I'm sitting in the Canary Yellow Cafe at the Standard Hotel in downtown LA re-living the awesome conversation between four denim industry leaders at Avery Dennison RBIS’ ‘Denim: The Future’ event.
Held at RBIS’ Customer Design and Innovation Center in LA’s Art District, I led the ‘godfather of denim’ Adriano Goldschmied, Marco Lucietti, Marketing Director at ISKO Denim, Miles Johnson, (formerly Levi's) and currently Creative Director at Patagonia and David Hieatt Founder of Hiutt Denim, in a conversation on the future of the denim industry. The initiative was driven by Avery Dennison's recent consumer insight and market research on the denim consumer, their spending habits, their pain points and issues surrounding denim and jeans.
The first part of the discussion focused on fit and the ongoing problems of finding that all illusive 'perfect shape.’ With all the technology driving the industry and consumer, and continued focus on the in-store experience, I was taken aback to realise this is still one of the main issues for consumers.
I've always admired ISKO's approach to stretch technology and believe they are leading the market in this area. Marco shared that stretch makes up a huge 90 percent of ISKO's business and they are the globe's biggest supplier of stretch. He also shared that to him, when customers talk about fit, they are really talking about fabric: a great fabric with a good stretch and retention can make all the difference between a good and a bad fitting jean.
Adriano has always had a reputation for disrupting and innovating the industry with his forward-thinking denim insights. During the event, he predicted that knit denim will be the future of indigo and within a few years, he expects to see very little rigid denim on the market. The conversation started off with quite a bang!
I agree with certain elements of his argument, but I also believethe men’s sector, especially the premium market, will always appreciate rigid characters. Visiting the fabric trade shows every season, I still see many innovations using comfort stretch, teamed with a rigid appearance, meaning that the rugged sensibility is still very much at the core of men’s denim.
Miles worked for Levi's for many years before joining Patagonia and made a great point: What Levi's, Wrangler and Lee jeans did in the late 1800s and early 1900s was timeless, classic and so perfect that it has stood the test of time ever since. All this modernizing of a classic is fine, but at the end of the day it works. Over the past 100 years, we’ve played with small details, fabric developments and washes to keep that classic item up-to-date. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
David Hieatt lives in this premium men’s denim world and through his brand, Huitt Denim, he maintains it's still a strong seller. But he made a great point that really resonated with me: he said that he designs for a creative customer. And in doing so, he thinks it’s important to make sure he remains creative, open-minded and innovative in his design. He spoke about his plans to resurrect the weaving industry in his small town in Wales, which is an initiative he's been striving toward over the last few years.
Sustainability also cropped up many times over the course of the conversation. Many brands in the audience expressed the issues they have with educating the consumer about the costs involved in sustainable, organic or ethically-manufactured denim. Miles suggests this is a matter of education and the industry needs to work together to help inform the public about the costs involved in making quality denim.
Innovations in the branding market are touching on sustainability too, with transparent manufacturing and QR codes helping to communicate increasingly sustainable product. Marco reflected this thought, describing how ISKO is teaming up with more and more brands to cross-promote the fabric mill and capabilities of the cloth alongside the designer name.
Lastly, we moved on to branding. With Avery Dennison RBIS’ leadershipin the world of branding innovation, it was interesting to hear from their market research that consumers are driven more and more toward the lifestyle element surrounding a brand, rather than paying for a label or name. In my experience in the trend forecasting world, there’s been a shift in consumer attitudes that will have a macro effect on future spending habits across the board.
Many more opinions, thoughts and views were shared during the course of the discussion and of the nearly 150 people who attended, so many denim names stayed on well into the evening to continue conversations and network. The denim industry is a tight-knit one and it was so rewarding to get everyone in one spot to really dig deep into the changing landscape of the denim and apparel industry. I sincerely hope there will be more events like this in the future! Let’s continue the conversation at #BeyondthePatch