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Denim Première Vision Recap: Stretch, Color and Sustainability

The 16th edition of Denim Première Vision (May 27-28) in Barcelona welcomed 97 exhibitors and a pool of visitors from 60 countries, including 131 visits from U.S. buyers. Mills were eager to promote their innovations for the A/W 16-17 season, with conversations generally leading to the hand feel, stretch and sustainability of their products.

While fashion trends veered toward shine, glitter and leathery textures, mills continued to get high marks for soft finishes. “Tencel continues to be important,” said Henry Wong, Artistic Fabric Mills (AFM) director, product development and marketing for the U.S. The price remains a challenge, but Wong said U.S. consumers understand it. The mill incorporated the fiber into a broad range of its performance and stretch fabrications for women.

Italian mill Niggeler & Kupfer is experimenting with flocked Tencel on women’s fabrications for a lush and opulent look, though Carlo Covini, head of business development for Lenzing Italy, said there are still a few kinks to work out to optimize the fiber’s soft hand. Still, the result is rich and moody on the season’s gray and plum denim.

For a smooth hand feel, Artistic Denim Mills used a spun polyester yarn—instead of a filament—for a range of hyper stretch denim. Isko continued with its Pop concept, which Isko Senior Marketing Executive Kutay Saritosun said adds depth and brilliance to stretch and rigid denim, while creating a nice drape and soft hand.

The appeal of soft and luxurious denims has evolved into denim collections that feels cozy—perfect for the winter months. For A/W 16-17, AFM is placing an emphasis on a collection of woven denim that has a rib-like feel. The inside is brushed and feels warm to the hand. Wong said the brushing technique traps air between fabrics, like insulation.

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Prosperity Textile’s F2 Fit and Function collection keeps wearers warm. The denim essentially transfers heat the wearer releases back into the body. Orta Anadolu is addressing the demand for “elevated daywear” and comfort as well with its range of Cozy denim. The mill is also offering 18 percent wool blends that provides all of the natural benefits of wool, like its soft hand feel, moisture control and anti-odor proprieties, without the coarse texture. It has an elasticity level of over 20 percent.

Men’s stretch denim continues to be a conundrum for mills as the market demands fabrications with an authentic appearance. “Men want it to look like denim,” said Jack Mathews, Artistic Denim Mills director of sales and marketing. He said the mill is moving toward comfort stretch with 20 percent elasticity.

It’s a sentiment shared by Prosperity Textile Marketing Director Andy Zhong. He said the mill has made strides toward making its Co-Flex collection of comfort stretch denim for men have a “very authentic denim look and feel.” The denim has 10-20 percent stretch.

Likewise, AFM is offering men’s comfort stretch with a Japanese denim appearance. An open weave cross-hatch adds character to the mill’s stretch denim for men—a look Wong said is big in the European market. The fabric is also available in saturated indigo with a black weft.

Orta is betting on its D-Craft collection of mono-stretch denim to answer the demand for rigid-looking denim. The fabrication has a slubby, cross-hatch, salt and pepper look associated with authentic denim. On a performance level, the Turkish mill offers Ultraflex, a dual-gender super stretch fabric with better growth, recovery and body shaping qualities. The fabric maintains an elasticity level of an average of 70 percent—even with wider fabric widths—but lowers the shrinkage by approximately 50 percent. On average stretch fabrics shrink around 25 percent, Orta reported. Ultraflex shrinks around 14 percent. Orta’s proprietary AlchemyOne finish secures a soft touch and premium look.

For a less rigid look, Fitswell, Orta’s range of moisture-wicking and quick-drying mono-stretch denim, delivers stretch for men and women. The high-elasticity fabrics incorporate duo-core yarn technology to ensure comfort and body shaping. Tencel blends delivers a silky hand feel. The mill is continuing with Comfort Squared, a unisex multi-directional stretch technology that allows 360-degree movement, it launched last season. The fabrication offers 40 percent stretch in the weft and 20 percent in the warp directions while maintaining a denim appearance.

Orta is also following up the success of Comfort Squared with Bodyframe, a four way stretch specifically designed for women. Created with all body types in mind, Orta said the denim hugs the body like a corset, creating a slimming and curve enhancing effect. Bodyframe has 60 percent stretch in the weft and 20 percent stretch in the warp.

Spanish mill Tavex used flexible, Cirque du Soleil-grade performers to show the possibilities of its new E-360 Degree denim. The denim has multidirectional elasticity in both the warp (15 percent) and weft (40 percent), as well as flexibility and resistance. The mill described the innovation as the perfect balance between extreme comfort and high performance.

Bossa has a trove of stretch options for women. As Bossa Sales Executive Serra Arican said, “Everyone is pushing for it.” In particular, Arican said the mill strongly believes in its women’s stretch with a cross-hatch look—a key fabrication for its range of throwback ’80s-inspired collection. The mill is so placing an emphasis on selvedge with one percent stretch.

Wong of AFM said the mill has bested Lyrca Beauty standard for fabric power in the shapewear category. “We’ve made it tougher,” he said of the mill’s shapewear denim, including super power stretch which holds in the body. Additionally, AFM is generating interest for its new <3% Low Growth Denim, which doesn’t bag out in high pressure areas. In comparison, Wong said other brands typically have five percent growth.

In its new J Fit range, Prosperity Textile is introducing a new stretch fabric that can provide stretch and compression. Marketing director Andy Zhong said the “easy on, easy off” jeans offer women sculpting properties, while its jersey denim fits the bill for knit denim with four-way stretch.

Mills and denim labels love to put ballerinas and marathon runners in their campaigns for active denim, but AFM means it with a 100 percent stretch fabric made with Silvadur technology. In the finishing process, the garments are infused with a polymer with silver ions, which safely kills bacteria. Wong said the denim is fit for brands that want to key into activewear bodies.

Unitin made a splash by presenting its elastic jacquard as activewear garments, including yoga pants and tanks, on mannequins. Javier Morera of Unitin explained that the seamless garment can take on all of the washings like “real” denim, but offer designers a chance to introduce new bodies and designs into their collections.

Unitin works with Italian launderer Martelli, which celebrated its 50th anniversary at the show with a retrospective of some of most iconic pieces. Showcasing denim from yesterday, today and tomorrow, including stonewash, acid effects and manual scraping, the firm rounded out the presentation by promoting its more sustainable advancements. In general, Morera said he sees a movement toward more “eco washes” in stretch denim and beyond.

Isko is tapping into the business of stretch in a big way, with Blue Skin four way stretch, which Saritosun said, “Sucks you in and lifts you up.” The unisex fabric, available in heavier weights, sculpts the body with its 3-D shaping capabilities and vertical and horizontal holding power. The mill is also continuing with its Bluejym program of stretch and comfort denim with twill lines for a more authentic look. Similarly, its original knit denim, Future Face, returns for active lifestyle needs. The material is processed just like denim, but with a more French terry feel.

Isko made its biggest statement in the hand and feel of new fabrications. The mill is launching Scuba denim, a denim with a scuba material appearance. “It is a thicker fabric, very compact,” Saritosun explained, adding that the mills expected it to be popular in women’s garments. Isko presented it in pencil skirts, moto jackets and a skintight jumpsuit in washed black. It is also available in indigo.

The mill is also placing all bets on leather finishes with its Hi-Shine range. Coined “jeather” for being a jean and leather hybrid, the leather looking and feeling denim can be matte or shiny. Printed versions have a 3-D look as if it was embossed. The fabrication is a knockout as a pleated skirt.

Bossa offers a rubbery, matte finish in its new Blacklight grouping. Here, very dark gray and black with leather-like coatings offer shine for Holiday, Arican said. Prosperity has Seal denim, which nonetheless, has the sleek finish like that of a seal. AFM is dabbling with a new leather coating for men, which Wong said flies faster in the European market. He expects coated denim to pick up in the U.S. this fall and holiday season.

Historically, coatings have been more popular in the men’s market, said Mathews of Artistic Denim Mills. Coated denim tends to chip off. “It is designed to do that,” he explained. However, for A/W 16-17 the mills is introducing a new thinly coated denim for women for a luxe look.

Color, on the other hand, is an easy way to update a collection, Mathews said. Gray is coming on strong in a number of collections, including in Artistic Denim Mills’ new Coolmax denim with stretch and ProModal wicking property. The firm also features black and gray with a silvery cast in its ProModal fabrications.

Matesa, Bluefarm and AFM also showcased gray that veered towards white. Likewise, Tavex paired gray with neps. In Bossa’s mountain-inspired grouping, navy, green and gray—the mill’s answer to lumbersexual fashion—played a prominent role, with a lot of attention paid to color of the weft.

Cone denim continued take inspiration from the food world by introducing knit denim made with recycled ketchup bottles, resulting in red weft. The mill also showcased denim with brown weft made from beer bottles and green weft made from green soda pop bottles.

Toray combined colors for an unusual green tinted gray in its Miracle Air collection. The denim’s fiber is hollow, creating an ultra-lightweight material, which Uniqlo is already carrying.

AFM reported an uptick in interest in purple cast denim, typically found in French workwear. Wong said a lot of vintage denim dealers are currently selling the color, and that it may crossover to retail. Purple and green were also highlights in Isko’s Ferra grouping of overdyed fabrics.

Then there are the mills, like Isko, creating deep black fabrications. Its Stay Black collection is dyed in a special way so when it is home laundered, it remains black.

Bossa continued its Stay Color program, which launched with black denim six seasons ago. The denim doesn’t fade, even after 40 home washes. Arican said the mill is seeing a lot of interest in its newer indigo version. “It goes against the nature of indigo,” she said of the color lasting properties. AFM is also extending its Ever Dark wash in black and blue with a new indigo color for A/W 16-17.

Attendees who received the official show tote bag got a first look at the AFM’s new Zero Wash technology. The stitch and sew fabric requires no industrial washing, meaning it won’t shrink or bleed, solving two major problems that prevent retailers from stocking rigid denim.

On average, Wong said retailers like Gap or H&M just sell one rigid jean because the denim has a history of shrinking one size, or feeling too stiff. Zero Wash doesn’t crock. Additionally, it cuts down on the amount of water used in production, as there is no industrial washing.

Sustainable denim is top of mind for many mills. For A/W 16-17, AFM is introducing recycled denim made using plastic water bottles. Wong said U.S. consumers are warming up to the idea of recycled denim, thanks in part to strong interest from European retailers like H&M and Zara, and because innovations have made a nice hand feel more achievable. He reported that the mill has already secured large programs for its recycled denim. Offerings include recycled stretch denim (with just a little stretch) in AFM’s popular mid-century finish, a replica finish from the 1950s.

Prosperity Textile answered the demand for eco-friendly materials with its Re-Invent program of recycled cotton and polyester denim. Bossa’s recycled group is made with yarn that is recycled in its own facilities. The mill’s newest story is the addition of natural, chemical-free colors, including a beige made from acorns.

Vegan denim is Orta’s big story for A/W 16-17—a breakthrough project which Marketing Manager Ebru Ozaydin noted is the first time any mill has brought the sustainable process to an industry scale. The line uses vegan indigo and dye extracted from acorns, and complies with global standards. The mill has obtained a legal patent for the process and it is subsidized by European Union Research Funds.

Ozaydin said Orta’s vegan program goes back to the innocence of denim by using the benefits nature has to offer. To reflect that “back to basics” mentality, the mill presented the vegan product in clean and crisp ’70s-inspired shapes, including high-waisted jeans and A-line skirts. The marketing exec said attendees were asking questions, but that reception was good.

“Consumers want guilt-free products. You can’t get rid of that reality,” Ozaydin said.

As consumers demand more sustainable and ethical products, be it vegan denim or Better Cotton, Ozaydin said the rest of the industry will follow Orta’s lead. In the meantime, she said brands will have eat some of the cost, noting that for now, Orta’s vegan denim costs more.

“You can’t ask the end user to pay more for Better Cotton and Greenscreen,” she said, adding that consumers naturally expect the products they buy to be made with the best practices. And as a brand, she said you have to believe in sustainable denim. “It isn’t a marketing gimmick.”