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Denim’s 180° Turnaround: How brands can stay relevant and keep revenue coming in

by Anjori Grover Vasesi

06-October-2018  |  7 mins read


There is a reason to rejoice for the denim industry. After going through a period that was as distressed as its ripped jeans style that goes by the same name, the denim industry is on an upswing. According to a recent report released by P&S Market Research, jeans reached more than US $ 40 billion in global sales in 2016 and the denim market as a whole is expected to exceed US $ 87 billion by 2023.

Jeans is a huge category, double the size of leggings and still bigger than categories like blouses and coats. Data from Edited suggests that retailers are starting to refocus on their denim assortments by planning new releases. So far in this quarter, there are 42 per cent more denim products in stock than what there were earlier at this time last year.

As a consequence of this, not only manufacturers, but designers as well are betting on denim revival. Levi Strauss & Co. posted an 8 per cent increase in 2017, owing to a significant revamp of its women’s jeans. This marks the jeans maker’s strongest annual growth since 2011.

Hot streetwear brands Off-White and Vetements have also garnered a lot of attention for the washes on their reworked denim and patchwork styles respectively, while mass-market labels such as American Eagle Outfitters Inc. set a record for volume last Fall, in an effort to lure teens into stores by providing a range of different silhouettes and washes, from ripped high-waisted ‘jeggings’ to indigo mom jeans.


Image Courtesy: Edited

Geographically, North America has been the largest denim market, accounting for more than 30 per cent of global revenue in 2016, whereas the sales is expected to witness the fastest growth in Asia-Pacific. The growth in this region will be led by factors such as surge in digitisation within the apparel industry, advancement in new denim knitting technologies, growth in investment in clothing space, and the increasing adoption of luxurious and casual garments from all segments of the society.

Image Courtesy: Edited


Owing to the overdominance of comfort clothing in the fashion space, the classic pair of jeans has experienced a high rate of stagnancy over the past decade. Little to no innovations in the field have left consumers with a bare minimum to get excited about; no excitement means no growth.

Short-lived trends such as cropped and frayed hemlines, flared bottoms and ’80s throwbacks did overshadow the gloom cast over the industry, but there is no contesting the reign enjoyed by the skinny jean style. The latter has remained relevant with a dominant style period spanning a decade, with no major threat to its denim dominance.

There was a brief period wherein athleisure and comfort stretch street clothing overtook the denim industry in 2015 and 2016, but post that, both luxury and mass have seen a huge uptick. To lower the cost of mass market, various denim manufacturers have started experimenting with new materials, thereby replacing cotton with nylon, polyester, aramid, and other spun thermoplastic variations.

Gaining strength in 2017 and soaring through the early months of 2018, denim has enjoyed a good rebound – which also signals in new trends and eager shoppers.

This brings us to our next question that’s been on everyone’s mind – ‘Is skinny dead yet?’

The answer is: Not yet. Skinny jeans represent 58 per cent of women’s jeans and pose as core for any given denim retailer.


Bestsellers’ list include wide leg and flare bottom styles, frayed details. Silhouettes such as cropped hems, culottes, mom jeans, and wide styles have all gained since 2016

In addition to this, data suggests that silhouettes such as cropped hems, culottes, mom jeans, and wide styles have all gained since 2016. The ones to have made it to the Bestsellers’ list include wide leg and flare bottom styles, frayed details and black and white colorways. Brands such as Madewell and Everlane have refocused their attention to working on such styles. Madewell, in particular, scored record sales both in stores and online last quarter, and continues to report double-digit increase in comparative store sales, thanks to its jeans category.

Parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, PVH Corp has seen an incredible improvement in its jeans businesses worldwide, so much so that the company is putting its marketing dollars behind the popularity of the ’90s style denim. Denim skirts have grown 25 per cent and shorts are up 47 per cent from what they were two years ago. The ’90s theme taps on the ‘ugly fashion movement’ with Bermuda style shorts, front buttoned skirts and denim dresses offering a plethora of opportunity for keen retailers. To achieve the ’90s look within dresses, play with pinafore and button-up styles in vivid colours and print patterns for the upcoming Spring 2019 season.

Denim outerwear is also a hot category to watch out for. Data shows that denim outerwear has increased 101 per cent over a period of last two years. Vitality is key in this segment – with families of oranges, yellows and plum, and patterns such as checkerboards, leopard and snake prints featuring over co-ord sets.


’90s theme taps on the ‘ugly fashion movement’ with Bermuda style shorts, front buttoned skirts and denim dresses and Denim outerwear – oranges, yellows & patterns such as checkerboards feature over co-ords

Sustainability is at the centre of conversation within the fashion and apparel industry; this led to Levi’s launching its F.L.X. technology (set to release in select stores by Spring 2019) – a laser-powered process that allows consumers to customise a unique distressed finish on their jeans. By giving consumers the opportunity to personalise their designs, laser distressing could be used as a means to create thousands of finishes currently being achieved through laborious traditional methods like sanding. Traditionally creating fades and finishes over denim require chemicals and sanding blocks – a process that involves large amounts of water consumption and over a thousand types of chemicals.

Such environment-friendly technological innovations solidify the industry’s growing concern for sustainable practices, such as using recycled water and recycled fabrics, making this a hot area to divulge in.

Denim Industry Scenario

“The denim industry has become very competitive in the last 8-10 years. There is a lot of production in the market and at the same time, people have come up with a lot of innovation and sustainable ways of manufacturing denim…, but it’s all about demand and supply. And I think more than exports, even the domestic market has captured and utilised the opportunity in denim.” – Amit Aneja, Director – Raw Material at PVH (India) Limited

“With the popularity of activewear, people are demanding for easy going, stretchable fabrics. For example, when you’re walking or sitting, you don’t feel like you’re wearing something – essentially fabric that moves with your body.

Distressed details, frayed hemlines, ripped surfaces are still popular for S/S ’19, but A/W ’19 will see some mild distress only to show some character in garmenting.

For prints, AOPs over shirts are in demand. Small dots for adults, geometrical patterns, cars, and other fun shapes are popular for kids, while floral and jungle inspired AOPs are trending for women. Apart from jeans, denim shorts are also in demand in the market – even more than denim skirts.” – Nishant Giri, Sr. General – Manager – Exports at Jindal Worldwide


Amit Aneja, Director – Raw Material, PVH (India) Limited

“We are working more on clean looks that aren’t very loud in terms of destruction, etc., and also help in the upgradation of the fabric by enabling a nice sheen over the fabric.

From the innovation point of view, we are putting in a lot of research and study towards sustainability at the wash level and also on the fabric level. We are achieving this through foam dyeing and by working over the washing process through laser.

In terms of textures – a lot of dobbies are coming up, and there is an exploration of yarns – there are slubs, and a play of multi-coloured threads over denim.

We are doing less of aggressive washes. We play around the topping of the denims and at the same time use the same colour of the denim so that we can minimise the wash process. For example, we take grey coloured denim and do the wash over it. The trend is more towards the simple resin wash or 10-20 minutes of softer wash.”


Nishant Giri, Sr. General Manager – Exports at Jindal Worldwide

(Speaking on European and US markets)

“Higher stretches – Stretchable fabrics with around 45 to 50% stretch are in demand. This can be achieved by the use of the poly-spandex yarn which increases the lycra or spandex content in the yarn. This comes with its own set of challenges wherein extreme care has to be taken to ensure that the growth on the fabric is maintained. We are tackling this by some changes being made at the yarn stage, wherein we treat the fabric in a special way… This gives you a good look and a good hand feel while at the same time keeping the fabric growth under norms.

For the Autumn/Winter 2019-20 season, the washes are on the darker side. We are going for a higher depth of fabric where you have a deeper shade – such as a very, very deep indigo, which gives an authentic look. We are doing some experimentation in terms of colour, where with indigo, we are trying to create brown bottoming. We are introducing colours like brown or yellow to lend a vintage cast over the fabric. We are trying to play with dual colours to get different casts over the denim. White denims are also in demand and we are achieving this through techniques and processes such as bleaching and optical whitener.

For value addition, we are using different types of over-dyeing effects with different colours for colour coding.

We are picking up some polyester blend fabrics to provide sheen and body to the fabric. Currently we are trying for the brushing of the fabric from the back side for the cotton spandex fabric. This allows for a soft feel from the inside of the fabric, by giving a woollen feel which when used for the Autumn/Winter season, keeps you warmer.”