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Kingpins Founder Andrew Olah Talks the State of Denim

When Kingpins launched in 2004, the idea was simple: Be a gathering spot for a curated selection of highly-touted denim and sportswear fabric mills, wash houses, full package manufacturers, trim providers and business solutions from the across the world. Ten years later, Kingpins–less a formal trade show and more of a buzzing piazza where denim leaders build lasting relationships–is now a global event with shows in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Amsterdam, in addition to its native New York City.

Leading up to Kingpins’ 10th anniversary event, being held in New York City from July 22-23 at the Skylight Clarkson Sq, Sourcing Journal spoke to Kingpins founder Andrew Olah about the current state of the denim market, the debate on sustainability and his hopes for Kingpin’s next 10 years.

SJ: Describe today’s denim market.

AO: The denim business today is a retail clash of brands and fast fashion converging. It is making the consumer confront serious decisions that will have long-term impacts on the entire industry’s future.

SJ: What is the biggest challenge facing the denim market?
AO: The challenge is, ‘Who will win the war?’ and ‘Who gets what share?’ While there will be no clear-cut winner, it is all about market segmentation. The trend in our industry, as always, is to have a product that has significance. Without a special product, the jean has low retail value and margin.

SJ: Have you see significant price increases in fabrics?
AO: No, the battle is on for new lows.

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SJ: Is there a lack of ‘special product’ in the denim category?
AO: Consumers simply own many products that were basically being developed in the early part of the century. Our industry needs to find the next rocket to climb on. Low prices and cutting overhead costs are not that ride. We need inspiration–compelling, super amazing, innovation and new ideas.

SJ: What are the new techniques, fabrics and washes making noise at Kingpins?
AO: There is so much noise going on. Denims with all sorts of fibers including recycled polyester, sustainable cotton, Tencel, modal…it is all about softness and performance today. Washes? There is huge thing going on about vintage, but that’s not all that new.

SJ: Why do European brands and retailers talk so much about sustainability?
AO: I think the Europeans know that what they are doing is incredibly wasteful and they are covering their tracks, somewhat, with all the talk about sustainability. The folks over here feel they don’t really need to do anything except to make margin for their investors.

SJ: Is that why Americans don’t talk about it as much?
AO: We need to ask the American public why they could not, or will not ever care about the waste in our industry. The very idea of fast fashion is about huge clusters of people flaunting their seriously ignorant lack of interest in creating waste. I heard last week that Forever 21, or some other retailer, was selling a jean for $5.98. Any consumer who pays under $20 for a jean to me is like someone buying a 1-year-old Mercedes for $10,000 and wondering if it is ‘hot.’

SJ: During the course of Kingpins’ 10 years, what would you say are the most notable changes in the denim market?
AO: The denim world is now split entirely in two. There are those brands and people who create new product like denim fabric and jeans, and those that copy and run on fumes–probably low prices and fumes. And in 2004, the premium market was just gaining momentum, and like rock music in the 60s, there were new ideas every day from tons of people. It’s a new world today. We’ve hit a dry spot and premium is a tired, mature world.

SJ: How did the decision to take Kingpins globally come to be?
AO: The show is about creating community. The jeans business is a $52 billion industry without a single event to bring it together–until we started it in 2004. Our long-term goal is to have events that bond our industry. We are not in the real estate business renting booths. We are industry members who have pathological love for what we do and Kingpins is where we share this adoration.

SJ: Where do you hope to see the denim industry and Kingpins in another 10 years?
AO: We are blown away and galvanized by the relationship between education, politics and commerce. Denim Days in Amsterdam, which was inspired by the brands and city mayor, set a new standard for our industry where we can all meet and share our community.

My dream is to be part of a global collaboration where we educate, inform and inspire, where municipal governments support our industry, and academia is invited. Kingpins would like to be a tiny part of that–a burning flame that keeps things warm and cooking.

SJ: What is it about the denim community that appeals to you?
AO: The real denim community–and they know who they are–all love indigo. We love when it’s fading; we love forcing the dye onto yards; and we love what denim says to us. It is as if jeans are not inanimate products because they speak to us in some silent language.