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Denim May Be Dominating, but It’s Also Getting Cheaper and Manufacturers Will Pay the Price

Denim is at once practical and fashionable. It’s versatile and steadfast. It’s stylish and comfortable. It’s easy going and serious. But because of all of denim’s dualities, the staple is reaching peak saturation and some suppliers will suffer because of it.

During a keynote chat at Texworld Paris on Monday, “Perspectives of Denim in the 21st and 22nd Centuries,” denim sage and designer Alain Marzat said denim is having such a moment right now for two reasons: It’s one of the rare fabrics that exists in multiple fashion worlds at once, and it’s permanently renewing itself, yet getting better with age and wear—contrary to most other apparel out there.

“It’s something that’s very democratic, but denim jeans are intimate,” Marzat said through a translator, adding that the love wearers have for the denim makes them don it often, breaking it in and wearing it until it feels just right and looks even better. As such, denim evolves and changes with its owner.

What’s more, the multifaceted fabric appears in all price points, catering to any kind of consumer depending on the brand, the fabric, the construction and the positioning.

“This is why you find denim everywhere,” Marzat said.

Premium denim often comes with a certain level of creativity and distinction, but it’s the mass market segment that’s becoming increasingly important—and also cheaper and more omnipresent.

“Denim jeans is in a dominating position in all global markets, but the highest progression is on the cheap side,” Marzat said. “Unfortunately, with mass production, they are running up the prices and they are not too careful about the quality.”

Where denim production was once largely held by the United States, shifts came at the end of the 90s when players from China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and also Mexico and Turkey started entering the market.

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“They’ve become the biggest manufacturers with the highest potential in the world,” Marzat said.

Also around the 90s, according to Marzat, manufacturers were pushing the consumer to buy, so more denim found its way to the streets.

“Because of this overcapacity and overabundance, prices went down in the medium and mass markets,” Marzat explained, adding, “Why should I buy a jean for 20 euros when in three months time I’ll get it for 15, maybe 12 if I wait a bit more? The trend is that this commodity is getting cheaper and cheaper and this is triggering a drop that we must pay attention to.”

With denim on such a high right now, manufacturers are naturally looking to produce more of it. But because of the overcapacity happening as a result, those manufacturers are still having to lower their prices to move product and it’s become a vicious cycle.

[Read more about denim: How Performance Denim is Giving Consumers New Reasons to Buy]

The thing about fashion, according to Marzat, is that the more you produce, the less it becomes fashion.

“I think of the consumers,” Marzat said. “If you can see jeans everywhere you turn and at every kind of prices, it creates some kind of disgust and puts you off and therefore you cannot buy anymore and you just want to leave it…Overproduction doesn’t produce anything.”

“In the close future, there are great possibilities in terms of production, that’s clear,” Marzat continued. “But if you think beyond three or five years’ time, if there’s not a renewal in the material, because of this overcapacity, there will be a substantial decrease in interest for consumers.”

Some of this denim innovation is already underway, with manufacturers working with things like viscose and Tencel, adding stretch, looking at microencapsulation and considering linen to give denim new hands and new capabilities.

“Designers need to create models that will innovate, that will make the denim change. It will not be only about consumption,” Marzat urged. Without it, overcapacity will threaten to leave some plants facing difficulties. “There will be producers who suffer.”