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How the Rise of New Age Ideology and a Digital Backlash May Impact Denim Design

The rise of spirituality, intrigue in dystopian cities and a culture clash between reality and the virtual world are paving the way for new denim fabrics and styling.

Each season, Cotton Inc.’s team of trend forecasters examines new lifestyle trends and directions in art, design, travel and wellness to ensure that the “fabric of our lives” does indeed reflect contemporary living. At New York Denim Days, Cotton Inc. senior product trend analyst Rachel Crumbley shared four of these macro trends and described how each will influence denim for the Fall/Winter 2020 and Spring/Summer 2021 seasons.

From fabric to finishing and the marketing techniques that come with them, here’s a look at  key concepts forecast by Cotton Inc.

Desert mystic

The popularity of festivals in isolated locales and the rise of New Age ideology are creating a perfect storm for fashion to take strong visual cues from the beauty and mysticism of desert landscapes. “We’re seeing a rise in mystical and cosmetic influences,” Crumbley said, citing Pew Research that reveals 62 percent of Americans believe in some kind of New Age practices like palm reading or crystal energy. The healing properties of CBD and cannabis are also driving consumers to reconsider their use of traditional medicines for anxiety and depression, while emerging travel and fitness programs oriented around color therapy and meditation are growing.

Brands, Crumbley said, are taking note by incorporating spiritual and mystical language and concepts into their marketing. Coach, for instance, last year debuted Life Coach, an interactive pop-up in New York City with tarot card readings. And Amazon’s new horoscope shopping guide pairs astrological signs with products.

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These influences, Crumbley said, are filtering into designer fashion through the use of psychedelic colors, new fabrications and natural stone embellishments—a notable shift, she noted, from the flashy rhinestones that have been trending. For denim, it means fabrics with handcrafted and imperfect textures. Jacquard constructions with different color and thickness of yarns, fabrics with floating yarns on the surface and Baja-inspired fabrics live here, she said.

Missoni Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Natural dyes are also important. Crumbley said Cotton Inc. is experimenting with dyes that use cotton waste (the stems and leaves of the cotton plant) to dye cotton. Natural cotton yarn with brown speckled neps, as well as desert colorways like rich tan and brown are key. Hand-dyed techniques are used to create tie-dye effects. Crumbley urged mills to play with multicolor space dye yarns in the filling. These fabrics, she added, can be lasered allowing the whimsical, psychedelic look to come through to the surface level.

To enhance the handcrafted feel, Crumbley said crochet details and embroidery make a comeback, particularly as trim on or around pocketing.


Political unrest and the rise of activism among the Gen Z cohort fuels Subversive, a trend story that counters the free-spirited aesthetic tied to mysticism with a dark and aggressive feeling. The trend is guided by artists creating dystopian landscapes, protests and a focus on the future and protecting the planet.

And it’s a look that Crumbley said is already trending in Asian cities like Tokyo. Protectionist styling, be it wearable devices that track the wearer or utility vests and pants, is key here. Fabrics with reflective taping or the added strength of Dyneema fibers deliver functionality, while fashion elements pulled from grunge and punk add a rebellious spirit.

How New Age Ideology and a Digital Backlash May Impact Denim Design
Subversive street style

Here, Crumbley said indigo bleeds into checks and denim is printed with stripes. The goal, she added, is offering vibrant color contrasts. Indigo denim is given a glowing effect with green yarns in the filling. Sulfur black denim is tinted with burgundy or indigo denim is overdyed with pink for contrast.

The Subversive trend is also where activewear influences come into play for the season. Hoodies made with denim indigo are combined with active textures like mesh. Denim pants with a drawstring waist add ease, while indigo knits and indigo fleece add comfort and warmth.

Mash up

Consumers are bombarded with digital and real images, making them question what’s real and what’s fake. Simultaneously, Crumbley said historical and contemporary timelines are mashing up. “The digital world is changing our aesthetic,” she explained. “Things from our past are combined with modern references.”

Balmain Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

This, she added, is culminating in a new decorative look for denim fashion. Holographic coatings, metallic threads, pearlescent effects and gold metallic embroidery offer a fresh take on the Gilded Age. Rhinestones are used to create modern hieroglyphics and fabrics with photorealistic images are the new wearable portrait.

Even functional elements like buckles and zippers, Crumbley said, take on a more decorative purpose when multiples are stacked.

On the Mend

Are we due for a digital backlash? In the near future, Crumbley expects to see more consumers take steps to scale back on digital distractions. “We have to take away in order to appreciate what we have,” she added. On the Mend reflects this shift in consumer behavior and the appeal of getting back to basics.

The trend is based on new efforts to reuse and reduce waste in the denim sector and highlights a renewed appreciation for traditional mending like Japanese boro and sashiko. The resurgence of these techniques, she said, is a way to beautifully repair garments that would otherwise be deemed defective.

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On the Mend street style Cornel Cristian Petrus/REX/Shutterstock (9890316bf) Street Style Street Style, Spring Summer 2019, Milan Fashion Week, Italy - 22 Sep 2018

For fabrics, the trend calls for natural color canvas fabrics and clean surfaces that help frame the stitch work. Contrast stitching on navy jeans, khaki denim with selvedge detail, and jacquards that mimic the effect of patchwork are key. Scrap denim, Crumbley added, can also be reused to create an Americana quilted effect.

Feminine details add softness to denim garments. Pleats, gathered sleeves and necklines adorned with loose, drapey bows add a high-end look.