The pandemic single-handedly rewired how consumers dress and catapulted loungewear items like leggings and tie-dye sweats to the forefront of fashion. Fortunately, the denim industry was prepared for the shift, with stretch innovations taking center stage over the past few years.
Though stretch denim made a splash in the early 2000s as a way for premium brands to offer women a sleek and sexy shape, advancements in sustainability, recovery and durability have elevated the category into performance fabric territory.
Despite the number of consumers spending more time in their homes, denim shows no signs of slowing down. Retail market intelligence company Edited noted that there’s been a 50 percent year-over-year increase in stretch jeans selling out online since March across men’s and women’s categories.
Further, it’s a focus for the upcoming season. “Denim will continue to maintain its appeal even during the new normal,” said Kayla Marci, market analyst, Edited. “The fabric was a core element within the recent Spring 2021 runway shows for men’s wear and pre-spring for women’s wear with co-ords, jumpsuits, straight and wide-leg jeans, coach jackets and Bermuda shorts all receiving exposure.”
As Ani Wells, founder of sustainable denim blog Simply Suzette, told Rivet at the beginning of the pandemic, “whoever said you’re crazy for wearing jeans in quarantine is wrong. They just haven’t found the right pair.”
Comfort denim, specifically styles with high-stretch qualities, has emerged as the industry’s hot ticket item as shoppers spend more time on the couch.
Premium denim label J Brand, a division of Fast Retailing, expanded its stretch offerings when it debuted Limitless Stretch, a fabrication that stretches to twice its size and retracts without any sagging. The brand reported that the fabric features 30 percent more stretch than other premium denim fabrics currently on the market.
The fabric was created at Fast Retailing’s Jeans Innovation Center in Los Angeles, which launched in 2016 as a way for its brands to manage R&D and denim manufacturing using environmentally friendly processes. The jeans are washed using its water-saving Eco Wash, tapping into a post-pandemic consumer need that runs parallel to comfort: sustainability.
Good American introduced its Always Fits collection last fall, a line of jeans with 100 percent stretchability, meaning they can accommodate a range of three to four sizes without sacrificing fit. The jeans use fabrics by Calik Denim made with a blend of cotton, recycled cotton, polyester and elastane.
Innovations in stretch denim are coming from suppliers as well. Fiber producer Hyosung debuted its Creora 3D Max last year, a high-stretch spandex that is able to achieve 50 percent stretch with less than 5 percent growth—a difficult ratio to attain, as sagging is likely to occur with extreme stretch.
According to Mike Simko, Hyosung’s global marketing director, other solutions for creating high stretch, low growth denim are “expensive and tightly controlled,” and often don’t allow for sustainable finishing techniques. “3D Max offers a more economical solution to super stretch denim that eliminates the need for stretch polyester, which is costly and makes it difficult to use eco-friendly finishing like laser treatments,” he said.
Hyosung is working with several brands in Europe and the U.S. to bring its stretch innovation to life, as Simko predicts an uptick in denim once the world recovers from the pandemic. “As we emerge from our homes—and we will—consumers will be looking to turn in their yoga pants and upgrade their fashion with denim, yet keep their focus on comfort,” he said.
Turkish denim mill Orta recently debuted Freecycle fabrics, a flexible and durable innovation that features Lycra T400 fiber for what it calls a “game-changing” construction. The new fabric eliminates sagging at the knee, provides low shrinkage and offers a natural cotton touch.
Merging stretch denim with sustainable practices has become a common offering within the industry, most notably in the form of biodegradable stretch denim introduced by Candiani at the end of 2019.
The Italian denim mill’s plant-based Coreva stretch technology is made by wrapping organic cotton with a natural rubber core instead of synthetic and petrol-based elastomers. This allows stretch without compromising elasticity and recovery properties—and consumers and brands alike are taking note.
Coreva was first featured in Denham the Jeanmaker’s “Life is Movement” collection of jeans. It’s now also featured in eco-conscious denim collections from brands such as Triarchy, Closed, Stella McCartney and Hiut Denim.
Though much is uncertain during the pandemic, Edited’s Marci urges the industry to continue betting on innovations in stretch denim.
“As remote working remains in place for the foreseeable future, casual and relaxed dressing has been adapted into the new work uniform, making the time right for retailers to invest in denim with stretch and comfort properties,” she said.