus to sustainability and eco-friendly practices.

On how the pandemic will affect future designs: We are designing more focused seasonal collections, and although we’ve reduced the number of styles in each, the new collections are exciting and trend-driven, while staying true to Mavi’s DNA.

Victor Lytvinenko, co-founder, co-designer, president, Raleigh Denim

On the changes and challenges ahead for denim retail: Predicting the future is the toughest challenge right now.

On when the denim market will rebound from this crisis: The rebound is going to be in a different direction. The market has changed and the ways we’ve done things in the past will not be the way we do things in the future, from all angles of sourcing, production, and sales. So, it’s very hard to define what a rebound will look like, and hard to say when it will happen.

On what the denim industry should look like in a post-pandemic world: Question everything. We have a chance to start over and do things better. A lot of our industry and model of making wasn’t really working, and now is the time to make some changes.

On how the pandemic will affect future designs: Classics. We are focusing on our best-selling styles with comfort and a few sprinkles of novelty and color.

Read more from “Out of the Blue: The New Blueprint for Denim’s New Reality,” a state-of-the-industry report sponsored by Informa and produced to time with its digital PROJECT show. Click here to download.