The Initiatives in Art and Culture (IAC) hosted its 17th Annual Fashion and Design Conference in New York City on Friday and Saturday, gathering entrepreneurs, curators, journalists and more to discuss the theme of "Trailblazers" within the fashion industry. A panel on denim brought together premium denim pioneers Adriano Goldschmied and Francois Girbaud, Invista Global Business Director for Denim Jean Hegedus, Cotton Inc. Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain Marketing Mark Messura and Emma McClendon, an assistant curator of costume at The Museum of FIT.
Denim is beloved in America: The average U.S. citizen owns 15 pieces of denim and up to three different denim brands. And, with a low degree of brand loyalty among consumers, there's still plenty of opportunity for new brands to join the growing market, according to Messura. In the 1990s, less than 200 brands were established in the U.S., whereas today, there are more than 800 brands sold. "This is a category where something special can really happen," said Massura, who also mentioned that the two main drivers of the denim market are fashion and function. "For a lot of consumers, sales are made on the basis of function — what does it do for me?"
From bringing new brands to the market to developing more sustainable processes, here's how the denim industry is looking at the future.
Dubbed the "godfather of denim," Goldschmied introduced his latest venture this fall, a new brand called Acynetic. "Our passion is about creating new products and creating new things," said Goldschmied. "I feel the denim world is really changing and we're responding properly to a kind of different lifestyle that is for sure very important today." That new lifestyle is marked by the emergence of athleisure; denim has shown a slight decline in sales as consumers trade jeans for yoga pants.
Acynetic is Goldschmied's response to the wellness movement, offering denim that isn't typically traditional of the textile. The new line consists of knitted separates and outerwear featuring indigo yarn combined with a spandex product from a circular knitting machine, which means no seams and more comfort. Its debut collection is slated for a spring 2016 release.
Lycra Hybrid Technology
Speaking of flexible fibers, Invista proudly owns Lycra, which can stretch up to six times its original length, then easily (and quickly) recover. It can also be blended with another fiber, such as denim, and transform something that was once rigid into something that's flexible and comfortable to wear. The best part? It only takes about two percent of Lycra for this effect. Although denim brands have experimented with Lycra for decades, it recently introduced a new knit denim technology, titled Lycra Hybrid. "In the last five years, what we've seen in the denim industry is that there isn't just one type of stretch that's become acceptable," said Hegedus. "Retailers are looking for different levels, from comfort stretch to super stretch. This is really positive because it's allowing the consumer to have a lot of different choices." Hegedus said that Invista is working with five different mills to provide retailers with Lycra Hybrid in at least a year.
The fashion industry's efforts to reduce its environmental footprint have been part of a long and evolving journey. As Goldschmied put it, "We did something bad and we have a responsibility, today, to fix it."
Messura said denim manufacturing mills once dumped indigo dye straight into rivers, turning them blue with unwanted chemicals. That's where VSEP technology comes in, a system that's long been used for sanitation and filtration purposes (read: your bottled water). "We took that existing technology and applied it to the textile industry," explained Messura. Through VSEP, which uses a vibrating membrane to remove indigo dye, followed by reverse osmosis, manufacturers can obtain water that's clearer than before it arrived. The results show that 100 percent of indigo dye is recycled and reusable, while 70 percent of the water is also recyclable.