The event attracted more than 80 exhibitors, including fibre, fabric and garment manufacturers, laundry, dye and chemicals companies from around the globe

The event attracted more than 80 exhibitors, including fibre, fabric and garment manufacturers, laundry, dye and chemicals companies from around the globe

Last week's Kingpins denim showcase in Amsterdam heard that mills and consumers are driving technological innovation and design. Recognition of the impact of social media on consumption, as well as new blends and solutions devised to appeal to untapped consumer demands, were all highlighted.

"The thing I am most excited by is the way social media and the Internet has changed everything about the way we consume," Amy Leverton, founder of the Denim Dudes consultancy and trend forecaster for Kingpins, told just-style at the Netherlands show. "It's no longer 'here is skinny fit' or 'biker styling', although trends still exist: now information is more peer-to-peer and direct lines. That is scary for brands, because they no longer have the control."

Leverton points to brands such as US-based Supreme as having a "crazy business model, but it works." They drop new products into their stores once a week in limited runs. Kids line up around the block and re-sales go for a lot of money, she says. "You are either in or you are out and as a brand it's a really hard time to figure out how to be in."

For industry giants such as Next, Rag & Bone, Ralph Lauren and Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), Kingpins is about new directional and functional fabrics, many highlighted in Leverton's forecasting.

Speaking at a Kingpins seminar, her main trend predictions for autumn/winter 18/19 include: 'Art School Indie' which is a throwback to the 90s "without the cool bits," mixing vintage and anti-fashion with eccentric touches in awkward silhouettes for everyday wear; 'Blue Collar Basics' – another anti-fashion trend for the "post-normcore generation," a working-class aesthetic with a random pick and choose feel ironically chosen from skate, soccer, punk and indie references; and 'Beatnik Bohemian', which she describes as "denim dandy meets matador meets mid-century playboy."  

The final trend presented by Leverton, 'Post Denim', is a high fashion runway look harking back to 40s workwear, with "exaggerated and off-beat" silhouettes and proportions, extreme detailing combined with silk, velvet, satin and the latest technical advances in denim, crisp and styled. This style makes use of stretch innovation, now including stretch in the warp and the weft, and for men.

"Men are moving towards a 2% stretch, with stretch along the thigh. This does not impact the shape of a denim jean, but it does impact how many consumers are buying into that look. It's what everyone is jumping on at the moment," she says.

Fabric technologies

The event attracted more than 80 exhibitors, including fibre, fabric and garment manufacturers, laundry, dye and chemicals companies from around the globe.

For the mills, fabric wicking and fibre and fabric blends continue to develop in an effort to meet consumer frustrations with fit, ease of movement, breathability, durability and longevity.

Mills such as Turkey's Orta have been exploring new technologies incorporating zinc, which has moisturising properties. Silver is increasingly being included because of its properties as an anti-microbial.

US-based fibre producer Invista and Brazil's Vicunha Textil mill are just two of the firms presenting technologies developing denim for hotter climates and improved breathability. Invista's Cordura fibre is presented as a strong durable alternative, taking longer to rip or break down. Levi's has experimented with it in its Commuter series for cyclists, collaborating with Google, where smart fibres are woven into the denim so wearers can swipe their GPS location to a partner or friend while cycling.

"There is a lot of fabric technology that is not that sexy to look at," says Leverton, "but it is driving denim forward."

Consumer preferences

Many of these developments are solutions supported by major research into unmet consumer demand, such as the Invista study, 'Around the Denim World in 80 Days'.

A portion of the research was presented at Kingpins by Jean Hegedus, Invista's global segment director for denim, and covered five countries: the US, Germany, Spain, China and Brazil.

Its quantitative research assessed more than 500 women per country, aged 18-49 who wore jeans at least once a week and shopped the key denim brands and retailers. The qualitative portion of the study included ethnographic workshops with both women and men, aged 18-34 who wore jeans at least once a week and shopped the key denim brands and retailers.

Jeans were found to be a key clothing item for women, with most owning multiple pairs. Across the countries surveyed, the highest was Brazil with 9.3 pairs compared to the lowest, China, with 6.3 pairs. For a wide variety of occasions, jeans were the preferred option, such as running errands, going out and going to work – all were above 50%.

However, there were clear preferences for dress trousers for going out in China (74%), and in both the US and China for work, 84 and 76%, respectively. The most preferred garment to wear around the house was leggings across all markets but China, where jeans were preferred (66%).

Fit frustrations

"It's not a big surprise to anyone in this industry that biggest consumer frustration is around fit," said Hegedus at a Kingpins seminar. "The thing we heard over and over was that it's hard to find jeans that fit in all the right places."

What was more of a surprise was that fewer women surveyed in China found a problem with fit (63%) as compared to women in Brazil (84%) and the US (79%). Finding the 'right style for me' was also less of an issue in China and more of an issue in the US, Germany and Brazil. Within the ethnographic workshops, this point was picked up with consumers saying they were confused by the 'sea of denim' around the walls of stores. 

Hegedus and Invista research partners 2CV found a significant difference in the rating of the ease of shopping for jeans, with no respondents describing it as 'easy' and jeans ranking fifth overall after T-shirts, leggings, shirts and skirts. Only dresses and dress pants scored lower. Even more significant were the rating differences from country to country: Germany (30%), US (42%), Spain (54%), Brazil (58%) and China (75%) – although they were unable to discern why Chinese women found it easier. 

"To me, this is the most significant slide in the whole presentation: what do women buy if they can't find jeans?" asks Hegedus. 15% would look for an alternative item of clothing with leggings the most likely alternative; 43% of women surveyed would settle for a less than perfect pair of jeans; and 42% would leave without buying anything. German women were most likely to leave a store empty handed (62%), and Chinese women the least likely (21%).

While jeans prices average between US$40 in Brazil up to US$58 in China, "the good news is that to find the perfect pair of jeans, women are willing to spend more. So, if you can get her what she wants, she will pay for it."

The least additional spend corresponded to the most expensive average cost: Chinese women were willing to spend 21% extra for the perfect fit, while in Brazil it was 36%; Spain and Germany an additional 39%; and in the US, consumers would pay the most extra for the perfect pair of jeans – 46%.

As for gender difference, women are looking for performance and aesthetics, men for comfort, flexibility and durability.

Several new fibre blends have been introduced by Invista's Lycra brand to answer some of these issues: Lycra dualFX combines two Lycra fibres to provide flexibility, comfort and fit, giving jeans a 'snap back'; Lycra Tough Max was presented as a solution for durability and endurance; and Lycra Beauty for comfort, flexibility and shape forming (to avoid flattened bottoms).

Lycra has also launched a new fibre to meet the needs of comfort in terms of breathability and comfort, with Coolmax Core keeping wearers cool and dry in heat. Such research and solutions to unmet needs will be more important as consumers ask more and more of their denim wear.