With online’s share of fashion now touching 30 percent, according to fashion intelligence platform Stylumia, shoppers are going to be entering stores that reopen with an even wider range of intent that is less focused on a final purchase. This trait is one of many accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic that denim brands are striving to digest.
In a recent webinar, Stylumia co-founding CEO Ganesh Subramanian highlighted specific trends his company has seen throughout the pandemic, indicating that stretch denim supply among men has expanded three to five times over the past year, with demand following suit. Additionally, he pointed out the emergence of self-sized denim across Europe, meaning manufacturers don’t have to make six or seven sizes of a pair of jeans, or simply “one size fits all.”
Sartaj Singh Mehta, chief product officer at Turmswear and head of design at Pepe Jeans India, shared his views on the innovations in size, the increasing need for comfort in denim and the overall shift online. While men traditionally weren’t buying stretch denim years ago, making it an uphill task to sell those products to male shoppers, Mehta noted that recent years have seen a significant change in jean preference among this demographic.
“At Pepe, we are a complete stretch brand,” Mehta said. “We don’t sell anything which is not stretch, it doesn’t work anymore. We’ve launched super-stretch at Turmswear because that’s where we’ve realized that the consumer is becoming comfortable with it, and comfort is becoming a very big factor. They’re doing a lot of things in one go, and it’s become acceptable.
“The consumer is fitter, chicer and smarter. He doesn’t want to hide” his physique, Mehta added.
A denim item containing more than 50 percent stretch capacity automatically becomes a best-selling product for Pepe Jeans, according to Mehta. The label has since evolved further from its premium Powerflex jeans introduced in 2018, which featured Lycra and polyester yarns spun together for elasticity, to also focus on one-size-fits-all jeans. In a twist of fate, Pepe Jeans also has entered into the arena of “athleisure denim” as women’s demand for those products is “building.”
“When you are a category giant like denim and when you move into another category, it takes time because you would want to do things right,” Mehta said. “As lifestyles and habits change, the boundaries are blurring. So denim also beautifully can merge into lifestyle apparel very quickly. If I want to go to the gym and look cool in products other than what everybody else is wearing, that’s where the denim will come in.”
The increasing production of indigo masks is another example of the convergence of denim and lifestyle, Mehta added.
While the combination of lifestyle and denim appears to be trend to watch in 2020 and beyond, Subramanian pointed out an intriguing data point during the pandemic that portends the potential de-emphasis of brands among consumers. In fact, he said that in India, unbranded denim products are “gaining significant traction.” While major brands traditionally comprise 30 percent of top-selling products, according to Stylumia, that has since dropped to just 10 percent.
“If you’re able to maintain the value perception for the consumer in your brand, then your brand is going to deliver winners in the denim category,” Mehta said. “It’s what I call the commoditization of design, which has become an extremely big phenomenon—organizations become very number-centric. ‘I need 200 denim, 100 denim or 50 denim.’ A lot of time the pressure of building a product is so high, that you start developing any kind of a product. That’s where problems happen…Don’t create commodity. Everything is slowly becoming commodity, and that will never have a value.”
Another major trend within overall retail, the rise of direct-to-consumer brands, is also something denim manufacturers should be taking advantage of. Mehta noted that select Pepe Jeans showrooms have customization capabilities so shoppers can laser designs into their denim, add rips, patches or cuts, or even dye the product a different color. This customization further brings a denim product away from the commoditization that plagues these brands.
“These times also bring out a lot of creativity in you,” Mehta said. “Inside every individual there’s a designer somewhere, and someone who wants to create. That’s where the same physical store model can be brought in the digital. It’s so amazing how close you can get to the consumer on a digital platform.” While physical retailing is great for engagement, Mehta said, it doesn’t facilitate rapid product innovation. Denim brands are often unable to identify the success of an item sold in stores until 18 months after the product is typically brought to concept.