Most of the time it takes innovative products or great prices (sometimes both) to drive sales. However, when the economy is on an uptick, even the mediocre products sell.
That’s been the case for the denim industry. Most manufacturers said that 2018 has been a great year. That’s a big departure from the usual complaints about orders being smaller and of ongoing price pressure.
At Kingpins New York (Nov 28-29) mills and garment makers from around the world were in good spirits.
“Business in the U.S. has been great and we expect it to keep growing in 2019. In fact, we’re considering increasing our production capacity,” said Scott Gress from Naveen (Pakistan).
“We’re fully booked through June 2019,” said Soma Sekharan, General Manager at FM Group (Mauritius).
Lightening Up on R&D
With demand strong suppliers have let up a little on R&D. We saw the fewest new product developments from suppliers in as long as we can remember. Before, manufacturers invested heavily in trying to develop something – anything – that would catch buyers’ attention. That’s still important, but not as critical.
Most of the newness was subtle changes on core bestsellers. “The vintage-look remains very popular and we’re now adding hues and tints (yellow/green or grayed indigo),” said Erin Zeitler at US Group (Pakistan)
Cone Denim has re-introduced ‘natural indigo’ for a heritage look.
Skinny jeans remain popular for women, and increasingly for men. However, manufacturers report increasing demand for wider legs.
Mills are playing with fiber blends to achieve the much-requested soft hand feel. Stretch continues to evolve. It has become a standard ingredient in denim, however mills are experimenting with new ways to work with it.
“We’ve introduced our ‘smart stretch. It gives shaping where it’s needed and gives comfort stretch in other parts of the garment,” said Rabia Kabal at Calik (Turkey).
Instead, the investment is now going towards raising the bar on sustainability. In part this is because buyers are requesting it, but also because governments in the key sourcing nations are enforcing stricter environmental standards. China’s crackdown over the past two years saw the closure of a vast number of dye houses, as well as a lot of manufacturers.
Other nations are starting to get tough on environmental issues. So, with buyers demanding greater sustainability, it makes sense to upgrade their facilities now to stay ahead of the curve.
Sustainability Becomes Standard
European brands have taken the lead in driving the industry towards more sustainable products and manufacturing processes. However American brands are slowly starting to join the party.
“People are asking for sustainable denim,” said Kara Nicholas at Cone Denim (USA). Cone was showing denim that combined its S-Gene dual core with Repreve for denim that has good stretch properties but is also sustainable. The company has long been a pioneer in recycled and sustainable denim, beginning years ago with denim made from recycled cafeteria trays, bottles, and other PET post-consumer material.
“Sustainability is a big thing. Buyers are now pushing for it. However, it’s no longer to simply claim that your products are sustainable. The level of sustainability should be measured,” said Robia Kabal at Calik (Turkey).
Calik has introduced a new system where buyers can enter the item code for any product on its website and find out the degree of sustainability for that product.
FM Group has invested in a state-of-the-art facility that uses a high level of automation. “The washing is all automated. Chemicals are auto-dosed so we have better control over how much is used. This has helped us greatly reduce the amount of water we use,” said Mr. Sekharan.
At Black Peony (China) a newly developed “laser wash” technique enables the company to create a washed effect without using water.
“Most of the big US brands are asking for sustainable products. They want factories to have zero discharge. It’s really all about clean chemistry,” said Alfred Cheung at Black Peony.
Will buyers pay a higher price for more environmentally friendly fabrics? “Buyers want the same price so it’s up to the factory to bear the costs of meeting the new standards for sustainability,” said Mr. Cheung.
The consensus is that the US market will remain strong, at least through the first half of 2019. “We don’t know for certain what next year will be like, but we are very optimistic,” said Mr. Cheung at Black Peony.