The pandemic and subsequent shutdowns unnerved the global denim industry. Often described as a living fabric that reflects the life of the wearer, denim fell to the wayside as consumers sought comfort in loungewear, sweatpants, and leggings.
However, the industry’s bounce back as a new trend cycle and consumers’ rekindled love for durable and timeless design served as a reminder of its resilience.
“As we continue to face new challenges, we only need look back to see where we’ve been in denim and what it’s overcome and what has stuck for over the decades,” said Nia Silva, Fashion Snoops materials director.
At Denim Première Vision in Milan last week, Silva described three major cultural and lifestyle shifts since 2020 that are impacting and driving newness in the denim industry.
From shining a spotlight on fabric’s origins to celebrating the individuals making jeans, here’s a look at how the denim industry is coming out of a time of crisis better than ever.
Seeds are in style.
“We’re seeing growing movements around ‘seed to shelf’ initiatives as brands and businesses attempt to honor origins by connecting finished goods to the initial seeds they come from,” Silva said.
This means prioritizing resources that benefit soil health and regenerative practices. Silva said researchers from Edison’s Foundation found that farms with regenerative practices were 70 percent more profitable than conventional farms.
Craft is also linked to wellness and community. Dubbed “craft care,” Silva said researchers are examining the process of making or crafting as an act of healing. After experiencing “the collective hardships of the pandemic,” Silva said society is rediscovering the importance of community and locality. Consumers are showing this by choosing to support local artisans and craft makers.
“There’s a definite growing realization amongst consumers that working at an increasingly faster pace doesn’t always produce the best results,” she said. “Brands and designers are considering slowing down during the crafting processes to using time as a crucial element.”
The rise of “less but better” is born from this cultural shift. “We’re seeing the consumer mindset shift quantity to quality, and brands are filling this need with seasonless clothing, undyed basics and an amplified focus on premium fabrications,” Silva said.
Small batch capsules of garments that are dyed with natural pigments and faded by the sun underscore crafts’ ability to drive sustainability, while artisanal dye techniques are resulting in more collections that “honor the humble origins of indigo,” she said.
Consumers are comfort-seeking creatures, but it isn’t always about touch and feel.
“Nostalgia and authenticity allow [consumers] to seek solace in the past which is always certain and comforting,” Silva said. “Moreover, we’re seeing that challenging times have set the stage for the importance of longevity, wanting more value for their money…consumers are gravitating toward products that are built to last and to have the additional ability to extend the lives of their products through recycling initiatives and programs.”
The functionality of a garment has never been more important. “There’s an increased need for products that do more and offer more from aesthetics,” she said, adding that Gen Z consumers favor adaptable and multifunctional denims.
The key, she added, is to bring nostalgia into a modern context, like using a fabric that has a dense handle of a fabric that might have existed long before for a trendy baggy silhouette.
“It’s all about finding ways to connect with consumers through physical products,” Silva said “As heritage and cultural representation becomes a greater priority in society, [consider] elements that bring consumers closer to a denim brand through intricate detailing, customizable products, or special releases.”
From a cultural standpoint, the denim industry cannot ignore the rise of creative design hobbies and thrifting. What began as pandemic hobbies or distractions are now setting the next trends and reminding consumers that they don’t have to settle what traditional retail has on offer.
“Personalized products and ‘tailored-to-me’ design continue as consumers grow increasingly more tired of mass produce products,” Silva said.
By breaking away from the masses, consumers are rewriting fashion rules. Millennial and Gen Z demographics are embracing more fluid forms of expression outside of traditional binaries, Silva said. Brands are beginning to look for alternative language than gender-specific ways to describe jean fits and constructions, while fluid designs are becoming more detailed and intricate than basic one-size-fits-most concepts.
Consumers are also using social media platforms like TikTok to become creators in their own community through DIY tutorials.
“There is also a growing self-awareness around people’s desire to be seen or noticed in public, which is foundational to the ‘main character energy’ social media trend. As a result, brands are considering how they can bring their customers into the spotlight with statement denims and unique finishes,” Silva said.
These factors are culminating in a new look that blends the grittiness and loose fits of streetwear with luxury’s penchant for overt branding. “It’s all about giving your denim that hyped feeling,” Silva said.