Wearing jeans during isolation may not be a popular fashion choice, but customizing them is. A quick scroll through social media shows DIY denim has become a quarantine activity on par with baking banana bread and downloading TikTok.
Searches for denim customization tips skyrocketed within the first few months of the year, when the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the world. According to data pulled from influencer marketing technology platform Traackr, between January and April, influencer posts about DIY denim increased by 125 percent, with a 186 percent increase in engagement. The report included more than 35,000 fashion influencers around the world.
Pinterest searches also saw an uptick in fashion-related crafts. The two-week period between March 16 and March 29—around the same time that U.S. lockdown orders took effect—saw a 599 percent spike in jeans embroidery searches and a 154 percent spike in closet organization searches compared to the same searches two weeks prior.
Some of the most popular denim projects include bleaching jeans—specifically just one leg. In a matter of three simple steps—carefully pour bleach on one pant leg, wait two hours and rinse with cold water—crafters can achieve the popular ’80s look.
Other DIY content featured simple alteration hacks, including one that helps achieve a perfectly fitted high waist. It requires nothing more than threading a shoelace through the back belt loops of a pair of jeans, tightening to the desired effect and tying in a bow.
And while other quarantine habits may lose their appeal once businesses reopen and society returns to normal, experts believe customized denim could be far from a fleeting trend.
“The future is all about the full life cycle of products and fabric—people are already thinking in that way,” said Matt Janes, marketing director, Wrangler EMEA. “This tricky time has really brought the best out in crafting, and will lead us into a new era of make-do and mend.”
Wrangler saw the surge in denim DIY as an opportunity to engage with consumers on social media and share beginner-friendly methods that include minimal steps that don’t require a sewing machine.
Using the hashtag #DenimDIY, the brand shared easy techniques for repairing and enhancing jeans. It included details on how to properly sew a patch of fabric behind a tear, distress jeans with a cheese grater and crop jeans into shorts and jackets into vests.
According to Janes, wearing embellished denim doesn’t just convey that the wearer is fashionable—it also signals that they’re environmentally conscious.
“Gone are the days of being embarrassed that your mom had to sew patches on your ripped knees because you couldn’t afford new ones. Those ripped and repaired knees are now a sign of caring; that you believe in the planet and a sustainable future,” he said.
Levi’s, which has pushed denim customization for years, also used the recent months to share DIY denim videos. Its blog, Off the Cuff, has an entire landing page dedicated to DIY content, complete with videos, photos and step-by-step instructions for making one-of-a-kind denim pieces.
One of the simpler projects, customizing the back of a denim jacket, involves cutting a graphic T-shirt and hand-sewing it to the back. It offers tips for properly cutting and positioning the artwork so it stays firmly in place while stitching.
While some may feel that teaching consumers to enhance their own denim could cannibalize sales, others see it as a way to engage with consumers and independent designers and promote the longevity of fashion.
Vogue recently reported on workwear brands Dickies and Caterpillar, which are working with independent designers to enhance their newly launched products. By sharing their goods with young creatives who can add their own artistic touch, they’re keeping their product relevant and, most importantly, in use. Partnerships like these could help brands move their deadstock—which is not just a win for the brand, but for the industry and the world in general.
Janes also acknowledges that the DIY denim trend is bigger than one single brand. Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interest to hold onto their denim pieces for as long as possible.
“We always say we’re in it for the long haul and that we support all sides of the consumer journey and their needs,” said Janes. “The value for us is that everyone is loving denim, whatever the circumstance.”