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What Makes Denim Premium Today?

The definition of premium denim is shifting. While some still consider the category to exist in relation to label and price point, others express a belief that the category is shifting to focus on performance and sustainability. At Kingpins New York (Nov. 3-4), a diversity of views were present among exhibitors.

Though the focus of premium used to be on price point, Fábio Covolan, a representative at Canatiba, pointed out that premium denim is being sold for $40. “It’s something we feel lost its meaning over time,” he said.

Attention is shifting to performance denim for more and more people in the industry, pointed out Jean Hegedus, global segment director of denim and wovens at Invista. Enrico Forin, development and marketing at Advance Denim, placed his emphasis on functional fibers. He pointed to developments like Coolmax and Thermolite and said that though attendees had not been particularly interested in these fibers at last year’s Kingpins, this year they are experiencing more success. Meanwhile, Japan and Korea have become the most important market for these fibers.

Yet, Ritchie Russell, a representative for Suryalakshmi Cotton Mills, said that performance can’t be synonymous with premium because it is present across the industry. “Everybody is looking for performance denim,” Russell said. He believes that premium continues to be about label, price point and finishing.

Amrin Sachathep, director at Atlantic Mills, said that sustainability is the most important factor for his company in creating premium denim. The company uses BCI cotton whenever possible, and, in addition, uses premium fibers, organic cotton and hemp. The mill has also developed recycled products called Re-Hash and Re-Work, created from shredded jeans returned by customers, and possessing a light blue weft. Sachathep said that the performance of the recycled yarn is obviously not as good as new ones, but that the look is very strong.

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Re-Work by Atlantic Mills

Robert Deakin, sales director at Deyao Textiles, had a more practical outlook on sustainability. He said that sustainability is just part of the business in many ways, and some governments already have restrictions in place in terms of humidity and water usage.

“Denim’s always been about the origin,” Deakin said, suggesting that the roots of denim are in finding a cheap fabric that’s still durable. In terms of sustainability, he said, “You should just have that responsibility for yourself.”

Deakin also noted that retailers haven’t wanted to push sustainability since the concept of recycled fabrics still carries a stigma. Viresh Verma, vice president of marketing at Arvind Denim Lab, agreed that sustainability is not a big story in the U.S. since the market is so price-driven; people will buy a sustainable product only if the cost is neutral. In Europe, however, he said BCI cotton and recycled denim are more popular on both the retail and consumer side.