Denim recently celebrated its 141st birthday — proving that some well-placed nips, tucks and makeovers can preserve one’s freshness. But over the last few years, one change has been less well received by denim wearers: the substitution of cotton for synthetic fibers. And some are saying it’s not enough to look the part; denim’s authenticity has to come from the inside, too.
Earnest Sewn creative director, Vincent Flumiani, says, “I would liken a jean not made out of cotton to be on par with a cookie not made with sugar.” The USA-made Earnest Sewn label will be relaunching this fall. “It just doesn’t seem right. I don’t think it’s a Rubik’s Cube as to why consumers want their jeans made out of cotton — they look better, they feel better, they wear better,” Flumiani says.
The fiber swapping began after cotton prices surged in late 2010. Although prices stabilized one year later, the apparel industry continues to substitute manmade fibers for cotton. Adding a bit of stretch for comfort evolved into some jeans being made with blends of less than 50 percent cotton.
On average, shoppers expect a pair of jeans to last about five years, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey. However, research reveals consumer expectations aren’t being met. Seven out of 10 U.S. consumers say apparel prices have increased, but they’ve also noticed clothes typically made with cotton are now made with other fibers (56 percent), fabrics are thinner (55 percent), and don’t last as long (52 percent). Overall, 66 percent of U.S. consumers are dissatisfied with fiber substitution in their denim jeans. And yet 60 percent of consumers would pay more to keep the cotton in their jeans.
Some brands, recognizing consumer preference, remain steadfast in keeping cotton in their collections. At Robin’s Jean, a super premium brand that also has five retail locations, the denim fabric for both men’s and women’s styles has always been traditional all-cotton denim, or cotton with a single-digit percentage of stretch.
Designer and founder Robin Chretien’s styles feature Swarovski studs (on both the men’s and women’s), biker-style knees, extensive pocket embroidery and embellishment — as well as straight-forward blue jeans. The designer hails from France, but moved to the U.S. in the mid-1990s.
“In Los Angeles, he quickly fell in love with the laid back atmosphere and beauty of the wide open road,” says Kim Dillard, a company spokesperson. “At that time, many denim brands were on the rise and being produced in L.A. In 2005, after a decade of honing his skills and expertise in the denim world, he created his own brand — Robin’s Jean.”
Chretien also makes his apparel in California, where blue jeans were born. “Robin’s Jean is made in the USA, which is something that Robin is very proud of,” Dillard notes.
Blue jeans were born in San Francisco during the gold mining era, when tailor Jacob Davis teamed with Levi Strauss to create riveted workwear made of denim. The pair received an official U.S. patent for their invention on May 20, 1873. Denim remained a conventional item until Hollywood gave it a cool factor in the 1950s. From there, it was only a matter of time before average Americans wanted to wear it. Of course, designer jeans took the category to new heights beginning in the late 70s.
But throughout its various iterations, the fabric itself remained authentic to its heritage through its cotton construction — and remained a wardrobe favorite as a result. When compared to jeans with manmade fibers like polyester and rayon, the majority of women say 100 percent cotton or cotton/spandex jeans are the most breathable (82 percent), durable (80 percent), comfortable (80 percent), fashionable (75 percent) and versatile (73 percent), according to the Monitor.
Yet consumers say certain factors in their jeans purchases have become more important in the last year, including price (58 percent to 63 percent), quality (52 percent to 59 percent), durability (52 percent to 59 percent), multi-functional (42 percent to 47 percent), color (41 percent to 46 percent), softness (33 percent to 43 percent) and stretch (33 percent to 41 percent), according to the Monitor. A more scrutinizing jean shopper may be resulting from quality issues experienced in denim jeans over the past few years, or the growing consumer desire to make an investment in their clothing.
Flumiani says he always starts with fabric for his denim inspiration and direction. Fall will include new silhouettes like the Bryan Slouchy slim for men and the Astor Slouchy skinny for women.
“I was able to work with the best denim mills in the world and find beautiful selvedge and other denim fabrications that worked well with the Earnest Sewn aesthetic,” Flumiani says. “A large portion of the collection is primarily made of cotton.”
He points out that the stretch that was added to a portion of the collection was for the comfort aspect, “and not a question of the cost of cotton.”
Meanwhile, Chretien’s inspiration comes from music, film, motorcycles and Native American culture, which are in turn expressed in new washes, finishes and embellishments.
Dillard says, “Our customers gravitate toward what is new and unique so they can express their individuality.” And that’s in keeping with giving a modern twist on an authentic American icon.
This article is one in a series that appears weekly on sourcingjournalonline.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitorâ„¢ Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.