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Why Denim Experts Say Function Will Trump Fashion in the Near Future

Denim is in the business of fashion, but experts in the industry agree that the supply chain, designers and consumers are shifting their focus from trend to function.

At Bluezone in Munich last week, individuals nominated and voted into the 2019 Rivet 50, an index of the most influential people in denim, shared what’s next for denim fashion. And while skinny jeans, stretch fabrics and nostalgic designs ruled the 2010s, the next decade will bring new conversations outside the traditional fashion realm.

“What I see is that we’re going to live in a world that is not going to be very friendly, so the next fashion will be function,” Bluezone curator Panos Sofianos said. “I’m convinced that the technical fabrics will be the future.”

Denim, he reminded, is a fabric—one that has been chosen by workers and miners for its functional, versatile and chameleon-like qualities. Instead of skinny jeans, non-sexy, fuss-free denim will become part of the survivalist uniform, he said.

For Tilmann Wröbel, founder and creative director of the consultancy company Monsieur-T, jeans will be the uniform for life on Mars. Wröbel predicts people will be living on Mars by 2030, working and developing a society. Denim will be a functional piece of home for these pioneers.

The difference between the entire textile industry and the denim sector, he said, is that denim has the unique opportunity to create a fabric that reflects the human who wears it. “The technical garments that people will wear on Mars should reflect something human because they will have no flowers, no proper sun, some will probably have no relatives there,” he said.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Ebru Ozaydin, senior vice president of sales and marketing of Artistic Milliners, said news about climate change and deadly outbreaks may lead to consumers asking for more protective clothing. “Denim has the protective qualities, the ingredients and the technology,” she said.

Fashion trends based on decades and colors are a “vicious cycle” and will always be present, Ozaydin said, but consumers are outsmarting fashion brands with questions about where their clothes come from. “The focus isn’t on the fits, style and washes, but on how jeans are being produced,” she said.

The classic 5-pocket jean isn’t going anywhere either, but Boyish Jeans creative director Jordan Nodarse said the most difficult thing about the product is communicating to consumers what the difference is between how a low-cost jean from a fast-fashion retailer is made versus the process of producing a sustainable jean.

Denim experts say function will be the major trend in the 2020s.

Jordan Nodarse

“Sustainability shouldn’t have to cost more,” Nodarse said. “However, innovation does cost money and it takes time. And when we don’t have support behind it, the money has to come from somewhere.”

Rather than focus on fashion stories, brands need to step up and help consumers understand why products cost more. “We are putting all [the technology] together to try to make something better,” Nodarse said. “It is going to cost us a little bit of money and we’re all going to have to take a hit in order to make the products within customers’ reach.”

And rather than fashion, Tricia Carey, Lenzing’s director of global business development for denim, sees attention turning to the stories that jeans can tell. “And now we have the technology to tell the stories about who made our jeans,” she said. “I think that will continue to resonate with the consumers. That will be a part of the trend, to be able to tell the story about where their jeans came from and stories about the people behind our products.”

Denim experts think function will be the major trend in the 2020s.

Tricia Carey

Upcycling old denim garments provides both a fashion and storytelling aspect to jeans while reducing waste, said Alice Tonello, R&D and marketing manager for technology company Tonello. The role of the designer is also changing. “Designers need to consider new fibers, fabrics and ways to wash jeans,” she added.

“You should probably start designing something with a very clear idea in mind—a goal for where you want to go with it,” said Alberto Candiani, owner of Candiani Denim Mill.

As a fabric designer, he starts with the fiber and engineers the process down to his final target, which is regenerative farming. The goal, Candiani noted, is no longer lower impact or neutral impact, but to make a garment that will improve the environment.

For fashion designers, upcycling may be just as an effective model, he added.

Through this teaching work at the Royal College of Art and Ravensbourne University in the U.K., Endrime designer Mohsin Sajid encourages design students to make garments with no waste.

“I’ve never ever designed a garment with a fake pocket or a zipper that doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t make sense to me, so when I teach with the same philosophy,” he said.

The results are sometimes less desirable than a fashionable 5-pocket jean, Sajid admits, but oftentimes the jeans are clever, wearable and functional. “It’s a fun challenge and there’s a lot more no-waste products that are coming through recently,” he said.

However, if the success the sneaker industry experienced in the last decade proved anything, it’s that there is still demand for unique design, especially among Gen Z consumers. Denim lost its groove, as the industry concentrated on making their processes more sustainable, said Andrea Venier, managing director of Officina+39. However, sustainability should be a minimum requirement now, he added.

Venier is optimistic that denim designers can reclaim denim’s cool factor. “Designers are starting to make beautiful jeans again, and I think that is what has been missing in the last 10 years,” he said.

Or, as denim artist Ian Berry suggested, the next wave of fashion may already exist. “Maybe we should all dress like art students in secondhand clothing and don’t wash them,” he quipped.

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