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20 Examples of the New Normal the Denim Industry Faces

In a “normal” year, consumers would be stocking up on new fall jeans, denim brands be preparing the launch of holiday collections and players across the denim supply chain would begin their biannual global road show to trade shows around the world.

2020, however, has proven to be anything but normal.

As a result, new consumer demands, cultural movements and fashion with the sole intent to spark joy are taking shape. Here, Rivet outlines 20 trends to watch for the remainder of 2020.

1. Black Lives Matter

Apparel brands and retailers found themselves in the middle of civil unrest brought on by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, at the start of the summer. The global protests forced the apparel industry to take an honest look at its racial makeup, its leaders, hiring processes and the steps it can put in place to help break down systemic racism. Brands responded (with mixed results) by making donations to civil rights organizations, posting messages on social media and pledging to do more. And consumers, as they take a deeper look into the values of the brands they support, will hold them accountable.

2. Durability

Just as the Great Recession ushered in a time when consumers revisited heritage brands and sought out items that would endure several seasons, experts predict a renewed appreciation for quality over quantity. As pandemic shoppers pull back on spending, the items they do purchase during this uncertain time must show strength and durability—qualities that denim was built on.

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3. Shopping Appointments

Once a perk saved for the super-wealthy and/or the super-famous, personal shopping appointments are becoming a social-distancing solution for retailers that want to get consumers back into their doors without the crowds. Even Levi’s is testing out appointments in select stores. With strong conversion rates, expect to see more retailers fold personal shopping into their strategies.

4. Made Locally

It took a global pandemic for the apparel industry to identify its weak spots, particularly its reliance on sourcing components and manufacturing overseas. The result was delayed shipments, concerns of contagion and missed selling periods. Expect to see denim brands—large and small—look for domestic solutions for at least part of their production to ensure a more stable supply chain.

5. Recent Nostalgia

Fashion and cultural references from the ’90s and ’00s have permeated the contemporary fashion market, sparking chitchat about the rise of “recent nostalgia.” New docuseries like “The Last Dance” and the January death of Kobe Bryant have also led ’90s kids down memory lane. The pandemic, however, is leading many to rewind back to just six months ago, lamenting everything from Halloween 2019 and the casual act of dining in restaurants, to the closets filled with winter and spring clothes that have barely been touched.

6. Face Masks

Among the unexpected twist and turns of 2020 is the mainstreaming of face masks in the Western part of the world. Since March, denim brands have jumped into action by pivoting their production to help fulfill the need for personal protective equipment (PPE). From Mother Denim to Mavi, the number of fashionable face mask options by denim brands is vast and likely to grow. Searches for non-medical face masks remain high, according to global fashion search platform Lyst. Searches increased 510 percent since the beginning of the year to the start of May.

7. Call-out Culture

The barrage of unsettling events that have unfolded in 2020 has ignited a fire in humans to correct unjust actions. And fashion companies that project morals aligned with equality, fairness and environmentalism but say and do otherwise were among the first to feel consumers’ disdain. Sustainable darlings Everlane and Reformation both landed in hot water following statements by former employees that described racist tendencies. With social media empowering people who wouldn’t otherwise have a platform to share their experiences, expect to see hard truths revealed.

8. Tie-Dye

Though denim and luxury streetwear brands like MSGM and R13 have experimented with tie-dye for several seasons, the psychedelic effect became the unofficial print of life under lockdown as both a fun at-home activity and a way to refresh old loungewear hanging in the closet. And it continues to influence online apparel searches. Searches for women’s tie-dye sweatpants increased 4,758 percent since last year, according to Trendalytics, while searches for tie-dye sweatshirts—which are up 1,072 percent compared to 2019—are still on the rise. The trend is also striking accessories like hair scrunchies and socks.

9. Protective Fashion

Qualities like antimicrobial and moisture-wicking have had strong standings in activewear for some time, but the spread of the coronavirus is driving other apparel categories to take a closer look at technologies and fibers that can offer consumers a higher level of protection. With jeans brands like Diesel, Warp + Weft and DL1961 each putting out into the market this fall their own take on antiviral denim collections, watch this space as consumers become more aware of the protective fashion.

10. Workers’ Rights

When the pandemic forced retail to shut down, many brands’ knee-jerk reaction was to cancel their in-production orders or suspend payments to their supply-chain partners, leading to factory closures and millions of garment workers left in the lurch. Remake’s #PayUp petition for brands to fulfill their financial obligations shed light on this ugly side of the business, resulting in more than 250,000 signatures. Meanwhile, the ability to socially distance revealed itself to be a privilege, too, when garment workers in densely populated counties like India and Bangladesh continued to work in unsafe conditions. News of these hardships, and more, are driving consumers to ask more questions about who is making their clothes and how those people are treated.

11. Road Trips

With the U.S. passport rendered worthless in many parts of the world until the country gets a grip on the coronavirus, and the fear of air travel remaining high, cooped-up Americans are hitting the road to escape instead. AAA forecasts 97 percent of the estimated 700 million trips Americans will take during summer 2020 will be car trips. This more localized approach to “summering” might throw a wrench in consumers’ desire to buy new vacation clothes, but denim brands can capitalize on this all-American tradition in marketing that promotes timeless styles by adding nostalgic details like retro car or Route 66 patches and graphic tees.

12. Cottagecore

The catchy moniker given to the Gen Z subculture that mends clothes, dresses in ditzy florals and enjoys pastimes like puzzles and crocheting will likely filter into mainstream fashion just as the other ’cores have—and perhaps at a speedier rate, given Cottagecore’s docile and feel-good nature. With consumers updating pieces from their own wardrobe with DIY techniques, and the pandemic raising awareness of the fragility and regeneration of Mother Nature, they’re already on the right path.

13. AI Locations

Influencers who built their personal brand on aspirational travel and fashion photography initially grappled with how to be their authentic selves during a crisis that forced them to stay home and that called for sensitivity. Many took to redecorating their homes, while others turned to augmented backdrops by apps like FlickPlay, which allows users to add butterfly wings, lemon trees and more to physical locations. Designers are taking a similar approach too, creating virtual runway shows and avatar models to present their new collections.

14. Kanye West

All eyes will be on Kanye West and how his 10-year partnership with Gap will play out. Though the union got off to a joyful start when it was announced in June that the mall retailer would co-create a line with West’s Yeezy—and perhaps even jumpstart West’s plans to revive Made in USA apparel manufacturing—the honeymoon stage was short lived. West stated he would walk away from the deal if he wasn’t made a board member during his first presidential campaign rally in July. While the future of this partnership remains complicated, the buzz that it has stirred (and the potential for actual good designs) may lead other heritage brands to look for trendier allies.

15. Natural Dyes

When a sense of normalcy does re-emerge, color will be an impactful tool for companies to renew consumers’ spirits and drive shoppers to buy. Neutrals and colors inspired by nature—as consumers look to reconnect with the environment—are among the palettes to watch in the coming seasons. And there’s a host of sustainable ways to achieve these hues. With brands like G-Star Raw using Archroma’s EarthColors made from agriculture waste products and J Brand, which introduced this summer a line of jeans dyed with Tonello’s Wake, a dyeing system that uses only organic and compostable raw materials, denim giants and their consumers are waking up to the possibilities—and beauty—of natural dyes.

16. At-Home Fashion

The novelty of swapping out jeans for wearing sweats or pajamas began to wane after the first couple of weeks of shelter-in-place orders, leading many consumers to search online for elevated loungewear, effortless coordinating sets and garments with comfort built in. Jeans brands can earn their place at the table by emphasizing garments made with biodegradable stretch fabrics, cottonized hemp and soft yet circular fibers like Tencel x Refibra. At-home fashion also presents jeans brands with an opportunity to experiment with joggers and elastic waists.

17. TikTok

Though Gen Z was privy to the addictive quality of TikTok prior to the pandemic, the video-sharing app became a refuge for millennials and even Gen X during shelter-in-place orders with its viral dances and quirky snapshots into the lives of others. And brands are experimenting with how to use the app to connect with consumers, including Levi’s, which was one of the first to use TikTok’s “Shop Now” buttons during the pandemic, and Hollister, which features TikTok stars in its back-to-school campaign.

18. Capsule Collections

The coronavirus disrupted the global fashion calendar early. It drove Giorgio Armani to host an audience-less show in Milan in March and hung over Paris Fashion Week like a doomsday cloud. The subsequent shutdown of factories and headquarters immediately led designers to discuss cancelling the calendar altogether—pointing out its antiquated inefficiencies and strain on creativity. This new mindset has filtered into denim, arguably the most seasonless fashion category in existence. Brands, however, are open to injecting newness with smaller but more frequent capsule collections that can be amended to adjust to new consumer needs, and that generate spurts of buzz online and in stores.

19. Zoom Dressing

Working from home is all fun and games until there’s a Zoom call. With colleagues showing only their top half, many consumers are gravitating to items that allow them to be business on top and party on the bottom. Polo shirts, which retail data analytics company Edited reported made up 12 percent of men’s sell outs for S/S ’20 compared to 10 percent in 2019, are proving to be an easy business casual solution for men. Meanwhile, tops with ruffles and bright colors are picking up momentum for women.

20. Voting

In the midst of all the chaos, it’s (almost) easy to forget that 2020 is a U.S. presidential election year. As Nov. 3 nears, expect to see brands ramp up their efforts across social media platforms and in stores to promote registration, mail-in ballots and in-person voting. Brands are putting their own spin on voting merchandise as well.

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.