The premium denim sector boomed onto the scene 20 years ago, with brands AG and Citizens of Humanity becoming household names thanks in part to their celebrity clientele. Now, just as fashion from that era also makes a comeback, the category is gearing up for growth, this time buoyed by innovation and sustainability.
The premium denim jeans market is set to grow by $9.06 billion at a rate of 6.64 percent from 2020 to 2025, according to a new report from global technology research and advisory company Technavio.
According to the data, 31 percent of that growth will originate from North America, thanks to the region’s high purchasing power and enhanced living standards, as well as the fact that many popular brands are located throughout the U.S., including Los Angeles-based labels like AG, Citizens of Humanity, J Brand, 7 For All Mankind and Frame.
Significant growth is projected in the men’s segment, as the pandemic-fueled casualization movement is shifting the traditional definition of office attire. Jeans are now becoming a staple in business culture, leading to increased demand for the garment previously reserved for casual Fridays. Retail analytics firm Edited published a report in September urging retailers to stock their stores with men’s attire tailored to a range of employees, including hybrid workers, active commuters and those seeking traditional looks.
The shift has inspired many major brands throughout the denim industry to premiumize their offerings, beginning with Levi’s. In August, the heritage denim brand dropped a collection packed with bold designs targeted to the premium market through its Made & Crafted line. The men’s collection included slouchy Trucker jackets and straight leg jeans to prove the label is capable of designing apparel fit for both the catwalk and the sidewalk.
Kontoor Brands’-owned Wrangler also outlined its premiumization strategy at its virtual investor day in May, citing partnerships with Nordstrom, Free People and Urban Outfitters as helping to elevate the brand.
Beyond fashion-forward designs and high-end partnerships, product innovations are especially driving the premium denim market forward, according to the Technavio report. The pandemic drove consumers to raise their standards for purchasing, making a product’s functionality, comfort and sustainability attributes more important than ever.
And brands delivered. In September, American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) ventured into premium territory with AE77, a men’s and women’s brand that takes a “planet-first” approach to denim. Jeans are made using more sustainable techniques and machinery, and employ sustainable raw materials “to all extents possible.” Cotton is sustainably sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative, and the brand uses green chemistry in jeans production to reduce or eliminate hazardous substances in the wash process and works only with factories that meet the company’s highest water requirements.
Recently, Frame debuted its first range of biodegradable jeans, tapping the plant-based Candiani Coreva stretch technology that replaces common synthetic and petrol-based elastomers—which are detrimental to the environment—with a natural component. Jeans are available in three different fabrications, each of which degrades respective to its stretch content.
This year, the brand also developed its first circular collection featuring denim designed in accordance with the foundation’s Jeans Redesign guidelines, an industry-wide effort to establish minimum requirements on garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability. Though initially launched with three women’s denim pieces, the brand is committed to expanding its sustainability efforts throughout its assortment.
In April, AG introduced the “Jeans of Tomorrow,” comprised of a unisex denim jacket, a men’s “Tellis” straight-leg jean and a women’s “Alexxis” mid-rise straight-leg jean, which it considers to be the future of denim. The collection also centers on 100 percent biodegradable denim fabrics made with a blend of organic cotton—which the Technavio report identified as a major driver for the premium denim market among increasingly health-conscious consumers—as well as Tencel and hemp.
Organic cotton was a key feature in the J Brand x Antoni collection, which launched in October 2020 and included styles selected by Antoni Porowski of the Netflix reality show “Queer Eye.” In addition to its use of organic cotton, the range also includes recycled thread and all denim is sustainably made using J Brand’s eco wash process, which uses 90 percent less water versus conventional processes.
L.A.-based 7 For All Mankind announced more aggressive sustainability efforts across all of its products in 2020 with the launch of its platform “Sustainable For All Mankind,” which offers transparency into its sustainability practices and lays out the company’s sustainability goals. By 2023, it pledged to have more than 80 percent of its product include sustainable properties through measurable indexes, which it will achieve by prioritizing organic and recycled materials, adopting innovative manufacturing methods. That same year, it debuted the 080 denim capsule 20th anniversary collection made up of re-issued jean styles produced with sustainable materials. Low-rise bootcut jeans and trouser jeans feature organic cotton denim and recycled elastane, and are washed using an eco-friendly process and finished with recycled hardware.
Suzanne Silverstein, the brand’s president, noted that the enhanced focus is crucial “as the world begins to define a new normal,” and that the platform “creates a new go-forward approach to help our products and practices become more earth-friendly.”