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Denim Experts Weigh In on Smart Solutions for Design and Sourcing

The best designers are equipped with the right mindset and tools to face the rapidly changing manufacturing and retail landscapes. And at Sourcing at Magic in Las Vegas this week, experts set out to further streamline some of the sector’s confusion.

In a panel Monday titled, “Fashion Design Is All About Tech and Innovation,” moderated by Fashion For Profit president Frances Harder, denim design and fit experts urged designers to use technology to create ways to overcome the denim industry’s biggest hurdles, including sustainability, on-demand manufacturing and performance fabrics.

Here, Stefano Aldighieri, president of Another Design Studio 2.0, Silver Jeans Co. designer Jennifer Lynn Peterson and Ram Sareen founder of Tukatech share how denim designers need to balance creativity with solution-based design.

On athleisure

Fabric innovation is behind denim’s comeback from the hit it took from the athleisure and activewear markets in 2014.

“Everyone went from wearing denim every day to wearing athleisure every day and discovered that they could be fashionable and comfortable at the same time,” Peterson said. “That was a really hard time for the denim industry and we had to adapt and change and the brands that did not adapt and change cease to exist now. They didn’t make it.”

Jeggings and indigo knit helped the denim industry stay relevant. “Denim mills had a huge urgency to develop denim that had that comfort level, but still looks like denim,” Peterson said.

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“Basically, people got used to having a certain type of comfort when they were in their [yoga] pants and now they expected to have a certain level of performance, even in products that traditionally don’t really have,” Aldighieri said.

Stretch denim, however, continued to be a hard sale for men’s brands.

“Brands would never even advertise it,” Aldighieri said. “They would not tell people it was stretch because otherwise men traditionally would say ‘No I don’t want to have that. That’s women’s stuff.’ But once they started wearing it and because it was actually comfortable, then it became mainstream.”

On trends

Denim trends are less about new styles and more about achieving a certain look, according to Peterson.

“It’s just details and how you wear it and how you style it that’s changing,” she said. The brands that are doing really well, she noted, are styling jeans on their websites as an entire outfit. “There’s close-up shots, there are movement shots because people want to see how they are going to wear the jeans. They want to be able to visualize themselves wearing it.”

Whereas fashion trends used to differ from city to city, Sareen said trends now “spread like wild fire” and should be among designers’ least concerns. Brands, he said, have to consider how segments of the market are changing.

“The fit is different, the sizing is different and the quantity, so it is a huge challenge for manufacturers,” he said.

Aldighieri, for one, is over fashion trends.

“I actually refused to talk about trends anymore because, to me, it no longer makes sense,” he said. Rather, Aldighieri urges brands to extrapolate design concepts lifestyle and cultural shifts. “I think brands should really look at the macro trends—the things that are really important—then give their own interpretation,” he said. “You have to go out with your own point of view.”

On sustainability

Silver Jeans Co. is seeing consumers warm up to sustainability. “We’ve been strongly looking into [sustainability] for several years and it’s finally getting to the point where people really want it,” Peterson said. And the technology required to be sustainable is becoming affordable. Peterson said Silver Jeans Co. is “looking into machinery that streamlines the process” that requires fewer machines, no pumice and requires less water.

Aldighieri fears sustainability will be lumped with other industry trends.

“The biggest problem that I have is that everybody is now talking about sustainability like it’s become the fad of the day,” he said. “I’m really concerned that one day, people will be jumping on to the next thing and they will just forget. But I think we have reached the tipping point and we know that we just simply cannot go ahead like this.”

Sareen would like to see brands take a proactive approach to sustainability through on-demand manufacturing.

“I think the biggest factor are the landfills of unsold for garments,” he said. To eliminate excess, Sareen said brands require better technologies to make only what they need. “Today the business model is designed digitally,” he said. “You develop digitally, you sell digitally and you make what you sell that is actually financed by the customer.”