Maybe it’s a sign of getting older or a coping mechanism for weathering unpredictable times, but I’m nothing if not a sucker for tradition. Seeing school supplies stock store shelves each August leaves me tingling with excitement. Though I’m a vegetarian, a Thanksgiving spread sans glistening, golden-brown turkey would just be any old Thursday-night dinner. So it goes without saying that I’ve been enthralled with all the pomp, circumstance and pageantry swirling around the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
This fondness for rituals is also why I’m drawn to denim. Like the Queen, blue jeans have been a reliable, familiar and—if they’re made well—steadfast place in our lives. Denim’s day-to-day impact may often go unnoticed, but its absence would alter the fabric of the apparel sector, puncture parts of agriculture and rewrite some of pop culture’s most memorable moments. I’m certainly not alone in appreciating denim’s enduring qualities, as many of this year’s Rivet 50 honorees (pg. 28) are on a mission to improve and preserve what is arguably fashion’s most iconic fabric.
While the industry’s progressive leaders are united in replacing harmful, wasteful production techniques with more admirable alternatives, they also refuse to compromise denim’s authentic look. In “Generation Regeneration” (pg. 66), mills and brands share how they are supporting a new era of regenerative farming by rolling up their sleeves and getting down and dirty with the science of soil health. In “Spin Cycle” (pg. 72), ﬁber manufacturers unpack the nitty-gritty details of what it takes to convert recycled content into jeans that look and feel like they’re made from virgin sources. Meanwhile, zero-waste designers (“Waste Not” pg. 79) are shining a spotlight on one of fashion’s oldest traditions: patternmaking.
After seasons of—dare I say—garish Y2K trends, classic ﬁts and traditional washes are emerging as something of a palate cleanser this fall. In “C’est la beauté” (pg. 54), the fashion team curates a swoon-worthy women’s wardrobe. One denim genre that’s unlikely to ever buck tradition is Western and rodeo, which is riding a revival of popular relevance. In “Rodeo Stars” (pg. 51), category leaders discuss how they balance performance with authenticity. Traditional retail is also bouncing back after unprecedented ecommerce growth. In “Open for Business” (pg. 25), leading denim brands explain why they’re seizing the moment to open new doors in the U.S. and abroad.
While I never want to see the denim industry regress, I hope this issue serves as a reminder of the lessons to be learned from valuing the past.
Angela Velasquez Executive Editor, Rivet
Peter Sadera Editor in Chief, Sourcing Journal
Jessica Binns Managing Editor
Arthur Friedman Senior Editor
Vicki M. Young Executive Financial Reporter
Jasmin Malik Chua Sourcing & Labor Editor
Kate Nishimura Features Editor
Kari Hamanaka Logistics Editor
Glenn Taylor Business Editor
Christopher Blomquist Denim Editor
Chuck Dobrosielski Staff Writer
Lauren Parker Branded Content Manager
Sarah Jones Senior Editor, Strategic Content Development
Andre Claudio, Staff Writer, Strategic Content
Tirso Gamboa VP, Creative, Fairchild Media
Celena Tang Associate Art Director
Libby Groden Associate Art Director
Yeni Cho Senior Designer
Arani Halder Designer
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Edward Hertzman Founder & President, Sourcing Journal & Rivet Executive Vice President, Fairchild
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Kevin Hurley Production Director
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JAY PENSKE CHAIRMAN & CEO
GERRY BYRNE VICE CHAIRMAN
GEORGE GROBAR CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
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CRAIG PERREAULT CHIEF DIGITAL OFFICER
TODD GREENE EVP, BUSINESS AFFAIRS AND CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER
MARK HOWARD CHIEF ADVERTISING
PAUL RAINEY EVP,
TOM FINN EVP,
Executive Editor, Rivet
MARGOLIN SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL
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VICE PRESIDENT, LICENSING & BRAND DEVELOPMENT
THE RIVETING LIST
The latest news, collaborations, and events on Rivet editors’ radars.
Brands need to have realistic expectations about the impact NFTs have on revenue and marketing.
Meet the most inﬂuential people in denim.
Men’s wear often takes a backseat in the conversation around fast fashion and the industry's e orts to go green.
Authenticity is priority number one for jeanswear brands that want to ride high in rodeo and equestrian circles.
C'EST LA BEAUTÉ
Savor the beauty of rich washes and e ortlessly cool silhouettes for fall.
Denim mills and brands are supporting a new class of regenerative farms.
Mills and brands join forces to advance recycled cotton.
The industry’s solution for producing less waste begins on the pattern cutting board.
FIRST HALF FRENZY
jeans imports reach $2 billion, but
the boom last?
TRUTH OR DARE
COME ONE, COME ALL
With more than 110 designers on the calendar, something special was in the air during New York Fashion Week—a hint of the early 2010s when editors rushed from show to show and the public lived out their fashion week fantasies during Fashion’s Night Out, the annual Vogueled event that mixed celebrities with consumers and shopping with champagne toasts. The legacy of the now-defunct initiative lived on a decade later with B2C events that combined fashion and education across the city in September.
In this tradition, Fairchild Fashion opened its ﬁrst exhibition “A Matter of Style,” curated by Sourcing Journal’s sister brands Women’s Wear Daily, Footwear News and Beauty Inc. Open to the public, the two-day retrospective showcased more than 50 photographs from the legendary Fairchild archives, featuring celebrities, designers, parties, events, street style, and runway moments that have made New York fashion iconic.
To mark its 130th anniversary Vogue launched Vogue World, a ticketed event featuring multibrand runway shows, a pop-up shop and a street fair experience with curated newsstands and limited-edition items. Online retailer Revolve presented Revolve Gallery, a multibrand installation featuring emerging fashion designers, exclusive brands and a popup powered by Bolt stocked with Levi’s, All Saints and more. The exhibition also featured Cotton Incorporated’s immersive area with information about the natural ﬁber.
IMG’s series of conversations, NYFW: The Talks, featured industry thought leaders discussing topics on sustainably in the luxury sector and mindfulness in fashion. And Tommy Hilﬁger returned to its stomping grounds with a “see now, buy now” collection presented at the Skyline Drive-In in Brooklyn and in a parallel metaverse activation.
In other words, fashion week—on and off the runway—is back.
Under the creative guidance of Glenn Martens, Diesel is quickly reclaiming its status as a denim marketing machine. This fall, the Milanese brand dropped a risqué campaign to promote the latest colors and sizes of its ‘It’ bag, the 1DR. In the campaign, Diesel presents the handbag as the only accessory needed by styling it with nude male and female models. In its F/W ’22 “Larger than Life” campaign, models wear the brand’s latest Y2K-insipred styles as billboard cutouts superimposed on soaring skyscrapers. The campaign highlights key design themes that run throughout Diesel’s new collection including trompe l’oeil denim on skirts, bags, trousers and shirts.
Frame revisits the Ritz Paris with a second collection that pays homage to the world-renowned hotel.
The Los Angeles-based brand launched a 44-piece capsule collection for men, women, children and pets that celebrates the legendary hotelier’s trademark crest and script. The motif adorns the collection’s varsity-style outerwear, unisex cashmere sweaters, classic tees and more.
its with year. Worn
pieces from with resale sites.
The collaboration taps into consumers’ unwavering wanderlust and underscores the popularity of niche partnerships. It follows Frame’s niche collaboration with New York’s iconic Carlyle Hotel and its ﬁrst with the Ritz Paris in October last year. Worn by celebrities from Naomi Campbell to Hailey Bieber, Frame reports that pieces from the ﬁrst collaboration sold out immediately, with items like the varsity jacket now selling for 10-times the original price on resale sites.
Frame and Ritz Paris aims to re-create the magic with new statement items like jeans covered with Ritz-themed patches, a puffer jacket and hi-top sneakers. The expanded collection also includes
items jeans covered
also includes and hotel such as striped
sneakers. The collection children’s tops essentials pajamas and embroidered
slippers. A dog jacket taps into the piping-hot trend for designer pet fashion.
A taps into trend
Actress Turner-Smith denim on the Venice Film Festival between tulle and Gucci and All” actress of fashion out in wash Balmain. Turner-Smith diamonds and blue
Actress Jodie Turner-Smith proved that denim belongs on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival in September. In between donning tulle Valentino frocks and sparkling Gucci gowns, the “Bones and All” actress pushed the boundaries of red-carpet fashion when she stepped out in a light wash denim gown by Balmain. Turner-Smith paired ﬁgurehugging mermaid-style gown with diamonds and blue eyeliner.
Los denim—it’s also the focal festival. LA3C, event company, Penske Media celebrate L.A. as the and culture. Scheduled Dec. 10-11 Park, the attendees to experience
Los Angeles isn’t only the U.S. hub for denim—it’s also the focal point of a new festival. LA3C, a new event by Rivet’s parent company, Penske Media Company, will celebrate L.A. as the capital of creativity and culture. Scheduled to take place Dec. 10-11 at the LA State Historic Park, the multiday event will give attendees the opportunity to experience L.A. across music, art, entertainment, and food.
Jodie Turner-Smith at the Venice Film Festival
Robotics and digital apparel company Unspun made its New York Fashion debut with Collina Strada. In keeping with its mission to eliminate textile waste, Unspun created 100 percent bespoke and tailored jeans, which Collina Strada founder Hillary Taymour transformed into wearable art. The collaboration with Collina Strada marks the ﬁrst time Unspun has worked with a designer on custom garments. Given Collina Strada’s commitment to inclusive sizing and design, Unspun described it as “the perfect pairing.”
created 100 Strada founder art.
Unspun has Collina Strada’s described
Native-owned denim gotten an Portland, Ore.–based
world, is an from Raven
Native-owned denim brand Ginew has just gotten an impactful Indigenous investment. The Portland, Ore.–based label, the only Native American–owned denim brand in the world, is getting an inﬂux of $500,000 from Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, a Canadian Indigenous-led and -owned impact investment ﬁrm out of Vancouver that supports Native entrepreneurship.
Then-newlyweds Amanda Bruegl, who is of Oneida, Stockbridge-Munsee descent, and Erik Brodt of the Ojibwe tribe, began Ginew in 2010 as a small leather goods brand after they jointly crafted a series of belts from their wedding buffalo, which was hunted, prepared, tanned and hand-dyed by the pair and their families. They expanded the offering to include apparel in 2014.
Ginew, which means “brown eagle,” is now a contemporary collection of Native Americana sold worldwide at specialty retailers and online that draws inspiration from the proprietors’ culture, including the incorporation of family symbols and teachings into the garments and goods. The investment will help Ginew pursue initiatives that include transforming Native representation in the apparel business, nurturing a culture-centric business approach and developing a healthy Native economy, among other goals.
“Ginew is a very personal brand. We incorporate our Ojibwe, Oneida and
Stockbridge-Munsee heritage and family stories into our collection. Raven and Ginew are very compatible culturally which is very important to us as we look to accelerate Native opportunities. One of our ﬁrst priorities is to thoughtfully expand our collection,” Bruegl said.
“We are very intentional about our supply chain and choosing collaborators that share our mission to bring positive social and economic outcomes. Amanda and I aim to transform the Native narrative in the apparel industry and we are grateful for Raven’s support,” Brodt added.
WEST MEETS PREP
Kontoor Brands-owned Wrangler reveals another side in a collaboration with American sportswear label Gant.
The 30-piece capsule collection; including jeans, apparel and accessories for men and women, explores the intersection of East Coast preppy and Western denim. Stand-out pieces include bootcut jeans with collegiate patches, a varsity jacket with a western embroidered motif and a faux fur lined denim jacket inspired by the rock legends of the 1960s and 1970s.
With both brands founded in the 1940s, the original shirtmaker and denim stalwart helped shape and deﬁne the emergence of American sportswear, Wrangler stated.
“While Wrangler was embracing the western lifestyle, with pioneering products such as the western jean, jacket and shirt, Gant shaped preppy style with their deﬁnitive buttondown shirts,” said Sean Gormley, Wrangler global concept director, modern.
“The stories might be different—Wrangler dressed rodeo stars and ranch hands, while Gant deﬁned the Ivy Leaguers’ look—but both created a lasting cultural impact.
The DNA of both brands runs through each piece in this celebration of our combined heritage.”
Pop-up shops are having a moment as brands test new markets and get to know established consumer bases better.
In July, German denim brand Closed landed in the U.S. blue jeans capital with a temporary shop in Los Angeles at Platform, a collection of independent and ﬁrst-to-market merchants, eateries and creative businesses located in Culver City. The 1,044-square-foot space marked Closed’s ﬁrst store in the U.S. and is the ﬁrst of several “outposts” in L.A. A brick-and-mortar store was the next step for Closed after launching its U.S. online shop three years ago and expanding distribution to multi-brand partners like Nordstrom, Injeanius in Boston, and Felt in Chicago.
Platform is also the home to Billy Reid’s ﬁrst L.A. store, its 15th in the U.S. Outﬁtted in traditional and modern furnishings, antiques and curated art, the store carries the brand’s men’s collection and “evokes a feeling of stepping into a friend’s living room,” the brand stated.
Cotton Citizen introduced its new denim line with a bright blue popup shop in Beverly Hills. The 10-year-old L.A.-based brand co-founded by brothers Adam and Liran Vanunu opened the 3,500-square-foot shop to showcase its new jeanswear offer which includes three women’s silhouettes and two men’s. The store, which will transform into a permanent one, is the brand’s fourth standalone store and joins the Cotton Citizen ﬂagship on Melrose Place, an outpost in New York’s SoHo and one in Wynn Plaza in Las Vegas.
And The Winners Are…
The Rivet x Project Awards honored the best in denim at Project Las Vegas.words _____ANGELA VELASQUEZ
The Rivet x Project Awards honored the best in Spring/Summer 2023 denim at Project Las Vegas in August, recognizing established premium denim brands, newcomers to the U.S. market and labels that pay tribute to jeans’ heritage and craftsmanship. Congratulations to the winners.
BEST MEN’S COLLECTION NAKED & FAMOUS
Two new additions in Naked & Famous’ collection underpin the Canadian label’s knack for thinking outside the box. The brand presented men’s jeans made with silk recycled kimonos sourced from Japanese thrift stores. Naked & Famous achieved the 10 percent silk fabric by blending shredded kimonos with new cotton. The result is a dark indigo jean ﬂecked with shimmery silk.
Naked & Famous also bowed a jean made with 20 percent recycled denim. The fabric contains offcuts in the warp, blended with new cotton. No dyes or chemicals are added to the jean, resulting in a unique light blue color derived from the indigo previously applied to the offcuts. A light pink selvedge line and backpatch made from recycled leather are ﬁnishing touches.
BEST SUSTAINABLE COLLECTION MAVI
For the second consecutive season, Turkish label Mavi nabbed the honor for “Best Sustainable Collection,” this time by going au naturel in its new concept. The men’s and women’s Natural Dye Collection uses natural clay-based colorants and ratios to achieve its signature earthy colors. “Clay is an inherently occurring material and its unique crystal structure is non-toxic, UV resistant and antibacterial,” Mavi stated.
The result is 100 percent cotton shackets and jeans in shades of brown and green. Garments are also outﬁtted with biodegradable nutshell buttons, back patches made from biodegradable olive seeds and woven labels and threads made from recycled materials. The collection contains basil seeds that can be planted.
Donwan Harrell’s Artmeetschaos is an ode to understanding denim’s possibilities and limitations. The latest collection offers new slim carpenter jeans, PFD garment dyed straight ﬁt jeans, and jeans tiedyed by hand to replicate the look of vintage painter pants. Paint splatter, laser prints and overdying keep each style new and fresh.
Despite the variety, the collection is made with a tight range of fabrics. Harrell sources fabrics from South America and produces the collection in Colombia at the top washhouse in the region to maintain duty-free treatment. Since he doesn’t have the “encyclopedia of fabrics” he would have access to if he sourced from Asia, Harrell said he spends time studying the fabrics to develop new ﬁnishes, ﬁts and colors.
European denim heads will soon enjoy Harrell’s attention to detail. The brand recently joined Amsterdam showroom, Solotwentyﬁve.
BEST WOMEN’S COLLECTION: JOE’S
Using color and versatile separates, Joe’s presented a cohesive story for women rich with new ﬁts and subtle yet elevating details. After a season that saw most brands over-invest in straight ﬁts, Joe’s is betting on ﬂare and wide-leg jeans with cuffed details, ﬂat cargo pockets, contrast stitching, shield-shaped back pockets and super high rises for Spring/Summer 2023.
The collection’s retro-inspired palette of indigo, ecru, medium yellows and sunset orange spans jeans, chore jackets and denim shorts, including a new relaxed ﬁt. The denim pieces are supported by knit tank tops, blouses with voluminous sleeves and ﬂutter sleeve dresses.
BEST NEW BRAND: REDHOUSE
Portuguese men’s brand Redhouse made its U.S. debut at Project, presenting a high-end take on denim streetwear. Established in 2012 to offer the European market a bolder approach to slim and skinny ﬁts, the brand combines Italian fabrics from Candiani Denim with one-of-a-kind details ﬁnished in Portugal. Silver chains trim a classic Trucker jacket. Studs, paint splatter and screenprinted logos decorate jeans. Moto details add an edgy look, while dye effects speak to the market demand for color.
A tiny Italian ﬂag on the button-ﬂy of jeans serves as a reminder of its premium roots. Landing prices for jeans hover around $178 but a brand rep said prices depends on ﬁnishing treatments.
The denim collection is complemented by a sport range encompassing 100 percent cotton regular ﬁt and oversized tees and terry shorts— some decorated with the same techniques used for denim.
BEST COLLABORATION: CATERPILLAR X COLOUR PLUS CO.
How do you update a garment steeped in workwear heritage? Just add color.
Caterpillar teamed with Jordan Page, the Brooklyn-based DJ, stylist, curator behind the fashion Instagram account @veryadvanced and founder of Colour Plus Companie, a collection that serves as a “meditation on color theory” and muses on how utility and streetwear intermingle. Based on a “muted palette that draws from rich natural tones,” Colour in Uniform examines the “intersectionality between utility and form in relation to fabrics and garments.”
Workwear staples like a plaid button-down shirt, utility vests, double-front pants and carpenter pants and shorts in corduroy and denim feature co-branded elements. Zip and pull-over hoodies and terry shorts round out the collection. The collaboration will launch in November, with a bigger drop scheduled for Spring/Summer 2023.
Before venturing into NFTs, brands need to have realistic expectations about their impact on revenue and marketing.
words _____CHUCK DOBROSIELSKI
When Pacsun sold its ﬁrst non-fungible token (NFT) for the equivalent of $776 last December, the crypto market was running at full fervor.
The day the retailer listed its debut token—a gif of its wave logo— more than 160,000 NFT transactions took place, according to the website NonFungible. Daily NFT sales totaled nearly $106 million and there were more than 83,000 active market wallets, the market tracker’s data shows. By late August of this year, total daily sales were in the mid-30,000s to low 40,000s, daily revenue was hovering around $25 million and the number of active market wallets was a little over 20,000, per NonFungible.
By late August, Pacsun had yet to surpass its original sale. A single NFT, “The PS Reserve Rat” technically beat it in May, selling for 0.222 ETH, easily above its predecessor’s 0.1792 ETH. In U.S. dollars, however, the NFT sold for the equivalent of $399.08, a consequence of Ether’s diminished value. Of the ﬁrst 40 tokens Pacsun listed on the NFT trading platform OpenSea, more than half have never received a bid.
REVENUE DRIVER OR SOMETHING ELSE?
Though NFTs often make headlines for making massive amounts of money, Pacsun president Brie Olson said the retailer sees them as “a way to try to build a further sense of community and loyalty to the brand.” In the beginning, that meant exploring “alongside” consumers to see what they resonated with.
“I would say out of the NFTs that we’ve launched to-date, we’ve sold about 50 percent of them, which in a learning phase I actually consider quite good,” Olson added. “I try to encourage our team to constantly be curious and push the boundaries and explore alongside the consumer. So, if something doesn't work, then like rethink it, and maybe there's a layer of loyalty or maybe the NFT has also a physical component to it.”
The PS Reserve Rat NFT, for example, came with a free pair of $300 Air Jordan 1 Retro High sneakers from its resale platform PS Reserve. The sale, Olson noted, made Pacsun one of the only brands featured in ComplexLand’s NFT gallery in May to actually sell its NFT. “I think having
that physical quality of a one-of-a-kind item matched back with a virtual item is something that our consumer is really excited about, and just creates more added value,” she said.
“We’ve also had some learnings in terms of price elasticity and how much the consumer is willing to pay and also, to be very transparent, our best-selling NFTs to-date actually have had 100 percent charitable donations,” Olson added. “So another signal from our consumer that they do care about philanthropically giving back to the community.”
Looking ahead, Jeff Hood, the CEO and co-founder of the Web3 strategy company Metacurio, believes more brands will approach NFTs with a focus on marketing rather than revenue. Brands like Adidas, which made around $23 million in December from its debut NFT collection, “were early in the bull market,” Hood noted. “We’re in a bear market now.”
out of consumers free mint allows Doron Sherman, image and video the “real promise”
I think it’s going for luxury brands, premium, NFTs experience that With the supply demand a premium this just looks nice,’” on utility, and the consumers who just bought my physical products until now will also by my NFT. They have to consider the question of what's in it for them. So, I think that's where we're getting to the point where there's going to have to be very speciﬁc beneﬁts for consumers that come with NFTs in order to continue keeping the prices up at a premium for those NFTs.”
VENTURING INTO NFTS
The “biggest mistake” Hood sees is from brands approaching Web3 as they would Web2. “You need to work with a creative agency that understands Web3, that understands the technology and understands the community aspect of a new emerging market,” he said. This partner, he noted, should already be successful in this space, and should understand the mentality of the crypto crowd.JEFF HOOD, METACURIO
“Appetite for NFTs—the volumes have dropped, for sure, on a lot of these platforms,” Hood said. “But there's still healthy trading going on. We still have projects that are making real money, but I think you're going to see more and more brands enter the space leveraging NFTs as a tool within a solution stack for integrating into Web3, versus ‘Hey, how can we go make $5 million.’”
The projects doing the most volume today, Hood noted, are what are known as “free mints.” Exactly what they sound like, free mints are NFT collections that are free to mint. Once the small supply of tokens is minted, the limited pool of owners can choose to sell their tokens—often for high amounts if demand is strong enough and supply low. Creators, in turn, can earn royalties off these sales. Though this strategy can generate money in its own right—Hood said one project he worked on did $3 million in secondary sales in about a week—free mints offer brands a marketing opportunity as well.
“Brands want to onboard users, they want to aggregate users, they want to get more eyeballs and exposure on their projects,” Hood said. “When you do a free mint, you can onboard a community instantaneously and then you can support that community long term and still have economic value. The opposite looks kind of like a money grab. Especially if a brand is already rich, why do they need to come in and extract value
“It's not the same as working with a digital ad agency to run a print campaign or activation on social media,” he said. “Because you are dealing with technology, you're dealing with a completely new set of buyers that don't operate the same way that Web2 buyers operate…There is a very ﬁnite amount of people on Twitter that actually moves the needle within these communities because they have a platform and people trust them. And you need to be able to access those people as well as access and understand what the appetite for certain types of content is.”
Given the limited pool of talent with expertise in this space, Hood admitted that integration “is not cheap.” While they're charging a premium today, he doesn’t think it will be that way forever.
“We work with brands all the time,” Hood said. “Some of those brands are spending tens of thousands. Some of those brands are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to create campaigns to enter Web3. I mean, it's a real activation with real users and real potential upside, so there typically needs to be real budget to execute that.”
As someone who works precisely in this space, Hood said the ﬁrst question he then asks all his customers is “What is your deﬁnition of success?”
If a brand wants to increase its social imprint, exactly how many Twitter followers or Discord users does it want to add? If it is looking to build a Web3 community, what type? If it’s focused on revenue, exactly how many dollars and does it want to rely on primary or secondary sales?
“Make sure that your creative agency is actually building out a campaign that helps you meet those KPIs,” Hood said. “It needs to be pragmatic and professional just like any typical engagement for a brand that they're working on.”
“Brands want to onboard users, they want to aggregate users, they want to get more eyeballs and exposure on their projects.”
Open for Business
Online shopping has its beneﬁts, but denim brands are investing in new brick-and-mortar stores to enhance their consumers’ experiences.words KATE NISHIMURA
Following more than two years of online acceleration, brick-and-mortar retail is back, and the denim sector is taking note.
This summer, German brand Closed opened its ﬁrst U.S. store in L.A. Cotton Citizens feted the opening of a new Beverly Hills boutique dedicated to denim. Following a series of popups in Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue locations, Rag & Bone marked its 20th anniversary by opening a gallery-like shop in East Hampton, N.Y. Meanwhile, other premium denim brands like Frame and Re/Done have focused efforts on opening their ﬁrst international stores.
It turns out that shoppers have missed the sensory experience of browsing and buying, the personalized service, and the social outlet that a trip to retail can provide.
AG Jeans director of retail James Bishop likened the act of shopping for jeans to dating in search of true love. “I want to be romanced. I want to touch the fabric, to feel its hand. I want to see the beautifully aged heritage hardware,” he said.
That’s why the Los Angeles label is—and has been—intent on creating new venues for meet-cutes between shoppers and their next pairs of denim. In the early days of the pandemic, AG opened a massive, threestory ﬂagship on Madison Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, along with pop-up shops in San Diego and Atlanta.
“Whilst the Atlanta store was opened to test a new market for us, the Madison Ave. and San Diego stores were chosen for their connection to our solid base of local clients,” Bishop said. “We realized that many of our customers were limiting travel due to the pandemic,” he added, and the brand sought to open stores in neighborhoods close to loyal patrons. The retail director said that personal relationships between stylists and clients have been a key ﬁxture in the brand’s expansion strategy. “We did not want [consumers] to simply rely on e-commerce, therefore, we reopened all our stores quickly and added new ones in key markets,” he said.
The new ventures rounded out a network of 17 stores across the U.S. “We plan to grow thoughtfully and organically, at the pace of about two or three stores per year,” Bishop said. AG Jeans is also looking at international
brick-and-mortar expansion in the coming years, though for now, its collection is available globally only online.
“We don’t believe in rushing to open stores based on just trafﬁc data; we don’t want to open in every mall or outlet center,” he added. “I see our growth of retail stores as an organic result of our carefully curated relationships with our clients themselves.” The brand has targeted several hotspots for domestic expansion, he said, “but I can’t give all our secrets away.”
Bishop believes that even in the digital age, where terms like “omnichannel” and “social shopping” have become entrenched in the retail lexicon, physical stores will continue to play an important role in driving commerce. “Some retailers will tell you it’s good for branding, and to a certain point, this is true,” he said, noting that AG tends to see a signiﬁcant increase in online sales when it opens stores in new markets. “But this is not why we open new stores, neither is it why I believe brickand-mortar is more important than ever.”
“Our retail stores and the passionate stylists that work within them create immersive experiences that stir emotional responses from our clients,” Bishop explained. “There is not a website or a chatbot that can
duplicate this.” Real face time with customers can underscore relationships that last a lifetime, he said. “Direct-to-consumer brands have realized this, and we now see many of them rush to open brick-and-mortar.”
Stores also provide the optimal stage for storytelling about new silhouettes and fabrications. “I love listening to our knowledgeable stylists talk about different ﬁts, natural indigo dye, wash techniques and our sustainable, environmentally conscious production,” he said. Last year, AG Jeans launched a selvedge collection using fabric from 12 of the world’s most respected heritage denim mills. “Sharing stories with clients on the sales ﬂoor about the uniqueness of each fabric, weaving techniques, shades of indigo and the custom fades and ﬁt their wear provides is simply not an experience that placing an item into an online cart and clicking ‘check out’ can provide,” Bishop argued.
While the brand saw a boom in online sales throughout the pandemic, personalized service is an integral element of AG’s sales strategy. “The social rewards of shopping in person are profound,” Bishop said.
The sentiment was echoed by Re/Done CEO and co-founder Sean Barron. “Denim is one article of clothing that really beneﬁts from an inperson shopping experience,” he said. “There are so many details to a given jean that will determine your preference—silhouette, fabrication, wash pattern, ﬁt and feel.”
“Denim is meant to be lived in, so trying it on in person guarantees you will purchase the exact pair perfect for your lifestyle,” he added.
The L.A.-based upcycled denim and ready-to-wear brand recently opened its ﬁrst international store in Paris this summer—a personal dream of Barron’s. “I have a very special relationship with the city,” he said. “It was the perfect location for our ﬁrst international retail store, as the French have an equally strong afﬁnity toward vintage, denim, and California culture.” The group sought out a location in the city’s left bank—its original arts district—where local tastemakers tend to convene.
The store showcases a curated range of best-sellers, including products made from reconstructed Levi’s denim and vintage marketplace collectibles that reference Parisian culture. Opened just months after the
brand’s Paris Fashion Week debut, the custom build-out was inspired by architect Rudolph Schindler’s early mid-century interiors.
Re/Done in Paris joins the company’s six-store retail ﬂeet, which includes shops in Malibu, West Hollywood, East Hampton, Miami and Aspen—a roster that reads like a travel bucket list for culture and leisure lovers. “Our goal is just to keep on expanding,” Barron said. “We want to bring our brand to as much of the world as we can, particularly in places with parallel cultures and to Los Angeles, our hometown, and the city that inspires our creations.”
And while the brand has seen sales climb online as a result of the pandemic, it’s doubling down on its commitment to stores. “Between experiencing the quality and breadth of our collection ﬁrsthand, learning from our expert sales associates, and immersing in the vintage-inspired store design, we’ve found brick-and-mortar to be the perfect opportunity for customers to forge a deeper relationship with our brand,” Barron said.
Fellow L.A. brand Frame has also made its foray into overseas retail, adding to its 15-store ﬂeet with a location in London this past March. The store adds to a roster that includes locations in metropolitan hubs like Boston, Austin, Dallas, New York City, Palm Beach and San Francisco.
A Frame spokesperson called the European opening “a homecoming of sorts,” noting that the concept for the brand was developed in London. “The city holds a special place in the brand’s identity and history,” they said. “We wanted to give our U.K. customers an in-person touchpoint where they could fully immerse themselves in the Frame experience.” The minimalistic South Kensington storefront, with its white walls and modern ﬁnishes, has proven a hit with neighborhood shoppers. Frame already has plans to open its second London location in 2023.
“Brick-and-mortar provides an incredible opportunity for both new and returning customers to experience the Frame brand,” the spokesperson said, calling the process of ﬁnding the right denim “a unique opportunity to educate consumers.”
“Online shopping is convenient, but retail is the full brand immersive experience with personal service,” they added.
Not all brands are ready to commit to an all-out brick-and-mortar strategy, but even DTCs are seeing the value of having a physical home base. Good American, the brainchild of Khloe Kardashian and Emma Grede, announced plans to open its ﬁrst location in L.A. Located at the Westﬁeld Century City mall adjacent to Beverly Hills, the store will offer Good American’s full 00-32+ size range. Opening in early 2023, the brand said that two additional stores will follow soon after.
Grede said that Good American looked to physical retail as a means of creating new and exciting experiences for its shoppers, who have thus far only engaged with the brand online.
“Denim is a staple in everyone’s closet, but we know it’s challenging for many women to ﬁnd that perfect ﬁt that makes them feel conﬁdent and empowered, especially as most brands still aren’t going above an XL equivalent,” she said. With a multitude of washes, rises, silhouettes and more sizes than most denim brands develop—much less have on hand at a retail store—Grede believes Good American’s new location will accelerate the process of ﬁnding the right ﬁt. Inclusivity is central to the brand’s ethos, she said, and it is seeking to reﬂect that value at retail.
“When you step into our stores, our community will know we have thought about everything, not only through a product lens but also throughout the entire shopping experience,” she said.
Grede believes that DTC will always drive the majority of Good American’s sales, but the brand is ready to see brick-and-mortar act as a complement to its online business—potentially reaching “locations all over the U.S.”
“Our mission is to serve even more customers, and we know that when customers try Good American for the ﬁrst time, they are sold,” she said.
WILLIAM R. ADLER
True Fit CEO, president and co-founder
As a fourth-generation apparel leader, William R. Adler has always been craftsmanship. His grand father ran America’s oldest and second largest apparel manufacturing company, which become part of PVH, his grandparents were tailors in Europe, and his men in suits and slacks.
Today’s less formal fashion vibe might have Adler’s relatives shuddering, but they would approve of his Ai-driven True Fit and Fashion Genome, decoding
active True Fit shoppers to millions of styles. The pan demic’s online surge made denim brand’s success—
lifting loyalty and sales up while driving returns downs. It is truly True Fit’s time to shine.
“Retailers using True percent reduction in size sampling related returns,” Adler said. “It’s a privilege for True Fit to remove size
experience and connect the consumer to the brand they love.”
Artistic Denim Mills Ltd., CEO
Artistic Denim Mills Ltd. (ADM) has seen its fair share of expansion over the past year, with the denim manufacturer opening a new facility in Pakistan that produces day. This is enough to fabric a day. The vertically integrated denim manufacturer also entered a strategic partnership with
The company recently collaborated with the premium denim brand on a sustainable denim exhibit in London. The event included an immersive “Indigo” exhibit that fea-
recycled cotton in fabric collections. The multiyear partnership enables ADM to scale its use of recycled cotton from post-consumer denim and bolster transparency in the process.
ADM’s investments in innovation are powering some of the most buzzed-about collections, Tag Project, which is a QR code on the inside waist of its jeans that allows consumers access to information about the garment’s journey from
ners Recover and Tencel.
Naveena Denim (NDL), general manager, product development
As Naveena Denim Limited (NDL) aims to align fashion with function, Zeeshan Ahmed Ch is the man responsible for recognizing top trends and developing innovative products in line with those movements. He leads the Lahore, Pakistan-based denim manufacturer’s R&D team, which is undergoing a concerted effort to double down on product collaborations with brands.
NDL recently teamed with German fashion retailer Tom Tailor to develop a hemp denim collection, with the idea
of hemp-blended fabrics (hemp, recycled cotton and Tencel) used across men’s, women’s and children’s jeans and jackets. A concept collection developed with Lenzing called Bast Recast gave push forward with hemp. After debuting the Bast Recast collection, NDL developed its own ropefabric. The experimental fabric is designed to pay
that were ever woven, likely with hemp.
Other products led by Ahmed Ch is NDL’s new mechanical stretch denims. The natural
percent stretch, have better shrinkage rates than jeans with elastane.
Amiri, founder, creative director and CEO
he had the opportunity to design a capsule collection for high-end L.A.
Amiri the brand was born, making its initial mark on the industry with an aesthetic characterized by grunge-inspired designs, denim, leather and detailed craftsmanship.
Over the past eight years, the OTB Group-owned label has
NPD Group placed Amiri at the top of the list for men’s luxury jeans in
working to defend its title through advancements
that bridge physical retail and the virtual realm.
With the help of OTB, Amiri is also looking to develop products for the metaverse.
Artistic Milliners, managing director
From growing garment capacity to implementing sustainable cotton programs, Artistic Milliners managing director Murtaza Ahmed has been essential to the vertically integrated denim manufacturer’s recent expansion efforts, including those that venture outside the denim space.
The company opened a $60 million state-of-theart garment facility which added around 30 percent additional capacity to its overall group portfolio. With the new factory, Artistic Milliners can produce 44 million jeans annually and is adding 4,000 jobs to the Pakistani workforce. Additionally, Artistic Milliners has completed Circular Park, a purpose-built ﬁber recovery facility powered by clean energy, capable of recovering up to half a million kilograms of textile waste every month. The plant enables the company to recycle both post-industrial and post-consumer waste with better staple strength.
Artistic Milliners is also growing the company beyond denim with Artmill, which offers retailers, manufacturers and brands turnkey solutions for their woven casualwear programs or tailor custom offerings for startup and premium labels.
Los Angeles-born Mike Amiri began his career as a designer in Hollywood, crafting stage pieces for rock n’ roll legends playing gigs on the Sunset Strip.
The creative’s streetmeets-couture aesthetic
one of few American brands to occupy a place on L.A.’s Rodeo Drive next to world renowned European fashion houses. Amiri is on track for global domination, with stores in Las Vegas, New York, Miami and plans to plant its stake in Chicago and Atlanta, as well as Dubai, Shanghai and Tokyo. Global market data from
Content creator & curve model
Remi Bader has accomplished what most brands and celebrities hire teams of social media specialists to do with varying degrees of success: create authentic content. Though 2.1 million followers watch Bader’s videos, the New York-based creator and curve model strikes a personable, relatable and body-positive note that feels like you’re watching your best—albeit funnier and more stylish—friend. With humor and vulnerability, her “realistic try-on hauls” show the highs and lows of online shopping, while her commentary on fashion’s lack of options for curvy bodies is sparking change in the industry.
If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be? To offer a full size range to accommodate as many different body types as possible and to have those denim styles focus on different body parts. For example, make jeans for someone that has a smaller waist and larger hips.
I just bought a denim skirt from Good American for the summertime.
Modeling in my dad’s showroom for Bongo when I was industry because my dad has been working in it for over
Levi Strauss & Co., president and CEO honoree, Chip Bergh said he has experienced one of the toughest periods of his career as CEO and president of Levi Strauss & Co., citing the effects of the global pandemic, social reckoning, ongoing supply
that stand to have massive macroeconomic impacts for seasons to come. But there have been victories, too. The executive has helped Levi’s navigate the turbulence and grow its revenue by double digits from pre-Covid numbers. The brand published
work with him and learning all about his day to day.
work with him and all about his to pers
jean, encouraged shoppers to “Buy Better, Wear Longer” to keep jeans out
its Levi’s SecondHand resale business—all to contribute to the circular economy.
While steering the world’s leading jeans brand through a year of recovery, Bergh demonstrated a willingness to wade into debates on critical social issues that most other corporate executives avoid. In addition to developing a strategy to ensure the company’s
world’s brand recovery, strated most national programs, prevention
also advocated for national paid family leave programs, gun violence prevention legislation, and reproductive rights.
Bergh declines to shy away from these issues and has spearheaded the company’s efforts to
the Community Justice Action Fund and Giffords Courage to Fight Gun Violence. Levi’s has called protecting women’s rights to safe abortions “a business imperative,” and provides grants to the Center for Reproductive Rights through the Levi Strauss Foundation. The hallmark of Bergh’s time at Levi’s has been a philoso-
through principles,” his colleagues said, and he is committed to using the company’s brands and platform to drive positive social change.
Every generation has their style icons, and modelturned-beauty entrepreneur Hailey Bieber has Gen Z swooning for her effortlessly cool signature uniform of casual tops and slouchy jeans. From wearing cargo pants to wide-leg jeans pulled straight from ’90s streetwear archives, Bieber’s inﬂuence on fashion has spurred numerous denim trend articles online, nudging her fans to break out of the skinny jean cycle and try new proportions. Consumers and brands are taking note. Balenciaga, EB Denim and Vetements are among labels to receive Bieber’s golden touch.
A longtime ambassador for Levi’s, Bieber was one of ﬁve “visionaries” selected to star in the 2022 campaign “Levi’s 501: The Number That Changed Everything.” The campaign, which highlights the jean style’s enduring appeal ahead of its 150th anniversary next year, includes conversations that touch on moments that forever changed each personality’s own trajectory as well as a series of images.
Stylist and costume designer
HBO’s “Euphoria” is in an elite class of television shows with a costume department worthy of fashion recaps, dedicated slideshows and how-to guides to help fans emulate the style of their favorite character. Stylist and costume designer Heidi Bivens is behind the looks. While working extensively in fash-
credits span Purple, Vogue, i-D magazine, “Spring
Bivens bridges the gap between two disciplines that gives her a unique perspective and vision.
In “Euphoria,” Biven curates the character-de-
cast, and in the process
watchers. From low-rise miniskirts, corset tops and keyhole bodycon dresses to non-binary tops and jeans, the pieces she selects eventually land on the mood boards and in the shopping carts of young consumers.
EB Denim, founder
Levi Strauss & Co., director design men’s bottoms, Truckers and denim outerwear
Steven Burns has always been inspired by workwear and military uniforms, seeking to bring the functionality and durability of utilitarian garments to Levi’s men’s jeans and pants. Denim epitomizes “product with purpose,” he believes, and his designs, like the fabric itself, are built to last through trials, tribulations and changing trends.
Burns’ diverse career path began in activewear design, and was followed by a stint with a Savile Row tailor, pattern cutting and working with emerging denim lines that combined old-school tailoring techniques with contemporary denim styling. Sixteen years ago, he joined Levi’s as a men’s denim designer. Now, he leads the men’s bottoms category for the brand globally.
The designer continues to be inspired by the timeless appeal of denim, from “the beauty of indigo and how it wears in over time,” to the “beautiful blue hues” that evolve as the fabric is worn and washed. “It’s the only fabric I know that is alive—it ages just like we all do,” he added. “It can be with you for a lifetime if you look after it properly.”
and sustainably manufactured jeans, came up with her brand after noticing a gap in the vintage denim market between women’s and men’s jeans. Where
there was a huge supply of men’s jeans, there was aSteven Burns
process, which uses an
of women’s jeans. To bridge that gap, Bonvicini started reworking vintage men’s jeans into women’s jeans until eventually scaling her business to what is known today as EB Denim.
until as EB
percent fewer chemicals than conventional indigo dyeing methods. The jeans are then washed at Star Fades International located in Los Angeles.
former Y2K darling to Gen Z, thus orchestrating True Religion’s massive comeback. “True Religion grew to popularity during
The entrepreneur into the denim
The entrepreneur stepped into further into the denim world last year when she introduced
True Religion, CEO
trend on the rise and our brand collaborations and new consumer age ranges, it was only natural that our brand would represent Y2K fashion,” Buckley said.
The strategy worked. After re-adjusting wholesale positions to
True Religion has grown its ecommerce channel
Elena Bonvicini discovered the appeal of upcycled denim before it became her generation’s pandemic hobby. The founder and designer of EB Denim, a Los Angeles-based brand that focuses on producing upcycled
founder and Denim, onBonvicini
fabrics. Bonvicini Artistic
made with brand-new fabrics. Bonvicini tapped Artistic Milliners for the collection, using the mill’s cotton and recycled cotton blend fabrics, along with its Crystal Clear indigo dyeing
As True Religion celethis year, CEO Michael Buckley deserves the biggest piece of cake. The former company president, who rejoined the bankrupt brand in
revenues exceeded $255
popups continue to draw buzz (a Supreme collection sold out in three minutes), and the company partners with famous rappers including 2 Chainz and Chief Keef, up-and-coming creatives such as Jaffa Saba, Elijah Popo and Madeline Kraemer, as well as artists like Soldier. Licensing is a new push, and fresh partnerships with Amiee Lynn and Concept One/Cappelli add accessories and cross-gender categories to the mix, incorporating True Religion’s classic horseshoe and Buddha symbols. While denim
Limited editions, collabs, licenses and
on the horizon, royalties from licensee sales will sales in coming years.
Blue of a Kind, founder and CEO
For Fabrizio Consoli, “Remade in Italy” is the new “Made in Italy.” Consoli’s denim brand Blue of a Kind combines Italy’s attention to craft and quality with circular design. The brand focuses on upcycling pre-existing denim gar ments and repurposing scrap fabrics into new elevated items like twotone jeans and slouchy unisex fits. All production for the brand takes place from its headquarters in Milan.
"BLUE OF A KIND [IS A] DREAM COME TRUE AND AT THE SAME TIME A CHALLENGE TO THE TRADITIONAL APPAREL BUSI NESS MODEL..." FABRIZIO CONSOLI, BLUE OF A KIND
Consoli began Blue
having worked as a brand manager for Replay. Since then, Blue of a Kind has been a place where all Consoli’s professional experiences and skills converge, as well as his passions in life: from photography to storytelling, from cre ativity to love for nature.
“Blue of a Kind [is a] dream come true and at the same time a chal lenge to the traditional apparel business model…
It is not just what I do, it is doing what I love the way I love doing things.
It has been and still is an incredible journey to give a deeper meaning to my work,” he said.
Consoli added another storytelling platform this year when he opened Blue of a Kind’s first brickand-mortar store in Milan’s Porta Nuova shopping district. The
which previously housed a Christian Louboutin boutique, reflects the
brand’s sustainable ethos by almost exclu sively using existing elements.
Purple Brand, co-owner
Purple Brand co-founder and owner Luke Cosby saw a white space in the market for jeans at a contem porary price point that weren’t basic or overdone. Founded on the idea that style and innovation shouldn’t be limited to designer denim, Cosby and Rob Lo launched the brand
combine the aesthetics of luxury fashion with everyday accessibility with Purple Brand. Together, they put together a team that traveled the globe to find production part ners that would assist in creating a supply chain for top-quality products. Designer-inspired fits, premium hardware and unique details charac terize the brand’s line of denim, which it calls “the anchor of the modern man’s wardrobe.”
In recent years, the label has amassed a cult following based on its signature den im-meets-streetwear focus. Distressed fin ishes, bleached washes and patchwork effects enliven the brand’s line of jeans, which have become go-to pieces for hip-hop artists like Jer maine Dupri, Kid Cudi, Gunna, Polo G, and The Kid Laroi.
Bayer, industry affairs lead
in the global cotton, textile, and apparel indus tries, with expertise in other agricultural areas.
She believes buyers of cotton deserve to know where their cotton comes from and how it was grown, both in terms of environmental practices as well as labor standards.
Dovetail Workwear, co-founder and designer
Sara DeLuca joined Dovetail Workwear when co-founders Kate and Kyle Marie designed her garden and sparked a conversation about their ideal work pant. Since then, Dovetail Workwear
outerwear and accesso
Dovetail Workwear in
The brand also makes a pledge to sustainability through its low-wa
increased use of recycled
United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), which encourages businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible poli cies, and to report on their implementation. Addition ally, the workwear brand prioritizes relationships with factories and mills who raise the bar on industry standards through additional train
Jennifer Crumpler is the industry affairs lead at Bayer, a German multi national pharmaceutical and life sciences company. She previously worked for BASF, a German multina tional chemical company where she took on the role as regional seed sustainability lead and
years of experience in the agriculture industry, working with farmers across the country to improve their pro duction practices.
She also has extensive experience
Balenciaga, creative director
Demna Gvasalia, or “Demna” as he now goes by to distinguish his creative work from his birthname, is simultaneously elevating denim to the haute couture level while making designer fashion accessible. The Balenciaga creative director with a streetwear edge revived the fashion house’s couture business last year, combining made-to-order jeans with modern nods to archival Cristobal Balenciaga pieces. Demna’s second collection featured indigo and black denim jackets and jeans as well jean skirts with a train.
Demna’s creative relationship with rapper and Yeezy designer, Ye, has landed him on the radar of pop culture enthusiasts. In addition to providing creative direction for the rapper’s release events for
Demna has joined forces in bringing Ye’s utilitarian
designs to the masses with “Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga.” Collaborative pieces have included moto-inspired denim jack-
hoodies and tees with a dove motif that represents “unnamed hope for the future.”
The Flax Company/Marmara Hemp, president and CEO
Company projects it will
clothes for school and try to re-create all the looks from my favorite fashion magazines that covered my bedroom walls.”
and that they can build the wardrobe of their dreams in an accessible and sustainable way.
technical applications such as insulation for both apparel and automobiles. Additionally, the company is producing 4 million meters of pure linen
pieces of home textiles.
Already selling cottonized
The Flax Company CEO Denis Druon sought to
could meet the spinning industry’s technical requirements in response to market demands. After a two-year development stage, The Flax Company’s Marmara Original
ized hemp in the industry
Blazed and Glazed, digital personality and content creator
While sustainability may feel like a race against time, it isn’t a competition. But if it was, Blazed and Glazed TikTok personality Macy Eleni would have bragging rights for being a thrifting maverick. “I realized thrifting was my superpower well over a decade
OCACIA organization. The hemp also includes non-GMO seeds, has no phytosanitary products and is only rain-fed, with
includes no with is intefactories, the of batch
waste since everything is being used in the plant.
Produced in its integrated partner factories, all The Flax Company’s full traceability from the product. Every step of each production batch is independently traced, checked and blend of cottonized
power well over a decade ago,” Eleni said. in high school, I’d celebrate who are”
TikTok followers on shopping excursions to Los Angeles area thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales to scour the racks for Y2K-era lowrise jeans, leather moto jackets, blinged tees and platform boots. Her “thrift the look” videos encourage viewers to find budget-friendly versions of runway looks and Bella Hadid’s latest street style, while her “thrift with me” videos highlight the thrill of finding a deal. It all comes together in Eleni’s thrift haul videos where she brings the preowned garments to life with her fearless styling and positivity. Eleni said she hopes her followers feel “utter and complete permission to be themselves and celebrate who they are”
ARIANNE ENGEL BERG
The New Denim Project, co-founder
The New Denim Project is a family affair, with co-founder Arianne Engelberg working alongside sister Joanna and father Jaime in a circular design lab startup within their Guatemalan third-generation textile mill Iris Textiles. But the family has grown to include like-minded companies who share their vision. Via its recently launched Circularity System that helps smaller brands recycle at scale, The New Denim Projects collects, sorts and upcycles post-industrial textile and denim waste from local garment factories, grinding the scraps back into chemical-free,
at their store. “This is more than a process,” said Engelberg about inspiring others. “It is a goal that is ethical, economical,
and woven into upcycled
goods in the company’s curated textile collection.
from local ries, back into and woven in cotton from new it to
guiding us in changing our practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become valuable resources for others to use.”
Even cottonseed and cotton lint leftover from upcycling gets a new life; it is passed on to coffee-growers Finca San Jeronimo Miramar, who use it as compost to cultivate coffee in the Guatemalan highlands.
San Jeronimo who use it
Guatemalan was their own
Partner denim brand Still Here NY was inspired to turn their own scraps into compost, and even sells Still Here coffee beans
Outerknown face mask collab grew into a capsules made from closed loop upcycled denim textiles. “We are seeing a stimulating demand for responsible and recycled materials, for implementing clothing collection at scale, for pursuing technological innovation as well as aligning denim design with regenerative processes,” she said. “And that is certainly relieving and exciting.”
"I REALIZED THRIFTING WAS MY SUPERPOWER WELL OVER A DECADE AGO."
MACY ELENI, BLAZED AND GLAZEDMacy Eleni
EcoAge, co-founder and creative director
The co-founder and creative director of Eco-Age, Livia Firth leads one of Europe’s premier consulting and creative agencies specializing in integrating sustainability into business. Over the past decade, Eco-Age has worked closely with NGOs, industry insider and global governments to advocate for sustainable sourcing. The organization established the Green Carpet Challenge—soliciting stars and public
produced, ecologically friendly designs or repurposed garments.
Firth and Eco-Age also produced “The True Cost,” a documentary directed by Andrew Morgan that explored the fashion industry’s impact on workers and the environment, as well as “Fashionscapes,” a candid look at the industry’s efforts to develop a circular economy, and the greenwashing that threatens progress.
economy, and progress. fashion and unconventional issues like was
Firth is known for examining fashion and sustainability through an unconventional lens, speaking to issues like diversity and inclusion, climate change and digitization. with candor and directness. She was honored as a United Nations Leader of Change and has been recognized with the U.N. Fashion 4 Development Award.
Thanks to Julia Fox and kicked off with double-denim on the minds and lips of fashion watchers around the world when the duo stepped out at Men’s Paris Fashion Week dressed in Canadian tuxedos. Fox’s pairing of Schiaparelli’s cone-bra denim jacket and slouchy Carhartt jeans from Schiaparelli creative director Daniel Roseberry’s own closet drove searches
percent week-on-week following the public display, according to Lyst. Searches for baggy low-rise jeans spiked 74 percent.
Since then, the “Uncut Gems” actress has become
of the denim industry’s new trend cycle, sporting low-rise jeans and crop tops, and sharing DIY
Los Angeles-based men’s a long way from classic
Wiser Tech, founder
The back end of the denim production process has been an area many in the industry have scrambled to improve on, but Fuat Gozacan has thus far been one of the biggest success stories in ushering in a more tech-savvy future. In founding Wiser Tech, Gozacan has spearheaded the development of technologies like the denim bleaching Wiser Wash and the complementary WOX system, which combines an ozone drum and generator with AI-based algorithms to providing an analysis
Instagram followers. the gas this year
U.S. Marine veteran Trinidad Garcia III, the brand is hitting the gas pedal hard this year by expanding its assortment to include stretch PFD bottoms, stretch twill bottoms, “Made in L.A.” sweatshirts and tees, and a special collection made with Vidalia Mills’ “Made in USA” selvedge. The brand is also experimenting with streetwear designs and
stretch PFD stretch twill and and a USA” is also streetwear of the The brand accommodate veterans’
The heart and soul of the brand, however, remains Garcia’s work to assist fellow veterans.
The brand designs adaptive jeans that accommodate prosthetic limbs and it provides support to veterans’ groups.
while identifying bottlenecks, improvement areas and maintenance requirements. Wiser Wash’s patented ozone bleaching process has eliminated pumice stone and hazardous chemicals from conventional bleaching techniques, therefore saving a noteworthy amount of water and energy.
The company says that its unique technique
million liters of water. In the finishing process alone, Wiser Wash cuts
But there’s more, as this number can increase to
wastewater treatment systems. Improving efficiencies at all levels, the Wiser Wash process
energy and 28 percent less time.
"WE ARE SEEING A STIMULATING DEMAND FOR RESPONSIBLE AND RECYCLED MATERIALS..." ARIANNE ENGELBERG, THE NEW DENIM PROJECT
Good American, co-founder
To compare Good American to most other celebrity-backed clothing lines would be a disservice to the blueprint that the Los Angeles-based premium denim brand co-founded by Khloé Kardashian and Emma Grede in 2016 has provided for the industry as it navigates size inclusivity. Backed by campaigns with diverse casting, retail partners that carry the full size range and an e-comm sizing tool allowing shoppers to see what styles look like on a similar-size model, Good American has broken the traditional mold in a style and language that resonates with millennial and Gen Z consumers.
If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be? Our focus at Good American has always been inclusivity in everything we do—across sizing and how we design, in campaigns, and e-commerce shoots; it’s ingrained into our brand DNA, and we set a standard for other brands to do the same. I, like so many
right pair of jeans. Denim is a staple in everyone’s wardrobe, and no matter your body size or shape, all
in their jeans. My one request would be for fashion brands to put the same level of focus and energy toward becoming more inclusive.
denim industry? So many women struggle when it the only apparel category that requires the level of size range. Shoes and swim, for example, historically lack inclusive options that don’t compromise on style, and there are many elements of denim production and material innovation that can be translated to other product categories.
Growing up, I’ve always been inspired by my mother’s and my grand-
them. Fashion, to me, is such a bonding moment and I have so many fond memories watching my mother and grandmother getting ready and I love sharing those same moments with my daughter now. I get so excited that through Good American I’m able to play such an in what they wear.
Frame & Brady Brand co-founder; Skims co-founder & CEO
for circularity, the brand introduced a collection made with biodegradable denim. More than half of
denim styles was made with sustainable fabrics and washes.
Frame co-founders Jens Grede and Erik Torstensof Le Skinny de Jeanne
didn’t slow Grede’s and Torstensson’s vision of evolving Frame, however. What began as a Los Angeles denim label has become a lifestyle brand— spanning ready-to-wear, footwear, handbags, and accessories—with celebrity cachet and a sustainable future. A year after Frame introduced
that follows the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign guidelines
The decade’s worth of lessons in denim has teed up new opportunities for Grede outside of indigo. His newest venture is co-founding Brady with seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Grede is also the co-founder and CEO of Kim Kardashian’s Skims.
Strom Denim, co-owner and CEO
the current sustainability priorities. To adhere to its sustainability goals, Strom uses ozone technology that can reduce the laundry’s water, chemicals and energy consumption. The technology uses cold “ozonated” water or direct ozone gas, which cuts energy consumption during bleaching.
SERHAT KARADU MAN
Calik Denim, CEO
Strom Denim’s impact on the denim industry is wide and far reaching. The company has become a go-to source for small collections of on-trend sustainable denim. An average order comes in at
Despite Calik Denim’s role as a fabric manufacturer, the mill wants itself to be seen as something much more—a true thought leader in the space. Following a two-year hiatus, Calik brought back the Ever Evolving Talks, an event that covers industry issues, such as sustainability and adapting for the metaverse and Web
of the manufacturer’s vertically integrated process is co-owner and CEO Baris Izcimen, who works alongside denim brands to source the most appropriate raw materials.
Under Izcimen, the Strom Denim prepares mood boards and trend reports to develop new looks. The company also shares customer feedback with the fabric mills’ R&D teams to create new fabrics or make modifications, all aimed at fitting within
CEO of Calik Denim, identified Ever Evolving Talks as need to bring the industry back to normalcy, while at the same time determining its future path.
It certainly is good timing to have these discussions, especially given the constant dialogue about sustainability, circularity and in
nomic issues that could impact consumer spending. In that vein, Ever Evolving Talks serves as a platform to guide and inspire positive transformation.
SARA LADDHiut Denim, head of product
A strong advocate for making denim circular and abolishing chemicals, Sara Ladd puts her beliefs to work as the head of product art Hiut Denim Co., a U.K.-based brand dedicated to sustainability. The brand is known for valuing quality over quantity, producing its apparel in small batches of no more
per week. Despite being a small brand, Hiut and Ladd
Hiut Denim Co. produced
free, biodegradable jeans with the help of Candiani Denim. The brand used the mill’s patented, plant based Coreva stretch technology for its line
This year, Hiut Denim Co. debuted its lowest-impact denim line to date, featuring a limited-edition micro collection of zero waste men’s and women’s jeans. The line was produced using scraps from the denim label’s previous collections, saving them from going to waste.
Nudie Jeans, sustainability managerJEFF LOTMAN Fred Segal, owner
way that feels both fresh and nostalgic.
Expansion is in the cards. The company is
Sandya Lang, Nudie Jeans sustainability manager, knows what’s at stake within the denim industry, and what her label needs to do to continue advancing the conversation. With Lang leading the way, the Swedish brand is taking steps to ensure that the brand is measuring up to its sustainable promise. Nudie, which uses
for its jeans, offers free denim mending for life. The repair program has gained traction over the years as more consumers have become vocal about extending their jeans’ life-
brand was able to repair
As the owner and CEO of Fred Segal, the Los Angeles-based store that established the blueprint for premium denim retail
Jeff Lotman is responsible for its business and maintaining its legacy. For the past 57 years, Fred Segal has been credited with pioneering the designer denim craze and amassing an A-list celebrity following throughout the decades, from Elvis Presley to Britney Spears.
square foot stand-alone Jean Bar locations separate from Fred
locations in “every major city” across the country, beginning with New York and Miami, and plans to expand the concept internationally in the next few years.
ELLEN MACAR THURThe Ellen MacArthur Foundation, founder
Nudie teamed with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as part of the EU-funded circular accelerator, SwitchMed, on a two-phase pilot project to test the denim recycling process at scale. The initiative started by combining
ond-choice jeans with virgin denim material to
new fabric in phase one. Within phase two, the company also furthered circularity efforts by developing a post-industrial denim recycling program with Tunisian designers, which ended pairs of new jeans.
With denim deep in a retro cycle, the iconic retailer recently relaunched its famous Denim Bar, featuring top denim brands that embody the ideals of today’s customer by centering on sustainability and inclusivity. Now called The Original Jean Bar, the curated space features brands like Closed, EB Denim, and Re/ Done, showcasing sustainable development in a
Five years after becoming the fastest solo sailor to make it around the globe in
thur launched a charity designed to advance the circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation aims to establish an economic system that
creating and funding research about how to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. Over
her group have worked to develop a network of leaders in government, academia, NGOs and business, including designers and innovators looking to change the way their industries function.
That commitment has extended to the fashion realm and has trickled down to one of the industry’s most resource-intensive fab-
the Ellen MacArthur Make Fashion Circular
Initiative launched the Jeans Redesign Project—a set of minimum requirements for fabric durability, material health, recyclability and traceability that are based on the principles of the circular economy. Companies who commit to these standards agree to make jeans that last longer and can be easily recycled.
In the ensuing years, the Jeans Redesign Project has advanced, bringing in more partners and adding more voices to the discussion about the denim circular
the platform added a mandatory recycled content requirement, reflecting the industry’s ambition to push forward in bringing new life to old textiles. To date, more than half a million jeans have been produced under project guidelines.
Lee, VP global design
A versatile creative leader with the ability to move seamlessly between luxury and mainstream apparel design across categories, Betty Madden, Lee’s vice president, global head of design, is one who can do it all. Since joining the
Madden has worked to align Lee’s iconic details with consumers’ demand for comfort, fit and the freedom to style it how every they wish. From core men’s items to performance-driven denim for women, Madden’s designs for Lee are resonating with consumers. Lee brand
in Q2. Lee U.S. revenue driven by strength in U.S. wholesale demand and increases in digital. Sponsoring the music festival Bonnaroo and a summer campaign “Free Your Originality” also helped the brand reach a younger demographic.
The need to reduce the denim industry’s global impact is a real defining moment for Lee. “A great brand inspires, conjures emotion and memories, and makes you feel a certain way when you are wearing or engaging with it,” Madden added. “I am proud of how the whole Lee organization has worked so hard to create great products.”
"I AM VERY PROUD OF THE RENEWED INTEREST AND EXCITEMENT SURROUNDING LEE GENERATED BY GREAT DESIGN..." BETTY MADDEN, LEEJe Lotman
MARY BETH MAHONEY CAHILL
Target, director of merchan dising for women’s denim and Universal Thread
Thread team is also working to help close the loop by using Better
cotton, recycled cotton and recycled polyester. The Fair Trade USA
percent of Target’s total wash water reductions.
Thanks to Marybeth Mahoney Cahill’s eye for on point denim trends and wardrobe solutions, Target has become more than a big box store to its female consumers. Since joining the company in
merchandising for wom en’s denim and Universal Threads has applied her previous experiences to help turn Target into a one-stop-shop for jeans.
size-inclusive lifestyle brand—offers ward robe-building denim, Additionally, to ensure inclusivity was “at the core of the brand,” Cahill and Target designed adaptive jeans that features elements like no back pockets and side zippers at the hem for any adaptive needs. Capturing trends is just one part of her job, however. The Universal
ThredUp president Anthony Marino wants people to “think second
educating consumers on why resale is good for the planet, or convincing retail execs on why it’s good for business, the initiative is working. Data-driven resale platform ThredUp, has processed and diverted
unique secondhand items
Gap to Gucci) from land
billion off retail price, and billion pounds of carbon emissions. But, Marino
admits, the industry has a long way to go in terms of impact.
Gen Z and Millennials saying they look for an item secondhand before purchasing it new, ThredUp actively courts this consumer. This spring, ThredUp collaborated with celebrity stylist Karla Welch to combat single-use fashion during festival and wedding sea sons, and created a Tunnel
pounds of secondhand clothes clothes during Coachella.
Unspun, director of product innovation
Brooke McEver, director of product innovation at Unspun, has spent her career leading high-impact teams to challenge modern production and design in the fashion industry. By using special software
and a production method developed by the brand itself, B Corp Unspun is working to reduce global
percent through newly developed products and processes in the fashion industry. Their technology uses algorithms to digitally
jeans automatically around eliminating the need for inventory and reducing the waste created by current production methods. The
is available through the brand’s mobile app or at one of its three locations in the U.S. and Hong Kong.
American Eagle Outﬁtters (AEO, Inc.), EVP, chief supply chain ofﬁcer
(AEO) is a preeminent
industry, but the specialty retailer’s foray into full supply chain oversight is what is getting people talking. Shekar Natarajan has been at the forefront of the changes at AEO as it acquired logistics company
operator Quiet Logistics and last-mile delivery com pany AirTerra last year, merging the operations into one new logistics busi ness, Quiet Platforms.
In his role as AEO EVP,
Natarajan aims to create a supply chain platform that
everyone. “Networks are built analog, but supply chains and commerce have become more digital.
We’re basically trying to put the two together,” he said, noting that AEO
per every order, lower than the industry average
shipments for every order. “And it’s not just fewer packages showing up faster at your doorstep, but more importantly, it’s showing up cheaper as well.”
earnings call in April, the company revealed it slashed delivery times
percent. All these facts are crucial for the denim industry given all the current concerns within the supply chain regarding shipping delays and rising prices. At the NRF Supply
June, Natarajan showed off a modular, collapsible shipping box system that the company is developing with the idea it could be used to ship items from multiple brands to a cus tomer’s doorstep.
"WE HOPE TO RAISE AWARE NESS AROUND RESALE'S IMPACT AND CELEBRATE BRANDS DRIV ING THE BIGGEST CHANGE." ANTHONY MARINO, THREDUPNatalie Nelson Marybeth Mahoney Cahill
Aritzia, head of denim
Natalie Nelson has headed up the denim program at contemporary women’s wear label Aritzia for four years. A veteran of Gap and Levi’s, the seasoned designer and product development specialist has spent her career steeped in indigo. A self-described “jean queen,” Nelson’s creations have been featured in top fashion magazines and on curated “best of” lists, evincing a laid back, casual style with retro appeal.
Nelson is the brains behind Aritzia’s in-house denim label, Denim Forum, which launched in 2018. Featuring organic cotton denim staples from skinny jeans to wide-leg cuts, shorts and jean jackets, garments are made using water-saving processes and eco-friendly softeners and are ﬁn ished using laser technology that saves energy and promotes efﬁciency. Meanwhile, the line encapsu lates an effortless, Cool Girl aesthetic that has put Aritzia’s denim offering on the map.
SYED NAVED HUSAIN
Beximco Group, group director and CEO
Syed Naved Husain, Beximco Group, group director and CEO, is taking the denim man ufacturer in creative directions. Beximco introduced SmartLab, a sampling unit and a denim school where designers can develop garment washes that fit their requirement, and digitally transfer their chosen wash recipe to Beximco in Dhaka for bulk production. Closer to home, the denim manufacturer opened Beximco 2 last year, a facility that can produce
denim per month. The company is also building a network of urban factories that will help designers develop and produce a small batch of orders for trials or test marketing. These facilities can make
garments for quick-tomarket runs.
As part of Husain’s future-looking vision, Beximco is leveraging
powered by soft ware firms CLO and Browzwear to aid its sampling arsenal and deliver realistic garment simulations. Beximco is also now teaming with material sciences company Recover Textile Systems with the goal of becom ing the world’s largest collector and recycler of textile waste.
Levi Strauss & Co., executive vice president and chief opera tions ofﬁcer
and sustainability initiatives at Levi’s, O’Neill believes
strategy that preserves the brand’s competitive edge through unforeseen chal lenges. The company has manufacturing operations in 28 countries across the globe and, under her direc tion, is looking to expand.
blend woven on Candiani Denim’s shuttle loom. The
monly used for products like rugs, is regenerative and less water-inten sive than other crops. Since then, Pangaia has launched additional denim products like hemp-blended workwear
change the way we grow
the health of our soil and climate.”
Orta is also securing a regenerative cotton
As Levi Strauss & Co. Executive VP and chief
O’Neill has navigated the production slowdowns, port shutdowns, inventory delays and rising logistics costs that have hobbled the industry over the course of the past two years. Despite these headwinds, the industry veteran, who has overseen operations for leading
and Abercrombie & Fitch, is still sailing forward with
Meanwhile, a focus on digitization has bolstered supply chain agility and responsiveness to ensure “capacity, resilience and agility.”
DR. AMANDA PARKES
Pangaia, chief innovation ofﬁcer
We are working towards other new innovations in our denim portfolio to bring an entirely new material library into commercial reality,” Parkes said.
NESLIHAN SEBLA ÖNDER
Orta Anadolu, sustainability lead
industry-leading Regen from its Orta Blueskyer NFT sales to support regenerative agriculture initiatives in Turkey.
DR. WOLFGANG ANTON SCHUMANNRudolf GmbH, managing director
lion revenue goal.
Responsible for sourc ing, distribution, logistics
A scientist who has spent developing innovative, sustainable, wearable technologies and smart materials, Dr. Amanda Parkes has worked with leading fashion companies and boundary-pushing startups. For nearly four years, Parkes has held the role of chief innovation
company and sustainable lifestyle product collective Pangaia. She also leads innovation at Future Tech
focused on the develop ment of biofabrications and disruptive technology.
Under Parkes’ direc tion, Pangaia launched its
fall in partnership with veteran designer Jona than Cheung. The line was
Neslihan Sebla Önder’s journey to Orta’s sustain ability lead was a circular one. Prior, she worked with the company as a consultant, joining full-time as sustainability lead four years ago, where she’s been driving their sustain ability initiatives since.
Önder helped set Orta’s sights on regen erative agriculture as a “new” frontier, despite the practice’s ancient roots in preserving soil health. “Regenerative cotton is the modern and pragmatic way to help stop climate change before it's too late,” she said. “We are getting behind it to help this movement grow. Healthy soil helps draw carbon back in the ground; hence regen erative agriculture has the potential to
With revamped branding ence moving the needle in sustainable chemistry, German chemicals company Rudolf Group and manag ing director Dr. Wolfgang Anton Schumann is ready to take on another century of innovation.
Schumann, the third generation of his family to lead and own the company, has been in his position
percent Himalayan nettle
his tenure, Schumann has navigated the group’s global expansion, including the Offuel range of finishing agents that are made using alternative materials to crude oil and CycleLogic, which chemically recycles PET plastics into raw inputs that can replace fossil fuels in Rudolf’s manufacturing.
Meanwhile, his work as chairman of the Sustainable Chemistry for the Textile Industry (SCTI), a group of leading chemical companies, underscores his passion to drive transformational change in the textile value chains. SCTI recently partnered with Bluesign for a “firstof-its-kind” index for substances that offer transparency on the chemical’s circularity viability, greenhouse gas emissions during production, and the source of the raw materials.
Recover, chief sustainability ofﬁcer
MASSIMO STE FANELLO
Crescent Bahuman Limited, assistant vice president (Research & Development)
KIM VAN DER WEERD
Transformers Foundation, intelligence director
Hélène Smits’ passion for developing a circular fashion economy began
when she found herself with discarded clothes. The scene stirred up a
sustainable pathways for dealing with textile waste, which often ends up in
“In that moment I realized there must be a better way of organizing this—a smarter way,” Smits said, who now serves as Recover’s chief
That means closing the loop and making new fabrics from old, used and discarded ones. “Since then, it has been my personal and professional mission to develop new approaches and models that contribute to a circular, zero waste textile industry,” she said. Cotton recycling body Recover is an ideal home for Smits to achieve her goal. The company is making inroads in the denim industry, introducing its RDenim circular and fabric mills across the globe, from Artistic Denim Mills to Kontoor Brands,
new models textile introduccircular Denim the
G-Star Raw. In June, the million investment to scale its circular solutions.
Massimo Stefanello is a believer in Italian craftsmanship, down to the label that hangs from a garment. Since becoming Cadicagroup’s
has applied his more than
in leading companies’ oper-
new endeavors that are expanding the trims manufacturer’s capabilities. The company expanded its technology range by
of experience as a denim researcher has led to one of Crescent Bahuman Limited’s (CBL) biggest achievements. This year the Pakistani vertical denim manufacturer introduced
a process that eliminates indigo from denim-dyeing. The technology is part of a more compact dyeing range, which requires fewer dye boxes and less water. In total, CBL uses
Kim van der Weerd believes if we want to change this industry, we must be attuned to lived experience. It’s a belief she applies to her work as the intelligence director for Transformers Foundation, a uniﬁed voice representing the denim industry and its ideas for positive change. The foundation was created to provide a platform to the jeans and denim supply chain, and a central point of contact for consumers, brands, NGOs, and media who want to learn more about ethics and sustainable innovation in the industry.
woven and printed labels company that specializes in the distribution of anti-counterfeiting products and services including labeling with QR codes, customized holographic strips and tracking technologies.Kim Van Der Weerd
energy than the standard indigo dye process. All chemicals used are GOTS
is also designed to meet all restricted substance list (RSL) requirements from major brands and retailers.
A ﬁrm advocate of equal partnership and has deep respect for the difﬁcult work of making clothes, van der Weerd uses many platforms to deliver her message. Besides her role as intelligence director, Van der Weerd also wrote the “Higg Data Debate: No Room for Context, Imagination, or Co-Creation,” an op-ed questioning whether the data debate is the most important when it comes to materials used in textiles and apparel. This summer, she participated in the SAC’s Panel of External Experts designed to provide unbiased, independent, ongoing feedback, guidance and constructive critique on the proposed speciﬁcations, methodology and launch of the Higg Index Transparency program.
If you had one request for denim brands, what would that be?
proportional to their share of the margin). Or, to put it differently, brands and retailers need to be a little less footloose, they need to have a little more skin in the game. We could achieve this by advocating for prices that hinge on consistency relative to forecast. Or by
for a period equal to the supply chains’ total lead time.
advertised as being made with organic cotton. In addi-
because their website told me which supplier made the jeans, where that supplier was, and which parts of the production process the supplier was doing. However, I would have loved to know more about the cotton sourcing process and whether the brand was able to trace it back to the farm.
BERT VAN SON
Mud Jeans, CEO and founder
Mud Jeans founder and CEO Bert van Son is in the business of turning big ideas into reality. The apparel industry veteran, who began his career as
applies the experiences he’s gathered during the
denim industry less wasteful and more circular.
Mud Jeans was the rental business model
not only promotes buying less and recycling, but it is also helping the company create its latest product and another
Mud Jeans launched the percent post-consumer recycled (PCR) cotton. The brand achieved this feat by partnering with the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands to combine mechanically recycled
Others outside of denim are taking note of van Son’s willingness to take risks in the name of sustainability. B Lab named Mud Jeans one
the World” companies for their environmental performance. This year the brand also received the award for Sustainable Entrepreneurship presented by the King Willem I Foundation, a prestigious business award in the Netherlands.Bert Van Son
ANI WELLS, SIMPLY SUZETTE
DyStar Colours Distribution GmbH, head of technology, denim and sodamide
Günther Widler spearheads the technology side of DyStar’s denim initiatives, including the Cadira Denim concept, which combines this pre-reduced indigo with a new organic reducing agent. The combination makes way for salt-free dyeing, eliminates the potentially toxic sodium hydrosulfite from within the process and prevents salt from ending up in landfills each year.
Simply Suzette, founder and director
Dyestuff and chemical manufacturer DyStar is capitalizing on a milestone for indigo. This year represents industrial synthesis of indigo was manufactured and brought into the market by BASF. Today, at the same production facilities where BASF started, DyStar continues this tradition.
True do denim’s collaborative nature, the company recently partnered with Lenzing to make a custom indigo dye for the textile producer’s new fibers. The dye lowers the level of the carcinogen aniline to the smallest possible amount, enabling the Lenzing fibers to receive
tion from Oeko-Tex.
From co-designing circular collections to helping companies develop sustainable roadmaps and communication plans, Simply Suzette founder and director Ani Wells plays many roles in the denim industry’s transformative state. She recently collaborated with Soorty on a collection of garments with QR codes that connect to a diary that highlights the individuals involved in its production. With AGI Denim, Wells introduced Inhale, a collection of circular garments and different solutions for reducing microﬁber pollution. More recently, she worked on developing a 100 percent recycled cotton denim with Blue Diamond, First Finish LA, American Made and Labeltex. “The four companies coming together was a dream team to work with while creating a beautiful product,” she said.
Storytelling, however, is at the heart of Wells’ work and her latest project, Simply Studios. “We believe in a holistic approach to considering impact,” she said about the studio. “We are passionate about telling the stories of the people behind the seams, building more inclusive workforces, and helping supply chains be a force of good through creative, communications and sustainability consulting services.”
"WE ARE PAS SIONATE ABOUT TELLING THE STORIES OF THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE SEAMS, BUILDING MORE INCLUSIVE WORKFORCES, AND HELPING SUPPLY CHAINS BE FORCES OF GOOD..."Ani Wells Betty Madden Global VP of Design
Celebrating our original icon, Betty Madden.
Congratulations on being recognized as one of the best in denim.
the traditional behaviors around how men typically shop, creating new generations with new appetites breaking from the past. Instead of buying fewer but better garments that’ll look good as new in a decade, Gen Zers who never knew a world without Instagram Stories and TikTok trends might be hard-pressed to resist the lure of every passing fad.
SPEAKING VOLUMESwords _____JESSICA BINNS
An obsession with chasing trends and manufacturers’ ability to provide quicker product turns revolutionized the industry in the 80s.
Tens of billions of dollars and a few decades later, fast fashion is drowning the world in clothing that generally isn’t designed to go the distance. An industry built on the backs of the Global South promises inﬂuencer-ready looks at sometimes single-digit prices. This hunger for cheap and chic rocketed the Zara’s and H&M’s of the world into household names seen in hundreds of city centers and suburbs across the globe. But look into their store windows or the towering billboards hovering downtown and you’ll notice there’s probably one commonality: the face smiling down at you is female.
Though fast fashion has long been discussed in frankly feminine terms, men have their role to play in a sector that lapped $100 billion in sales annually in 2014, according to McKinsey, and could pile on $30 billion more in the next three years, says ResearchandMarkets.com. Social media’s unholy influence might be chipping away at
But male shoppers looking for that “new” new won’t see fresh fast-fashion dropping at the rapid clip that marks the women’s side of the business. An analysis of 1.3 million individual product styles that arrived new online at major U.S. fast fashion retailers found that 83 percent were classed as women’s wear. A mere 7,000 men’s items rained down each week, less than one-third of the more than 30,000 new women’s items cropping up at digital retail in the same frame, according to Edited, the retail intelligence platform offering insights for the likes of Mango, Tommy Hilﬁger and Boohoo Group’s PrettyLittleThing.
“This doesn’t even take into account the sizes that they come in or the stock quantity,” said Edited market analyst Kayla Marci. “You get a feel of just how astronomical the volume of goods is that is being pushed out despite several of these brands catering to men with speciﬁc collections.”
Of the 100,000 products carried at Asos, just 32,000 are categorized as men’s, according to Elizabeth Shobert, StyleSage VP of marketing and digital strategy. The gap is even more pronounced at Shein, where a scant 23,000 of 345,000 products are marketed toward men.
New entrants in the fast-fashion space have stepped up the pressure on the established names, resulting in a race to produce at a dizzying pace.
“There are so many new players in the space now than maybe a few years ago who have the ability to turn out product faster and turn out more,” Marci said. “So, then this creates competition for other players to really up their game as well.”
Marci believes gender roles stereotypes around women being the ones who do all the shopping and men “only buying things when
Why men’s wear often takes a backseat in the conversation around fast fashion and the industry's e orts to go green.
they're basically worn through” could be starting to crumble.
“Just look at Supreme or any other streetwear brand and see that there’s rows and rows of young men lining up to purchase product,” she said. “Drop culture, while it does cater to all genders, is almost like men's fast fashion. And while products might not be as affordable, there's still that desire to chase clout and buy into the next big thing. That also encourages disposable shopping habits and products are then priced out of the market or then become obsolete.”
Social media also deserves much of the blame for fueling demand to buy something new that someone might not necessarily need just so they can keep current with the culture. “I think there is a lot of pressure from social media,” Marci said. “A lot of these companies use extremely aggressive marketing—there are so many products that are dropping, but there's also advertising calls on social media. Gen Z, even though they say that they care about the planet, they've never grown up knowing anything different.”
Still, male and female consumers often use their voice on social for different end goals. While women are most closely associated with clothing hauls that see them “emptying a whole box of things” to model for the camera and review for followers, men tend to show “how to clean sneakers or how to get more money for sneakers or flipping tricks” that help viewers turn a profit off their closet, Marci said.
When it comes to material makeup, men’s fast fashion would seem to have a better reputation that women’s. Data suggest their denim has more of the “good stuff” and less of the petrochemical products composing a larger swathe of women’s jeans, even if some of the numbers are just about on par.
“For denim, of the jeans currently in stock online at U.S. retailers, cotton is the top material mentioned in 96 percent of men's wear styles and 94 percent of women's wear,” Marci said. “However, a higher proportion of women's jeans are described as containing polyester, 34 percent versus 20 percent of men's, suggesting blended material compositions are more commonly found in women's denim.”
The same holds true for other categories, Edited found when scrutinizing data about garments from retailers including Asos, Fashion Nova, Forever 21 and Shein. Men’s T-shirt product descriptions more frequently mentioned containing cotton than polyester (67 percent to 30 percent) while the opposite is true on the women’s side (27 percent to 61 percent).
That brands often begin—or concentrate— their sustainability pivot on women’s wear sends a revealing message about the malefemale impact, and divide. Shein, for example, stepped into the realm of eco-friendlier fashion in April with a line of women’s clothing produced with recycled-plasticbottle polyester. Adam Whinston, global head of environmental, social and governance for the Chinese fast-fashion e-tailer known for dropping 6,000 new styles a day, said the new line marked “one important step” on the company’s roadmap toward reducing its impact. Shein confirmed it met its stated goal to grow EvoluShein to roughly 1,500 SKUs by the end of September and actually “exceeded” that benchmark, it pointed out— and said it “may expand” the planet-minded party to the men’s side of the business at some point down the line.
Though women’s wear makes up the overwhelming majority of Shein’s vast assortment, converting men’s clothing to better-for-the-environment materials would still make a measurable difference. Take, for example, one of Shein’s top-selling men’s
distressed skinny jeans that’s racked up nearly 2,500 reviews for a nearly 5-star rating. Neither the 61 percent cotton nor 31 percent poly that makes up the $29 bottom is described as recycled or sustainably sourced (the remaining rayon and elastane components are similarly virgin).
“While women’s has been the core of our business, we continue to see steady demand in men’s categories,” a Shein rep said, pointing to the juggernaut’s “test and reorder model” allowing it to read and react to market interest in new products, thus meeting trends and demands in “men's fashion in the same way we do with women's items, while minimizing overproduction and waste.”
Three years after it filed for bankruptcy, and months after replacing H&M alum Daniel Kulle with new CEO Winnie Park, Forever 21
is “trying to move away from being a fast-fashion brand,” according to the chief executive, who said the Barbie and Hello Kitty collaborator spawned 15 million sustainable units in 2021.
“Today, 40 percent of women’s denim is sustainable and recycled,” she said, noting that the company plans to move that mark to 50 percent in 2023. While several women’s jeans contain recycled cotton, again, men’s denim is markedly absent from Forever 21’s sustainability conversation, though the brand in September carried just 37 men’s denim products versus the 211 on offer for women.
“The whole industry has a lot of work to do when it comes to sustainability, especially when it comes to fashion,” Park pointed out. “And for us, it’s about building a roadmap.” She sees sustainability as a “really interesting tightrope” for a brand whose value proposition has long been centered on “accessibility” in the form of walletfriendly prices.
Still, long-term sustainability roadmaps seem to be a positive development nudging companies away from some of the short-term thinking that’s characterized many brands’ eco efforts, according to Edited’s Marci, who said Earth Month birthed far fewer capsules in 2022 than the industry typically churns out to commemorate April’s spotlight on saving the planet.
“There's a movement away from creating products specifically for an event as it can be seen as performative and more sharing what you're doing as a company and how you're changing and what your mistakes were,” she said. “There's a big push around transparency, because, you know, retailers can't really get away with promoting organic cotton jeans and saying that they're a sustainable retailer anymore.”
Sustainability is often framed as a chickenversus-egg conversation. Should brands invest if consumers aren’t asking for it or is it wiser to wait until demand reaches a tipping point requiring action, even if companies risk being seen as slow-to-act laggards wading into “greenwashing” territory?
A class-action lawsuit lodged against H&M in July 2022 could offer up some clues about how fast-fashion players might react to the stark realities coalescing around how they responsibly communicate what they’re doing to overhaul their planet-polluting products. And it just might send a deep chill into brands that have yet to translate their sustainable women’s efforts into clothing for the opposite gender.
Though the legal complaint is still wending its way through the courts and the Better Cotton-buying Swedish retailer has yet to respond to its substance, the case is on the radar of virtually every industry player who has some skin in the sustainability game—or plans to. The 20-page document New York resident Chelsea Commodore ﬁled with her state’s Southern District Court accuses H&M of sharing “false and misleading” sustainability proﬁles that overstate a garment’s environmental upsides.
Greenwashing-magnet Boohoo Group’s “Ready for the Future” collection has become a lightning rod of criticism, with many pointing out the mismatch between the line’s bold proclamation and the promise that participating products contain “more than 20 percent ‘better materials’” ranging from organic cotton to recycled ﬁbers. Still, a greater percentage of BoohooMan’s 449 total denim products are classiﬁed under the sustainability category, versus 155 of Boohoo’s 1,159 women’s jeans, suggesting brands might have a somewhat easier time switching their men’s lines to inputs with some eco credentials.
Despite brand’s sustainability attempts— well-meaning or not—StyleSage’s Shobert isn’t so sure consumers of any gender are truly making an effort to seek out conscious clothing, pointing to the “almost non-existent” searches for the word “sustainable” that the company turned up when researching movement in sustainable fashion this year.
And she hopes men’s fast fashion never catches up to the breathless pace of product drops that’s the hallmark of the quick-turn women’s sector.
“I think the problems with women’s are systemic,” Shobert said. “It’s in how we consume and how social media encourages it. In men’s it’s not the same. While a lot of the materials are the same, it doesn’t have that cycle inherent in it. And that’s sort of a good thing for men’s as we could have to see that accelerate too much.”
Authenticity is priority number one for jeanswear brands that want to ride high in rodeo and equestrian circles.
Jeans and “The Old West” have been intertwined ever since Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received their now famous patent for riveted work pants in 1873. They are the foundation of a cowboy’s or cowgirl’s getup and the longstanding and ubiquitous goto pants of horse and bull riders, wranglers and ropers because of their durability and authentic association with the West and all its accompanying traditions. While actual frontier living has waned, its mystique of independence and toughness continues to live on at rodeos and equestrian competitions and showcases, many of which are now held in massive sports arenas in major metropolitan areas instead of at the local fairground.
According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) these events are on the rise both in the U.S. and worldwide. After reaching an all-time low of 560 in 2009, the number of U.S. rodeo events increased to 650 in 2017 and the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) sports organization, now owned by events giant IMG, has more than 500 members who compete in over 200 events each year in the U.S., Australia, Canada and Mexico. The winner of its seasonal PBR World Finals takes home a $1 million prize and many PBR competitions are televised by major networks and streaming channels. Furthermore, a study by Economic Analytics Consulting LLC showed that the 2019 edition of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR), the largest livestock show and rodeo in the world, generated direct economic activity of $243 million and total local economic activity of $391 million.
There’s gold to be mined and denim brands know it. The competition for athlete, association or event sponsorship and being viewed as an authentic denim brand for real riders is ﬁerce. The jeans makers involved in the sector range from well-established names with historic Western roots to younger brands who have parlayed their own personal love of riding and
Western culture into successful collections that have become favorites of the saddle set.
The biggest denim bull in the ﬁeld is unquestionably Kontoor Brands-owned Wrangler, which currently has partnerships with 16 authentic cowboy associations and events. “Throughout our 75 years, we’ve prioritized honoring our roots in the Western space by teaming up with authentic cowboy associations and events that allow the brand to remain true to its identity,” explained Jeff Chadwick, the brand’s director of special events and licensing.
Some of Wrangler’s “deep-rooted collaborations in the Western space,” he added, include serving as the ofﬁcial jeans and shirts brand of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and becoming the ﬁrst title sponsor of the PRCA’s premier championship event, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo since 2001. Furthermore, Wrangler also collaborates with the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. as the ofﬁcial jeans of PBR since 1994, while also serving as the ofﬁcial Western jeans and shirts of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) since 1989.”
Chadwick explained that the sponsorship agreements vary but that there are common denominators, including signing partnerships that will be long lasting, such as its one with the PRCA which it has had since 1974. “Each interaction with a Western organization allows the brand to honor its roots in the Western space and permits Wrangler to remain true to its identity and preserve the cowboy lifestyle, while also creating a unique and deep-rooted connection with rodeo fans and those embracing the lifestyle,” he said.
The denim stalwart has the product to back up its clout in the arena. Wrangler’s Cowboy Cut jeans have been a tried-and-true wardrobe staple for cowboys across the country, Chadwick said. “We knew a good thing when we saw it, which is why the Wrangler Cowboy Cut jeans haven’t changed much since they were ﬁrst designed by ‘Rodeo Ben’ Lichenstein in 1947,” he explained.
Another seasoned Western brand on the scene is California-based Ariat International which has connected with pro rodeos since its founding in 1993 when it made a splash with its revolutionary cowboy boots infused with athletic technology. Today, Ariat offers shoes and apparel–it launched denim in 2010–and has partnered with individual athletes and brand ambassadors as well as organizations such as The United States Equestrian Federation and the National High School Rodeo Association. It is also the title sponsor of the World Series of Team Roping and the National Adult Medal Finals, an amateur equestrian competition.
“Authenticity is very important to us, and we want any athlete we partner with to genuinely love the brand,” said Susan Alcala, Ariat’s vice president of partnership marketing, about these alliances. “More often they reach out to us. If we
see someone organically wearing Ariat and they meet our criteria, we will approach them.”
The brand keeps a typical Western “I’ll stay off your land” approach when it comes to dealing with its sponsored talent. “We might use athletes in our brand campaigns from time to time, but on a regular basis, each athlete promotes Ariat in their own way on their socials and wears our products in and out of the arena. We do not provide instruction to them as to what to say about our brand and this trust helps us foster authentic relationships with them,” Alcala said.
“Inclusivity is also very important to us, and our rider athletes are all different shapes, sizes, and from a diverse background,” added Jennifer Shaw, Ariat’s vice president of denim/bottoms design and development, who uses these relationships to test new jeans and breeches. “We put a lot of importance on developing denim that ﬁts and ﬂatters in and out of the saddle for all shapes and sizes.”
Input and feedback from our athletes throughout the creative development cycle is a critical part of Ariat’s design process, Shaw added. “When launching a new product, we involve athletes at the onset and conduct rigorous wear testing, allowing for a feedback loop that allows us to adapt product to their needs. We’ve made changes to our jeans based on input in both our men’s denim and our women’s R.E.A.L. denim lines,” she said.
Goode Rider is more reﬁned and equestriandriven than ruggedly Western but it too sponsors pro riders and prides itself on creating clothes that are as practical in the saddle as they are attractive, stylish and transitional. The Northern Californian brand was created in 2004 by designer Lorna Goode and sales director Kristin Calandra, who met while working at Levi’s head ofﬁce. Their goal was to make clothes that are meant to be worn “from the barn to the bar.”
Like all denim brands involved in riding and rodeo, being authentic and just as passionate about the sport as its target customer is pivotal to Goode Rider’s success. And the brand really puts its money where its mouth is. Asked if she uses a rider as a ﬁt model, Goode laughed and replied, “You’re talking to her.”
The denim options include six women’s jeans ($159-$189) and two men’s ($189-$199). Goode said her upcoming improvements include incorporating a denim with even more stretch into the brand’s best-selling equestrian jean, adding colored stretch denim options and eventually using stretch suede as well. She also just introduced a green cargo model that has a cellphone pocket.
Goode Rider’s professional associations have evolved with the advent of social media. Where it used to dress its riders head to toe with formal sponsorships, Goode said the brand now seeds product to equestrian inﬂuencers. “That seems to be the best bang for our buck,” she added.
Hollywood’s golden touch has helped Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Kimes Ranch. In addition to athlete sponsorships and selling product on-site at rodeos, the brand supplies wardrobe pieces for the Western TV shows “Yellowstone” and “Heartland,” which has given it further credibility as a genuine Western brand.
Started in 2009 by experienced horsepeople that were not part of the rodeo world per se, Kimes Ranch quickly found success with its great-for-riding jeans models with longer inseams options—40 inches for men and 38 inches for women—and a higher rise in the back. Two ﬂagship styles made with high-quality fabrics helped put the brand on the radar of the Western scene.
“It was a lot different than what Western was seeing at the time because it was the era of gemstone jeans on the pocket and low rise and really over processing,” said Lindsay Perraton, Kimes Ranch’s chief merchandising ofﬁcer.
Today, the brand has formally contracted sponsorships with several rodeo stars including 18-year-old Josie Conner, a breakaway roper who won more than $100,000 in prize money before her last birthday, and Paden Bray, 23, another young rodeo luminary who has more than 87,000 Instagram followers. Perraton said their talent was not the only thing that led to their deals as politeness and respect from others are of utmost importance to rodeo fans who tend to lean conservative, traditional and be family-oriented.
“It’s a small community in that sense,” she said. “For us, it’s the whole package. Because you're not just representing us in how well you do. You’re representing us in, you know, in the person that you are and you're an outward reflection of what we are inside as a culture in our company.”
A U TÉ
Savor the beauty of rich washes and effortlessly cool silhouettes for fall.
PAGE: VICTORIA BECKHAM DENIM SHIRT AND JEANS; ETTIKA EARRINGS; SEQUIN RINGS.
OPPOSITE: RAG & BONE LEATHER JACKET; L’AGENCE JEANS; JIMMY CHOO PUMPS; ETTIKA EARRINGS; SEQUIN RINGS.
A.P.C. DENIM SHIRT; 6397 JEANS; KHAITE BELT; ETTIKA EARRINGS; CELESTE STARRE PENDANT NECKLACE; MEME LONDON CHAIN NECKLACE; HERMÈS CUFF; SEQUIN RINGS AND BRACELET.
KULE TRENCH COAT OVER RE/DONE BCI COTTON AND RECYCLED COTTON TEE; SLVRLAKE ORGANIC COTTON JEANS; HERMÈS BOOTS AND CUFF; CELESTE STARRE PENDANT NECKLACE; MEME LONDON NECKLACE; SEQUIN RINGS AND CHARM BRACELET.
PAGE: CITIZENS OF HUMANITY DENIM JACKET; SNACKS! FROM MOTHER JEANS; ETTIKA GOLD EARRINGS; SEQUIN BRACELET.
OPPOSITE: KHAITE T-SHIRT, CORDUROY BLAZER AND JEANS; KALLMEYER BELT; HERMÈS BOOTS AND CUFF; CELESTE STARRE PENDANT NECKLACE; MEME LONDON NECKLACE; SEQUIN RINGS.
GENERATIONwords _____JASMIN MALIK CHUA
High rise, low rise, skinny, baggy, ﬂared, cropped, distressed, boyfriend, Mom—it’s clear that denim loves a trend. The latest bandwagon, however, has more to do with farms than fashion. As the climate stakes climb higher, the catch-all concept of sustainability, in all its indeterminate glory, is starting to look a little démodé. Brands and mills are instead latching onto a new phrase: regenerative agriculture. Many are even rolling up their sleeves and getting down and dirty with soil-health measurements, tilling techniques and insect counts. Together the practices are meant to create a holistic approach to cotton management that draws carbon from the air and traps them within plant roots.
“A circular economy is symbiotic with regenerative agricultural practices,” Roian Atwood, then-senior director of global sustainability business at Wrangler, one of the ﬁrst jean makers to lean into the notion, said in 2020. Since then, denim companies worldwide have ﬂocked to the model—Italy’s Candiani, for instance, has kicked off a chain-of-custody standard for regenerative cotton; Citizens of Humanity Group is piloting its regenerative agriculture program at six farms across the United States; and Levi Strauss has thrown its support behind the Soil Health Institute’s U.S. Regenerative Cotton Fund. In August,
Denim mills and brands are supporting a new class of regenerative farms.
Turkey’s Orta Anadolu unveiled an NFT of a jumpsuit made of 100 percent regenerative cotton to represent a “better vision of conscious consumption.” Next year, the ﬁrst J.Crew and Madewell products derived from regenerative cotton will hit shelves.
Denim’s embrace of regenerative cotton is somewhat of a no-brainer, said Beth Jensen, director of Climate+ impact at the nonproﬁt Textile Exchange. The ﬁber is, after all, the sector’s No. 1 material by volume. Shifting away from extractive farming practices not only mitigates supply risks for companies, but it also secures cotton availability for years to
come. It could ease some of fashion’s existential conﬂict: the need to keep pumping out products while grappling with its ballooning emissions footprint. For an industry that thrives on narrative, feeding back nutrients into the ground and restoring habitats for pollinators also makes for a great story.
It’s tempting to dismiss the regenerative model, which indigenous and Native communities have practiced for centuries, as a buzzier version of organic. Indeed, organic agriculture already deploys many regenerative practices, including crop rotation, green manures and cover cropping. Nevertheless, regenerative’s proponents say they prefer it because its barriers to entry are lower. Unlike cotton bearing, say, the U.S. Department of Agriculture seal, regenerative cotton lacks legislative oversight, which relaxes the burden of regulator-backed certiﬁcation but also makes the enforcement of minimum standards more slippery. (There is a third option, by way of Patagonia and the Rodale Institute, in regenerative organic, which layers speciﬁc soil health, animal welfare and worker fairness requirements on top of an organic-standard baseline.)
Jensen, who helped author Textile Exchange’s white paper on the regenerative agriculture landscape, which it published in January, said that regenerative is as much a “way of thinking” as it is a system of production. “It’s not a matter of either-or,” she said of regenerative versus organic. “We will need all tools in the toolbox to rapidly reduce the impacts associated with our industry’s sourcing of materials.” What is “best,” she added, isn’t clear cut. Rather, it depends on the speciﬁc context and needs of the grower’s production system and those of the company doing the sourcing.
Filippo Guerrini, regenerative agronomic advisor at Regenagri, knows it’s important for companies to be able to back up their claims, however. The Control Union-backed regenerative agriculture program offers a farm-
level certiﬁcation scheme that works on a threeyear cycle based on a “continuous improvement” approach. In May, Regenagri rolled out a carbon standard that allows farms to verify the greenhouse-gas emissions reductions achieved by their regenerative practices. The idea, he said, is to recognize positive changes, reward these achievements and “start improving seriously.”
The white space in regenerative cotton has also allowed ﬁrms to play a more active role in transitioning farms while locking in their own supply, which is growing increasingly fraught with organic, especially with its ongoing price, availability and authentication challenges. Resilience is a term that frequently comes up. Sebla Onder, sustainability specialist at Orta Anadolu, said that regenerative could be an alternative for brands that can’t muster up enough organic or organic in transition. The denim mill is currently partnering with two suppliers: one in Australia and the other in Brazil. The Brazilian farm is Regenagri certiﬁed; the Australian one adopts a “regenerative mindset” that minimizes inputs but doesn’t hew to a particular standard.
Regenerative certiﬁcation is a nice-tohave but unlike organic not entirely necessary, Onder said, adding that it’s important to coax farmers on their journey without yoking them with onerous requirements. It can take years for a farm to transition to organic, often at tremendous expense, which is why some growers are reluctant to make a formal switch. With a regenerative mindset, farmers can start on Day 1, which is “more constructive and costeffective” to bolstering supply, she said. The focus on biodiversity is another plus. Carbon may be harder to quantify but witnessing the emergence of new microorganisms, plants and animals “shows that the system is really working.”
Getting the farmer buy-in is sometimes the most difﬁcult part of the process. When
Soorty, in collaboration with World Wildlife Fund in Pakistan and with the support of the Laudes Foundation, launched its organic cotton initiative in the southwestern province of Balochistan, last April, the manufacturer encountered signiﬁcant resistance. “Balochistan is one of the poorest areas and the community there is quite reserved; they’re not very open,” said Ebru Debbag, the denim manufacturer’s executive director of global sales and marketing. Companies, no matter how well-intentioned, shouldn’t simply swoop into a region with the paternalistic idea that the people there need help and can beneﬁt from their expertise, she said. It’s necessary to take time to understand their needs and then devise a program that is truly ﬁt for purpose.
For Soorty, the regenerative portion of the four-year project, which comprises close to 1,200 farms, doesn’t come from the ﬁber alone. The cotton itself was certiﬁed as a crop in conversion by the Organic Cotton Accelerator in May; by 2025, the transition to full organic should be complete. Debbag uses regenerative to describe how the scheme is helping the farming community ﬂourish through the provision of vocational training, ﬁnancial literacy classes, medical care and clean water. It’s a way to turn the negative connotations of cotton farming—thirsty, polluting, chemical-laden—on their head, she said. Once the farmers, which the program helped ﬁnance, saw the beneﬁts of organic cultivation for themselves, including healthier yields, their animosity ceded to pride.
Amy Williams, CEO of Citizens of Humanity Group, which owns the Agolde, Citizens of Humanity and Goldsign brands, said it’s critical to provide “incentives, insurances and other ﬁnancial support” to the farmers. Brands are used to jumping from one supplier to another in search of better margins. Building any kind of farming system, however, requires a long-term view that includes purchasing-volume guarantees. “The relationships with the people on the farm and in the community are important to us as well,” she said.
Citizens of Humanity, Williams said, had homed its focus on organic over the past couple of years. Now, it wants to turn its attention to “truly” understanding what best practices look like in the pursuit of raw materials. So far, the results are “promising,” she said. “In order to ensure that the regenerative practices meet our standards, and to demonstrate intent and true commitment to our mills across a variety
of categories, we believe that working directly with the farmers and the program we have built is essential.”
But regenerative isn’t without its skeptics, who say that the concept’s lack of a universal deﬁnition leaves wide latitude for companies to decide what it should or should not entail. Though there is broad consensus that the practices can restore soil fertility, among other environmental beneﬁts, critics from the World Resources Institute warn that the “practical potential” of regenerative agriculture as a
lower scores, however, as part of its strategy to continually challenge growers. Those that support their use also say they’re necessary to convert as many acres of land as possible, as soon as possible. The thinking goes that once farmers see the beneﬁts of this new model, they’ll start shunning chemically laden inputs altogether.
“I went into this thinking, ‘We cannot use GMO seeds; they're terrible, right?’” Liz Hershﬁeld, head of sustainability at J.Crew Group, said of the three-year regenerative cotton pilot that J.Crew and Madewell parent jump-started last year in Louisiana and Texas with Regenagri as its certifying partner.
“And as we became immersed…it became clear that it wasn’t possible in the United States. You can do it on a small scale but farmers actually need GMO seeds because of climate issues and to regulate insects to ensure they can grow their crops consistently.”
It’s about meeting the farmers where they are, Hershﬁeld said. Doing so allows the program to be scalable in a way banning GMO seeds wouldn’t have. As the growers progress up Regenagri’s grading curve, it’s up to them to wean off inputs that might seem antithetical to the regenerative philosophy.
“Climate change is happening much faster than anyone expected,” she said. “And in the U.S., this felt like the way we could make the biggest impact in the fastest way.”
climate mitigation strategy is “at best modest” due to the limited scientiﬁc understanding of how carbon is sequestered.
Jensen worries that the industry will bandy “regenerative agriculture” about without a complete understanding of the nuance it requires. “Regenerative agriculture can’t be deﬁned in a single statement or set of practices, and instead calls for a fundamentally holistic systems approach that puts humans and ecosystems at its core,” she said. “It is about much more than increasing soil carbon levels.”
More controversially, regenerative permits the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, as well as genetically modiﬁed seeds, all of which are verboten by tougher organic strictures. Regenagri dings farms that do so with
Now the challenge for the denim industry is to ramp up its efforts beyond pilot programs and capsule collections, which requires unlocking some of the billions available in climate ﬁnancing and putting it in the hands of the right people. There are speciﬁc roadblocks, too. If Orta Anadolu wants to grow regenerative cotton in Turkey, for example, it will have to forgo GMO seeds, because they’re not allowed in the country. In the United States, the Farm Bill prioritizes conventional over organic or regenerative modes of agriculture when allocating funding and resources, which makes convincing farmers a harder sell.
Meanwhile, global warming isn’t helping. A report published last year by Forum for the Future predicted that all global cottongrowing regions will face increased risk from at least one climate hazard by 2040, whether it’s drought, heat stress or increased incidences of wildﬁres. Industrial agriculture helped get us here, and it’ll take a systems change to get us out, Guerrini said. “We really need to help as many farmers and supply chains do the right thing, follow them and ﬁnance them,” he said. “And just do it. Just do it.”
At 100, RUDOLF
Ramps up Innovations for a More Sustainable Future
Rivet had the opportunity to interview Dr. Wolfgang Anton Schumann, who, in addition to being the captain of the leading textile chemicals company RUDOLF, was also able to join the coveted RIVET 50 shortlist. Below, Dr. Schumann gives us an insight into the industry and the RUDOLF
operation, is preparing to embark on its second.
RIVET: 100 years old is a very meaningful birthday, a long journey and a great milestone. What were the factors that enabled the company to achieve it?
Dr. Wolfgang Anton Schumann: While it’s a great milestone, it’s only a starting point for us. Our new departure starts from those factors that enabled us to acquire and consolidate a very loyal customer base.
Looking back, we realize that gradual success has always been linked to being 'Small enough to care.' In addition to this highly customer-oriented, “caring” attitude that has always differentiated us, RUDOLF has continually positioned itself as the 'ultimate specialist in textile chemistry'.
RIVET: Small enough to care and passion. Can you link the two concepts?
W.S.: The secret of our accomplishment has always been our passionate people at RUDOLF. We cherish commitment and initiative. We have always called freedom to perform, it’s deeply rooted in our DNA and can only strive in a relatively small environment.
RIVET: How do you describe RUDOLF as the company steps into its second century?
W.S.: From changing consumer expectations to volatile material prices to eroding environmental health, the world around us is changing, and we must change with it. We work to contribute our answers to these challenges and will strive to grow through positive impact. We see ourselves as an “agent of positive change.”
RIVET: What do you mean by that?
W.S.: In a world of chaos where resources become scarce, prices soar and transports are unreliable, we think that there is meaning in introducing positive change as a remedy to that chaos.
At RUDOLF, we don’t just want to follow the chaotic change. We want to help shape our future and actively use our expertise
positive change means, and we strongly believe this is the only way to be future-ready.
RIVET: Can you provide examples of RUDOLF being an agent of positive change?
W.S.: Within textiles, the big keyword is environmental sustainability, and we pioneer collaborating efforts that can be truly transforming. One example is the SCTI initiative. That’s where seven of the world’s leading chemical companies—including RUDOLF—have come together—committing to collaboration, innovation and transformational change for a more sustainable future.
Another meaningful example is represented by the Transformers Foundation. RUDOLF is a Founding Member of the Transformer
contact for consumers, brands, NGOs and media who want to learn more about ethics and sustainable innovation in the industry.
RIVET: What are some actions taken within these organizations?
W.S.: RUDOLF wants to contribute to developing a globally harmonized sustainability standard for chemical products used in the industry. Despite the many efforts made, that is still missing, and we believe SCTI is the right platform for it. With the Transformers
“We wanted to look back and tap into our heritage mark with the idea of using it as a launch pad for the future.”
Foundation, on the other hand, RUDOLF wants to develop a supporting assessment tool that covers all aspects of textile creation, from hazards through to environmental, ecological and social impact.
RIVET: Is there a customer/consumer dimension as well?
W.S.: Let’s face it: chemistry has been developing a bad name. However, chemistry is a key foundation to almost everything we do. RUDOLF is all about demonstrating that there are ways to create highly responsible chemistry and sustainable chemical applications.
developments, education plays an equally important role. Moving forward, we want to support apparel brands, retailers and manufacturers of all sizes to achieve the highest levels of innovation and sustainability. We intend to do that by improving our approach to service and customer dedication, sharing our knowledge of chemistry and its application, and providing training and tools so correct information can
RIVET: having such a global footprint, how much is RUDOLF still a German company?
W.S.: We are a German-based company built on trust, quality, reliability and customer intimacy. We are an organization that continuously strives to excel in customer service and problem-solving. But we are also on a journey to become a more global organization that thinks, acts and comes across more cohesively.
We are creating a constellation of digital touchpoints together with our customers, where they have access to our knowledge 24/7. We are starting in the German market with a customer portal that allows users to learn more about our product and see how assorted products approach for customers to engage with us, and we plan to take it to a global scale soon.
RIVET: Is there any tangible sign that signals RUDOLF is embracing such a magnitude of change, especially in terms of internal structure and modus operandi?
W.S.: At this important turning point, we are changing what is most precious, intimate and meaningful to us, the essence of who we are and the RUDOLF corporate branding.
We wanted to look back and tap into our heritage mark with the idea of using it as a launch pad for the future. The new visual word “Group” from our name, signifying a cohesive global brand.
see lying ahead?
W.S.: Some challenges I think we have to address are obvious for everyone to see. We must take steps to decarbonize our industry and identify renewable raw materials that are alternatives to oil.
That’s why we have created a new framework for our R&D called aspirational chemistry. Aspirational chemistry addresses extreme
progressive part of RUDOLF’s strategic product construct. It is built on the combination of modern, chemical R&D and advanced environmental consciousness and refers to an emerging generation of technologies aiming at moving the overall environmental bar to a much higher level.
RIVET: To end this extremely insightful conversation, what’s RUDOLF’s recipe to be future-proof?
W.S.: Growing the skills of the individuals and of the organization at large. This is the vital ingredient to the health and longevity of our
we’re already falling behind. The ability to learn, be agile and always on our toes is often the difference between success and failure.
SPIN CYCLESPIN CYCLESPIN CYCLE
Mills and brands join forces to advance recycled cotton.words _____JASMIN MALIK CHUA
Everyone said it couldn't be done: make jeans out of 100 percent post-consumer cotton, that is.
So when Mud Jeans debuted the world’s ﬁrst denim pants made entirely from unwanted clothing this summer, it was nothing short of a technological miracle. This wasn’t some one-off experiment, either. By next fall, the Dutch ﬁrm wants its “circular ﬁrst” to hug the derrières of paying customers. And before 2023 ends, the jeans could make up as much as 5 percent of its entire collection.
Upping the post-consumer recycled content of its denim has always been part of the plan, said Lea Landsberg, the “doing jeans differently” company’s CSR and sustainable communications ofﬁcer. Mud Jeans’ bottoms already contain more of the stuff than nearly any other apparel purveyor has been able to achieve from mechanical recycling techniques, which physically extract ﬁbers from fabric for respinning. For years the company has been pushing the boundaries of what was possible with Recover, its Spanish recycling partner, and mills like Orta Anadolu and Tejidos Royo. Still, it wanted to do more.
The differences between post-consumer and post-industrial (also known as pre-consumer) cotton are nuanced but critical, Landsberg said. To be sure, the fashion industry spews waste at every point of the supply chain. While scraps from the cutting-room ﬂoor have been recaptured for reuse “for a very long time” because it makes economic sense, salvaged garments have fewer outlets for high-value processing.
And yet they’re ubiquitous. “As long as there is consumption by the end consumer, there is no problem in the supply of post-consumer recycled cotton and there will never be,” said Serhat Karaduman, CEO of Calik Denim, a manufacturer in Turkey that ﬁrst adopted post-consumer recycled cotton in 2011. Today, the ﬁber makes up 5 percent of what it buys.
For a segment of the fashion industry that balks at being seen as environmentally destructive, turning old clothes into new ones has become a priority. Conventional cotton is well-known as a thirsty and resource-intensive crop. Replacing some of it with a recycled version could ease the strain on a planet that is becoming increasingly inhospitable to agriculture because of climate
change. At the same time, true textile-to-textile recycling has remained the holy grail. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that only 1 percent of old clothes are remade into new ones. Most are either downcycled into rags or stufﬁng, landﬁlled or incinerated.
Even so, the will to change is growing. When the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched its Jeans Redesign initiative, with the goal to boost denim circularity, in 2019, the use of recycled content was optional. By 2021, when the organization began mandating a 5 percent minimum recycled requirement, half of the project’s 72 participants, including Guess, H&M and Zara, were already doing so. More than 82 percent of that half were even voluntarily embracing post-consumer recycled cotton, which “was a huge result,” said project manager Natasha David.
The so-called Denim Deal, which the Dutch government rolled out in 2020, is also asking its 50 signatories, most of which are mills such as Calik Denim, Isko and Soorty, to work together to create a standard of at least 5 percent post-consumer recycled content in all denim garments “as quickly as possible.” Ofﬁcially known as the Green Deal
on Circular Denim, the agreement has its sights on collectively producing 3 million jeans with a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled cotton. Mud Jeans, Kuyichi, Scotch & Soda and Tommy Hilﬁger owner PVH Corp. are also backing the initiative.
For a nation whose most populous city— that would be Amsterdam—is known as the denim capital of the world, such a platform made imminent sense. It also dovetailed with the objectives of a broader circular textile policy program, which aims to increase textile-to-textile recycling in the Netherlands. The idea is to show that a “covenant” of multiple stakeholders— municipalities, ministries, collectors, spinners, weavers, manufacturers and brands—can work collaboratively to reach a common goal, a representative from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management said. Other countries might be encouraged to do the same.
But mining consumer castoffs is fraught with hurdles that can impede the supply of highquality materials, which David said was a common complaint. For one thing, reverse logistics are difﬁcult to implement when the supply chain is set up to move in one direction. Consolidating waste from multiple locations and then shipping it to a facility where it can be processed can get expensive. Sorting items by composition and color is a labor-intensive process, as is stripping ﬁnished garments of components such as buttons, zippers and decorative trims.
Most togs today also consist of Frankensteinlike natural and synthetic blends, which are difﬁcult to tease apart on a large scale. Then there’s the fact that post-consumer ﬁbers have battled daily wear and tear, resulting in staple lengths that tend to be shorter and weaker than their virgin or even postindustrial counterparts. Though certain spinning strategies can help stave off deterioration, coupling them with other ﬁbers is what ultimately creates a more durable fabric. It’s for this reason that jeans derived from 100 percent post-consumer recycled cotton have seemed more of a pipe dream than a realistic goal.
For Mud Jeans, 40 percent was the highest amount of post-consumer recycled content that its denim could bear without losing integrity. (Most other brands max out at 20 percent.) Because jeans that fall apart are antithetical to its credo that things should last a long time, the label typically beefs up its fabric with organic cotton. To crack the code, Mud Jeans turned to scientists at Saxion University of Applied Sciences, also in the Netherlands, for help.
Chemical recycling turned out to be an answer, if not the answer, Landsberg said. Breaking down ﬁbers into polymers and then building them back up generated the staple length Mud Jeans needed, but it also resulted in a viscose-like feel that was smoother and less rigid than its clientele was used to. So the brand split the difference by using a blend of 67 percent
mechanically recycled and 33 percent chemically recycled cotton in the weft and 67 percent chemically recycled and 33 percent mechanically recycled cotton in the warp. What it ended up with looks “just like normal jeans,” she said, showing a reporter a pair that she was wearing. (It does.) Pricing-wise, Mud Jeans hopes to keep the jeans at the same price as its usual assortment, though it’s hard to say at this point.
There’s a misconception that since recycled materials stem from waste, they should be cheaper than virgin. In fact, the reverse is often true due to the additional handling and processing that is required, said Kathleen Talbot, chief sustainability ofﬁcer and VP of operations at Reformation. Loom speeds have to slow down because recycled yarns aren’t as strong, which
“We are constantly testing this limit, and f ind it a good challenge.”
can be a drag on productivity levels. But working with denim also has speciﬁc advantages: It’s easy to visually pick out from a pile of abandoned clothes, for example. Despite the current yen for stretchier jeans with elastane and polyester, denim traditionally has a high cotton content, which makes for a more uniform feedstock.
The Los Angeles-based brand has been increasing its use of post-industrial recycled cotton in its denim, which allows it to “repurpose excess fabric directly within our supply chain,” Talbot said. Through its burgeoning RefRecycling program, which it runs in partnership with the tech platform SuperCircle, Reformation will also go a “step further” and offer ﬁber-to-ﬁber recycling across multiple categories, including denim. It’s early days yet but the company thinks that it can imbue its jeans with 90 percent or more postconsumer recycled cotton with the right mill partners. This could involve a chemical recycling strategy in future fabric developments. “We are constantly testing this limit, and ﬁnd it a good challenge,” she said.
Compared with mechanical recycling, chemical recycling for garments is still in its infancy, but this could rapidly change as companies like Renewcell, which dissolves cotton-rich textiles such as denim into a ﬁber known as Circulose, and Inﬁnited Fiber Company, which produces rejuvenated cellulose called Inﬁnna, ramp up their operations. While the term “chemical” often conjures up visions of hazardous substances, most of the technologies tout themselves as nontoxic and closed loop. The bigger, more immediate concern is their availability.
“We can’t really provide enough ﬁbers for everybody,” said Kirsi Kuntsi, key account director at Inﬁnited Fiber Company, which plans to have its ﬁrst commercial-scale plant up and running in its native Finland by 2025. Brands such as Adidas, H&M and Zara have already called dibs on several years of its upcoming capacity, which is expected to hover around 30,000 tons a year. Until the supply of Inﬁnna increases, its price comes down and mills become more comfortable with using an experimental ﬁber, collaborations with jean makers like Weekday and Wrangler must remain in capsule form by necessity.
Translating Inﬁnna into denim can create a “crepey” hand, Kuntsi said, although the company has managed to tweak characteristics like ﬁber tensile strength and dye absorption levels to mimic the desired look and feel more closely. One beneﬁt of its cellulose carbamate platform is that it can handle petrochemical-based additives such as polyester and elastane better than mechanical means can. Instead of showing up as impurities in the yarn, synthetic materials are simply whisked out during processing. Chemicals of unknown or restricted origins, which are more ubiquitous in postconsumer waste with their ifﬁer provenance, also generally disappear “in mass” because the Inﬁnna platform only harvests cellulose. There might be exceptions, but she said that the company will take any learning experience in stride.
Mud Jeans amasses its raw materials by “buying” back discarded dungarees, which it exchanges for a discount the seller can apply to a future Mud Jeans purchase. To keep fossil-fuelderived inputs at a minimum, it only accepts denim that contains at least 96 percent cotton. But adding chemical recycling to the mix will add another layer of complexity, Landsberg said. The brand is still hunting for a supplier that can build on Saxion’s research. “That’s the challenge we're working on right now,” she said. “How do we scale this up?”
Making sure garment waste ends up in the right place can be another headache. Take Beximco Denim, which partners with Recover to operate Bangladesh’s biggest textile recycling facility. Because the South Asian country throttles imports of used clothing, it’s only able to leverage post-industrial inputs as a resource, though this is itself abundant, said Junaid Safdar, Beximco Denim’s chief operating ofﬁcer. The Dutch Denim Deal has the opposite
problem: It wants to dispatch worn-out clothing from the Netherlands to countries like Turkey for recycling and workarounds for existing regulations ratchet up costs.
In the longer term, Safdar said, brands will also have to grapple with the increased carbon emissions from shipping used clothing from one country to another. As conversations about authenticity hit a fever pitch, they will also need to make sure they’re tracing their materials using credible certiﬁcations. The addition of ﬁber tracers could also help verify a product’s origin.
When it comes to using post-consumer recycled cotton, every member of the denim supply chain needs to manage their expectations, said Helene Smits, chief sustainability ofﬁcer at Recover, which inked a multiyear deal with Artistic Denim Mills last year to scale the production of post-consumer recycled cotton in Pakistan. Postindustrial waste currently makes up 95 percent of Recover’s portfolio, but the recycler is “working hard” to increase its share of post-consumer feedstock, she said. The new plant will be capable of churning out 100,000 kilograms of yarn, or enough to produce 250,000 yards of fabric, every day from pre-owned sources.
Smits said that it’s important to realize that mechanically recycled ﬁbers from postconsumer inputs do not look or behave like their virgin counterparts. If circularity at scale is the goal, then there needs to be a certain latitude for imperfections and “appreciation for the unique qualities of recycled.” As a European Union mandate for the separate collection of textiles goes into effect in 2025, a larger proportion of the acquired materials is bound to be of lower quality. “It takes a mindset change,” she said.
Though Recover specializes in mechanical rather than chemical recycling, Smits sees a lot of opportunities for collaboration between the new modes. “Chemically recycled fibers make a really good carrier for mechanically recycled fibers to create a 100 percent postconsumer recycled yarn,” she said. “We see a lot of potential for synergy with other technologies happening and we believe we need all to come together to achieve circularity in the industry.”
For Mud Jeans, crafting denim from 100 percent post-consumer recycled cotton has as much to do with extended producer responsibility—something the European Commission is also considering making mandatory—as it does with being on the cutting edge. She hopes that more brands, particularly those with greater resources, will join it.
“You see a lot of companies that sell their product and then don’t care about what happens to it afterward anymore,” Landsberg said. “And this project is really a way to show that it is possible to take responsibility for your waste and make a beautiful product out of it.”
Siddiqsons Praises Partnerships as ‘Dual Cool’ Collection Preps Launch
Siddiqsons continues to explore innovation and sustainability by leveraging its relationships with key
Pakistan-based denim manufacturer constantly invests in new and more environmentally friendly technologies
water treatment facilities, the company also invests in relationships with best-in-class suppliers and creative
Siddiqsons has been ramping up innovations across its business over the past 12 months, recently introducing
These wider-width looms offer great added value to all manufacturer recently increased its offering of indigo
consumer-centric products to provide all-day comfort-cooling,
soft, with no bagging and sagging, while also giving the end
Leveraging the Lycra Dual Comfort technology, Dual Cool by Siddiqsons is being launched exclusively at the Kingpins outstanding stretch with cooling comfort with variety of fresh new are inspired by the autumnal foliage of New England and carry
The Lycra Dual Comfort technology combines the Lycra T400 along with a process that provides high mechanical stretch, low growth, long-lasting durability and moisture management in the
and enables the company to reduce its need for
The denim manufacturer has teamed up with many likeminded innovation partners, such as Jeanologia, enabling it
establishing a wider range of power and comfort stretch denim in collaborating with Lycra, and teaming up with Archroma on its new Diresul RDT dyes to deliver modern,
from Archroma’s Diresul RDT dyes, which are pre-reduced liquid
dyes allow for better saving of water, energy and chemical waste, and showcase the subtle character that separates true denim from
On the garment side, Siddiqsons has continued its manufacturer is innovating on its conventional washing process, by incorporating bleach-free and stone-free washing, alongside going forward: being more transparent throughout the product life cycle and establishing a fully transparent system, starting from the
Dual Cool shades are inspired by the autumnal foliage of New England and carry deep tones, as well as beautiful indigo shades.
of its useful life, making it easier to recycle, “and we used 100-percent cotton threads and Tencel woven labels—the entire collection can disappear if you put it in the ground.”words _____KATE NISHIMURA
Denim’s impacts on the environment are well-documented. From water waste to chemical contamination, the process of creating the world’s most beloved and recognizable fabrication has been under scrutiny for years. Mills and manufacturers have taken on the challenge of revolutionizing the industry, developing water-free techniques, the infrastructure for H2O recycling, and advanced laser ﬁnishing technology. But some experts believe a powerful strategy for mitigating waste and ecological impact is being overlooked— and it’s one of the oldest in the book.
Pattern optimization may hold a crucial key to saving tons of textile waste from a landﬁll fate, according to London-based designer Mohsin Sajid, who founded denim consultancy and label Endrime alongside wife Sadia Raﬁque. Sajid has teamed with Cone Denim on the Nothing Goes to Waste collection—a nine-piece concept line of garments cut to produce little-to-no fabric scraps. “For me the idea was to educate our denim industry and try make more designers think differently about waste,” he said. Most zero-waste designs he encounters are “interesting for sure, but quite hippie-like—strange shapes, weird pockets, in some cases naïve, basic constructions.” Such creations are not “commercial or realistic” for the mass market, Sajid believes. With
the Cone collaboration, he sought to create approachable, wearable designs that could be easily replicated by brands.
The concept of zero-waste design dates back hundreds of years, he said, pointing to Japanese kimonos, which can be cut from a single piece of rectangular fabric with no scraps left over. “Even Levi’s has a zero-waste shirt dating from 1880 in their archive,” Sajid said. “I wanted to do a ground-breaking, future-thinking project and inspire a generation.” Sajid reached out to Cone with the idea to develop a collection using the most eco-friendly fabrications.
“Within the collection, we have fabrics that use 100 percent recycled ﬁber; another fabric utilizes our dye waste,” said Pierette Scavuzzo, the mill’s design director. Sludge generated during Cone’s dyeing process is collected and sent to a Mexican yarnmaker, which can convert the waste into a fully functional, deepblue ﬁber. “It eliminates the need for another dye run,” she explained. Using upcycled inputs comes with its own challenges. “The fabric has to be of high quality and can't fall apart” despite the shortened ﬁbers being taken up and respun from production waste. The denim line also contains Tencel, hemp and organic cotton, processed using Jeanologia’s water-saving wash technology. Sajid said screw-off buttons can be removed when a garment reaches the end
The denim expert documented his patternmaking process for unisex jacket styles, shirts and pant variations, with the intention of sharing the information with other designers interested in developing their own waste-free garments. “Most of the patterns I made have hardly any waste,” he said, noting that he “had to cut certain patterns in different directions and use the selvedge in many clever ways” to achieve his goal. Remnants were used to create patches, while dart manipulation helped to create better shapes and ﬁt.
“Having worked for a number of companies big and small, this zero-waste mindset can be adopted,” Sajid opined, if companies are willing to invest in the talent to create the designs. “Education is the key,” he added. There’s a story to be told at retail, too. “Waste is a design ﬂaw,” Sajid said. While zero-waste designs might have some unorthodox features—“the ﬁt might be little wider, or there might be an extra dart or seam”—Sajid believes these subtle quirks can become a part of a garment’s charm.
Scavuzzo said that the project was initially conceived to “show brands you can design these patterns that look great, that aren’t boxy or funky looking, but commercial.” The next phase of the partnership will challenge Cone and Endrime to innovate further. “It’s something we plan to evolve, not something we wanted to do for marketing purposes,” she added.
According to the design director, Nothing Goes to Waste saw a warm reception at its debut in April at Kingpins Amsterdam’s trade show from large fashion ﬁrms and independent designers alike. “If you’re someone who’s very passionate about technical design, you’re going to gravitate to this,” she added. Sajid created a look book that illustrates his process and patterns, which can be requested by interested parties. “It’s an educational tool that we’re not holding for ourselves,” Scavuzzo said. “There’s deﬁnitely the interest and the appetite is there.”
The denim industry’s solution for producing less waste begins on the pattern cutting board.
Asked whether she believes zero-waste design using sustainable fabrications is a scalable prospect for the denim sector, Scavuzzo said, “The economics behind fabrics like this are the challenge at the moment, because they do come at a higher premium.”
As the industry at large begins to adopt more eco-friendly materials, from organic cotton to Tencel, hemp and recycled formulations, opportunities for scalability will improve across the board, she believes. “It takes partners to do that,” she added, including commitments from larger players to support growth.
Nauman Ahmad, head of product development for Indigo Textile, said that a zero-waste pattern strategy could bolster the adoption sustainable fabrications. Interest in new materials and technologies from companies like Indigo has accelerated in recent years, but brands still feel a sense of sticker shock, he admitted. “Everybody has been stressing on the sustainability part when it comes to fabrics—they’re asking for transparency and all of the data linked with it… but nobody is willing to pay the price.” Using more expensive fabrics becomes more palatable if brands know they’re getting the bang for their buck, and no scrap will be left behind.
Indigo teamed with Brooklyn’s Decode design studio and its founder, Danielle Elsener, on a collection that illuminates the possibilities for zero-waste design. Decode, which specializes in zero-waste garment pattern engineering, strives to use every inch of available fabric in its designs. Elsener developed a chore coat, wide-leg jeans and children’s jeans that provide up to 27 percent fabric savings compared with conventional patterns.
The “Indicode” capsule utilizes Indigo’s most sustainable fabrications, Ahmad said. “We selected fabrics for this collaboration that use ﬁbers such as hemp, Reﬁbra, biodegradable polyester, biodegradable elastane, and 100-percent recycled cotton,” he added, along with a proprietary hollow ﬁber made from cotton that mimics the functionality of a synthetic. Fabrics are dyed using the company’s
low-impact Orbit technique, which ensures that indigo is only deposited within the circumference of the yarn, avoiding dye loss at the core.
Eco-Dry ﬁnishing leverages ozone instead of chemicals for ﬁnishing, reducing water and energy use by up to 60 percent.
Of zero-waste pattern development, Ahmad said, “It’s not a new idea—it’s been around for many, many centuries.” Making fabric used to be a very costly, very labor-intensive process, and product developers were naturally inclined to make use of their precious fabric resources. “The concept of waste came after the Industrial Revolution, and it was normalized because efﬁciency was so high,” he said. The ability to churn out material at an unprecedented pace led to changes in design processes. Today, Ahmad said it’s estimated that between 15 and 25 percent of global fabric waste results from scraps on the cutting room ﬂoor.
“We don’t even realize how many small fabric scraps are being produced all over the world by factories and mills,” he added. “Sometimes they’re thrown away, buried in the ground or burned, but it’s all creating waste.”
According to Ahmad, the industry should reexamine old pattern-making techniques in its pursuit of a path forward. “We need to look to the past but do it in a modern way.”
“Zero-waste design not only saves resources, it saves a signiﬁcant amount of money,” Elsener added, calling the industry’s lack of attention to pattern optimization “bafﬂing.”
“My only conclusion is that it’s quite a learning curve for brands or designers to start from scratch,” she said, as it takes signiﬁcantly more effort and planning to execute zero-waste projects. “It’s basically designing backwards and allowing multiple roles to be completed by one person: pattern making, grading, sourcing, designing… It can be difﬁcult for a company that is not used to working in this manner.”
Echoing her peers, Elsener believes that misconceptions about zero-waste design are also hindering its progress. “Most think that we’re talking about oversized, neutral, boxy garments” that lack mainstream appeal. “I have
“Waste is a design f law…”MOHSIN SAJID, ENDRIME
taken it on as my personal mission to make zero-waste garments as close to ‘standard’ as possible,” she added. While the design process is indeed more nuanced, Elsener insisted that “there are no limitations” when it comes to making zero-waste clothing, “only a set of rules or non-negotiables that you set for yourself at the beginning of the process.”
“If you want to design an ultra-ﬁtted gown, for example, you know that the curves of a body will be your starting point for a design,” she explained. “If you want a classically tailored jacket, you start with the key details and understand what you are willing to adjust and what you aren't.”
Elsener has worked in the zero-waste ﬁeld for more than a decade and has long been fascinated with denim as a material. She studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design and received a Kaihara Denim sponsorship while studying for her Master of Arts degree at the Royal College of Art in London. “Denim is something ethereal, long-lasting, and beautiful, with a root in history,” she said. “These are all things that appeal to my design sensibilities,” she added, and working with Indigo was a natural ﬁt. “They gave me the fabrics they wanted to explore, we discussed the general silhouettes, and I went to town.”
“I love the concept of design with speciﬁc purpose, within speciﬁc boundaries—but using those boundaries to your advantage,” she said. “The patternmaking aspect of Zero Waste Design is what made me fall in love with the ﬂedgling ﬁeld, but as I began working in the industry and growing through my career I found that more was needed to get this concept across.”
Elsener has been heartened by the industry’s response to Indicode, and the growing engagement in her web course, ZeroWaste Design Online, which helps designers tackle the basics. “Over that time, I've seen the conversation shift from passive interest to enthusiasm,” she said. “Now that more individuals and brands are looking to work in this way, whether it's via the bottom dollar, resource saving, or consumer interest, more and more are looking to zero-waste design.”Decode Studio
‘Denim Then and Now’ Collections Prosperity
FIRST- HALF FRENZY
U.S. Jeans Imports Reach $2 Billion, but Will the Boom Last?words _____ARTHUR FRIEDMAN
U.S. brands and retailers imported 42.63 percent more denim apparel for a value of $2.05 billion in the ﬁrst half of the year, according to the Commerce Department’s Ofﬁce of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).
While merchants and vendors were meeting demand as the jeans category jumped, executives and economists warned that the consumer purchasing boom could stall in the second half.
Kontoor Brands, owner of Wrangler and Lee, reported revenue for the second quarter ended July 2 increased 25 percent to $613.57 million reﬂecting the strength of the U.S. market for jeans and other denim apparel, as well. Scott Baxter, chair and CEO of Kontoor Brands, said on a conference call with analysts that the Wrangler and Lee brands increased 19 percent and 14 percent, respectively, in the ﬁrst half of this year compared to prepandemic 2019 levels.
“In our largest market, both brands have driven signiﬁcant share gains in the core men’s denim casual bottoms business over ﬁrst half , with Wrangler up 80 points and Lee up 60 points,” Baxter said. “Turning to our channel diversiﬁcation, with the focus on digital, our
ﬁrst half 2022 global owned.com increased 111 percent and our U.S. owned.com increased 140 percent compared to 2019.”
But the upbeat environment might not last long, noted Kontoor chief ﬁnancial ofﬁcer Rustin Welton. “Our updated outlook now assumes second-half global revenue to be relatively ﬂat compared to 2021 driven by two primary factors,” Welton said. “First, we anticipate open-to-buy dollars to be somewhat restricted as actions to rebalance retailer inventory levels are implemented. We expect these issues will weigh on our top line more than originally anticipated, with the third quarter more pressured than the fourth quarter.”
In addition, he said given the ongoing Covid restrictions and lockdowns, the company believes China will remain a challenging market.
Levi Strauss & Co. reported net revenues for the second quarter ended May 29 rose 15 percent to $1.5 billion compared to the same period in 2021, driven by growth across all business segments. Harmit Singh, chief ﬁnancial ofﬁcer, said this came even though “the operating environment remains dynamic.
“The diversity of our business is providing the resilience and ﬂexibility needed to drive
increase in U.S. denim apparel imports in the first half of the year
solid ﬁnancial results in ﬁscal year 2022,” Singh said.
“I think 2021 was a bit of an anomaly,” PRPS president Matt Atkinson said during a panel moderated by Rivet at Project Las Vegas. The rush to refresh work wardrobes and dress up again for social occasions drove consumers to versatile yet polished bottoms. “While it may slow, I feel like it [can be] maintained as long as you’re giving [consumers] something to buy that is new and relevant,” he said.
Julia Hughes, president of the United States Fashion Industry Association, said the main thing ﬁrst-half data shows is “how denim is really hot right now,” and not just bottoms, but a couple of the other denim categories, as well.
OTEXA data showed the ﬁrst-half ﬂood of merchandise came from all major suppliers.
Imports from top producer Bangladesh soared 57.06 percent to $445.51 million in the period compared to the ﬁrst half of 2021, while No. 2 maker Mexico’s shipments reaching U.S. ports of entry rose 26.46 percent to $362.02 million.
No. 3 supplier Pakistan’s imports into the U.S. jumped 60.8 percent year over year in six months to $242.77 million. It was joined by its Asian manufacturing neighbors in the surge,
including Vietnam’s 44.57 percent increase to $217.98 million, China’s 26.42 percent gain to $188.25 million, Cambodia’s 45 percent rise to $101.92 million and Sri Lanka’s 14.82 percent hike to $33.98 million.
Robert Antoshak, a consultant for the U.S.-based Vidalia Mills and a partner in North America for Gherzi, a strategic development and consulting company for the textile industry, said sourcing is clearly shifting out of China, with part of it going elsewhere in Asia and some coming back to the Western Hemisphere.
“It’s not like a ﬂood, but it’s a steady march,” Antoshak said. “Some of it is Chinese companies relocating production…and building new infrastructure.” He said part of the move is attributable to the forced labor issue with Xingjiang cotton and partly caused by tariffs that have raised costs.
“Bangladesh is super strong right now,” Hughes said. “I also think the strength of Pakistan is interesting so kind of the South Asia strength, especially in women’s where China was always super strong, but of course, their share is declining.”
Rounding out the Top 10 were Egypt, with a 120.38 percent increase to $119.96 million;
Nicaragua’s 35.27 percent increase to $73 million and Turkey’s 40.38 percent gain to $40.18 million.
Blue denim apparel imports from the Western Hemisphere rose 31.05 percent in the ﬁrst half to $475.16 million. Of that, shipments from Central American Free Trade Agreement countries were up 40.37 percent to $87.23 million. In addition to Mexico and Nicaragua, imports were strong from Colombia and Guatemala.
Hughes noted that Mexico has been powerful in men’s bottoms, not in those other categories, “which seems like an opportunity for Mexican denim producers.”
“Part of the answer for the Western Hemisphere is product diversiﬁcation,” Antoshak said. Another advantage, he added, is that most if not all the denim apparel made in Central and Western Hemisphere is U.S. cotton, which cuts down brands’ risk factor.
As for bringing some jeans manufacturing back the U.S., Antoshak said Vidalia and Mount Vernon Mills are among the few doing it right now and some pilot projects are going on. “I do believe there will be more denim produced in the U.S. soon,” he added.
ICONIC UNIQUE TRUE
TRUE RELIGION, 20 YEARS LOOKS GOOD ON YOU. CONGRATULATIONS ON THIS MILESTONE. APTOS IS A PROUD RETAIL TECHNOLOGY PARTNER FOR TRUE RELIGION.
True Religion was founded in 2002 and rapidly became a fashion powerhouse thanks to its heavily embroidered jeans. While the brand has had its ups and downs, it has repositioned itself and is back on the growth path, proof its logo of a smiling Buddha strumming a guitar is as popular as ever.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
When Michael Buckley returned to True Religion in 2019, he saw a business that had stagnated, needed a di erent audience and proceeded to implement sweeping changes.words _____DAVID MOIN
Michael Buckley, chief executive ofﬁcer of True Religion, is on his second tour of duty at the denimbased brand and knows better than anyone its history of highs and lows.
Founded in 2002, the company became a global fashion powerhouse for its heavily embroidered jeans, signature stitching and emblem of a smiling Buddha strumming a guitar. The company eventually went public, turned private, survived two bankruptcies less than three years apart and has undergone sweeping changes in management, sourcing and pricing, a downsizing of the store ﬂeet, and a broadening of the offering and customer base.
True Religon also changed ownership through its bankruptcies, exiting the second in October 2020 through a debt for equity settlement with lenders, including Farmstead Capital Management and Crystal Financial, receiving 88 percent of the equity. The current ownership is believed to have since changed, though the company declines to spell it out.
Now the company is positioned far differently from its launch 20 years ago, and according to CEO Buckley, it's in a better place, casting a wider net.
“We’ve been around for 20 years. That's not 120 years, but in the apparel business, it's a pretty long period of time,” Buckley said.
“I’ve seen a lot of brands come and go over my 35-year career. They weren't properly managed. True Religion has always meant status to people. Even for the lower-income consumer wearing True Religion today, at $59, $69 or $99, it's still status. It's not $159 or $199 like it used to be but it's still status for this consumer.” At one time, True Religion sold jeans priced as high as $465.
Buckley rejoined True Religion in November 2019 as CEO after serving as CEO of Differential Brands Group (renamed Centric Brands) and earlier serving as True Religion’s president from 2006 to 2010. He leads a team of 120 workers at the True Religion corporate ofﬁces in New York, Los Angeles and London, plus an additional 250 to 300 workers at stores and the warehouse.
Rather than a denim expert, merchant or fashion executive, Buckley considers himself “a business person,” adding, “I come in and strategize to take this business from X to X times three. I've always been an investor in
businesses over the last 20 years, but I think I am a merchant operator. We have to have the right design people to get it done and it's about making sure we are relevant in every classiﬁcation, with our own point of view. But I am a strong operator and I think I've demonstrated that over different positions in my career.”
In the following Q&A, Buckley discusses how the brand has changed, what makes it distinctive and what's in the works to grow the business. The lesson learned here is that the key to longevity in the fashion business is to evolve, as demographics, lifestyles and the competitive landscape change. That's true even with denim, a mainstay in casual wardrobing that never runs out of style.
With True Religion's brand positioning, talk about the before and after.
Michael Buckley: The brand has obviously changed over the years. I was here from 2006 to 2010, the heyday of the brand. We took it from $100 million to $350 million plus. We opened 100 retail stores. I ran this when it was absolutely a different brand. We were going after a $200,000 average household income customer, paying $250 to some $300 for a pair of jeans. It was a different time for the brand.
When I came back here, I saw how the brand changed dramatically. I really knew that the brand still had just tremendous cache with the audience. But you have to know your customer and the customer evolved here, call it from [Nov. 12, 2010] to present. I saw that, and unfortunately other people at the helm did not see that. The strategy needed to change. The sourcing needed to change. The retail footprint needed to change. The wholesale business needed to change. Nothing changed. They just kept doing the same thing over and over again.
I knew the audience was very different from what we had years ago. So we built a product we knew this customer wanted. We changed our supply chain. We focused on building the e-commerce business. We continued to ﬁne tune the retail store footprint, and continued to rebuild the wholesale business.
The brand has evolved. It's not the Neiman's or Saks customer of years ago. It's men and women, ages 15 to 60, African American, Latino, Asian, white—all races. It's a much bigger audience. Based on research we've done, it's lower incomes today, with an average household income of about $65,000. Quite honestly, that's the American average. But it's 150 million strong in that demographic.
How many consumers are buying True Religion?
MB: We have 4 million-plus in our database, which is much larger than it's ever been. It's grown every year. This year we will sell somewhere between 8 million and 9 million garments. That's triple what it was when I was here in 2010. Clearly, there are more consumers that are able to access the brand today, based on the price point we sell goods at and the fact that half of my business is jeans, the other half is T-shirts, hoodies, joggers, baseball caps, woven shirts.
When dropping prices, did the quality diminish as well?
MB: No. It was just a matter of working with new suppliers and making the fabric feel like the fabric we used years ago and being able to mass produce it at a cost that fits into our structure.
Would you want at least part of the business conducted with the luxury retailers again?
MB: We do some halo product, and we would love to go back to Neiman's and Saks. It is something that is on our radar. We did the collaboration with Supreme last year, which really helped elevate the stature [of True Religion]. We have other collaborations coming up. We've done a number of collaborations with artists like Blu Boy, rapper Chief Keef [who did an anniversary line for True Religion]. Those
things are very important for us. They resonate well with this consumer.
Who do you consider the competition nowadays?
MB: We compete with Levi's, Guess, the Fashion Novas. We are better [priced]. We don't consider our competition the “premium” denim brands like Seven For All Mankind, AG Jeans, Joe's Jeans. We have a different consumer completely. We know our customer buys Nike and other logo-driven brands and we feel good about that because there is a much bigger audience that the brand caters to today and we also know that with lower incomes they want to buy a brand at a price point where we have been able to engineer the product to. We still work under very good, proﬁtable margins. Our denim MSRPs are $149 and the out-the-door retail is $59 to $99 on most jeans. That's probably 90 percent of our jeans business and the super T, that very big stitch jean that we're famous for, sells mainly for $120 to $150, which is still expensive but that's only 10 percent of our jeans business.
You have mentioned the company is striving to reach $500 million in sales, doubling the current $250 million. What's the time frame, and how will you grow the business?
MB: It's a three- to ﬁve-year time frame. The real growth is going to come from number one, e-commerce. Then number two is wholesale, and number three would be from stores. We'll get growth out of all of them. For our e-commerce, call it circa $100 million in sales [currently], in March we brought in a new leader for that business: Scott McCabe. He brought Columbia from $100 million-plus to over $400 million. We have a team where we continue to add talent and that ﬁrmly believes e-commerce could be a $300 million business in the next three or four years. We are going to grow our wholesale business as well. We are in 4,000 doors globally today on the wholesale side. We have 48 True Religion stores today. We are looking to maintain those and potentially add some.
What other plans for growth are there?
MB: We focus, day in and day out, on making sure we have the right product that's relevant for what's happening in the world today. As the economy reopened, we have been shifting. We have a pretty large collection, but more of the sales are coming out of categories like polos and wovens—things that you can wear to work that can also be worn when you go out to dinner. Jeans are much more accepted for going to work. Maybe not those with tons of tears on them. Just cleaner denim, black denim.
CONCEPT ONE ACCESSORIES IS PROUD TO CELEBRATE THE BRAND’S ANNIVERSARY AND LOOK FORWARD TO FUTURE SUCCESSES
The reality is the world opened back up, people need fewer joggers, and jeans have come back strong, not just for us, overall. In terms of growth by channel, we have growth strategies for each of our channels. With e-comm, what are we going to do to [capture] more eyeballs, improve conversion and to keep driving that business season after season?
How is the proﬁtability of the company?
MB: We are extremely proﬁtable. The business makes like close to 30 percent EBITDA margins. That is best-in-class among the numbers we have seen. When I ran it as a public company a number of years ago, we had similar profitability. I think we were the number-one most profitable traded company two years in a row, with those type of profit margins.
How do margins on denim stack up to the other categories?
MB: We are pretty strong on all our categories. There is nothing that is particularly higher or lower. We run the business with a certain go-in margin structure and overall, if you look at our margins on T-shirts versus hoodies, joggers or jeans, they are all pretty similar.
What are you selling best right now?
MB: Denim. Eighty percent of my bestsellers are bottoms. They are jeans and shorts.
How much has inﬂation affected your prices?
MB: We've done a good job on the sourcing side, in terms of keeping our product costs down. There is a little bit of product cost increase, like 25 to 50 cents over last year based on freight. Now container costs are back down to like $6,000 out of China. We are seeing things get back to where they were in terms of product costs. And there's been a little bit of cotton increases, but that's moved back down. We increased prices a little bit on certain things where we felt we had more in the make and perceived value, but overall nowhere near the 9 percent inﬂation that's been reported.
Have there been dramatic sourcing changes?
MB: We changed sourcing dramatically in 2020 when I ﬁrst got back here. We are constantly looking at it. There are opportunities to continue to work with suppliers and bring costs down. In terms of domestic sourcing, we do some fast chase, so we might ﬁnd some styles that are in trend and feel we need to have a version of that. That might be 5 percent of the business. But there is no strategy to make jeans here. We do small runs to test product on the website. If it works, then we could really start to produce in bigger quantities but it would be outside the U.S.
Is denim a constant seller, or is it cyclical?
MB: It's more of a constant. We sold more joggers because of Covid-19 and because of the lockdown, but at the end of the day, denim is a constant. That's the beauty of having a business like denim where the vast majority of what we sell are core styles that we sell season after season. We may change some washes and some thread colors. We'll tweak a silhouette. If the boot cut starts to become big, we'll show more boot cut versus skinny. It changes in terms of silhouettes, but overall people always wear jeans.
Do denim businesses come and go at a rate like the rest of fashion?
MB: No. I would have to say I love the business we are in because it's not seasonal. The vast majority of our business is jeans and Ts. There is no seasonality to that. I sell it all year long, which is a great place to be. If you are heavily into fashion, you could be in trouble. Our inventory doesn't age. We selling some of the same styles for literally 15 or 17 years. The ﬁts change a little, so you tweak that. The jeans or the jeans/casual business doesn't have the fashion risk that a lot of other real fashion-type brands have. Look at Levi's. It's been in business about 170 years. (Levi Strauss & Co. began in 1853.)
Are there many categories the company could get into going forward?
MB: We are selective about what we do. It has to be the right thing. We are not going to license out outerwear or any apparel category, where we have very strong competency. But accessories, home and other categories, we would. We are not in home. We are looking into it.
We have eight or 10 categories under license. We go to someone like Capelli to do the accessories. They design the product, we approve it, and they ship it to our distribution channel. On the wholesale side, we buy it for our own d-to-c. We don't want to be in the eyewear business, or the footwear business or in accessories, underwear or socks by ourselves. We'd rather worked with experts in those areas and let them sell the products to our d-to-c as well as selling mainly to the wholesale channels.
In July, you hired Sandip Grewal as chief ﬁnancial/chief operating ofﬁcer, a new role. Did you not have people in those positions before?
MB: We didn't have a chief operating officer role. Since I am a strong operator, I had some of those functions reporting into me. At the end of the day, we want to continue to grow this business, and by having somebody who takes some of those responsibilities off my plate, I could focus more on the merchant side, building product and other areas of growth for the business, and help us get to
the next level. Sandip has obviously grown a number of different businesses. He has been involved in tough retail times, as we are in today and as we were in 2008. He's also done acquisitions. He has worked with financial sponsors, and we are owned by a financial sponsor. He's the sort of person I needed to help us on that side of the business to get to the next level. It's a fresh set of eyeballs. He's got 30-plus years of experience.
Any chance of an acquisition?
MB: In my past life I ran a platform, Differential Brands, before we acquired Global Brands Group. As long as True Religion is running on all cylinders and our investors have an appetite to potentially buy something, it makes sense where we could help add value and grow that business. But there is no focus today to do acquisitions. As we continue to execute our True Religion growth plans, we might consider that as an option.
What denim brands do you admire most?
MB: Diesel invented the $100 jeans market in this country. It was phenomenal how they did and it taught me to have a lot of respect for Diesel. They have had their challenges over the years. But Levi's is the king. Lee and Wrangler at a lower price point do a good job at the mass level and G-Star has done a great job globally, though it might not be as big in America, but globally it's a very large business. G-Star has had some very good innovation in terms of their washes and fits. Fashion Nova makes everything. They make jeans. They make every category. They have done an amazing job in terms of fast fashion.
What's your view on how retail is performing and the economy?
MB: The economy is tough. A lot of big-box guys are slowing down more so than others. The lower income consumer is more pinched by inflation on food and rents, which has not been offset by enough increases in wages. On the luxury side, the rich are still rich but they are 20 to 30 percent less rich if they've been investing in equities or quite honestly, any type of investment. Everything has got hit and will probably continue to get hit for a little bit. So the rich are just less rich. If they'll have to buy fewer Chanel handbags, we'll find out. People are just being cautious.
What is the origin of the name True Religion?
MB: It comes from the founder of the business, Jeff Lubell, and his philosophy that the only commonalty that everyone has in this world is that everyone wears jeans. It's the only “true religion.” It's the belief in denim.
TRUTH OR DARE
From a Supreme the Y2K revival, is marking its by being asphotographed by styled by ALEX
HOLDING THE REINS ON RETAIL STORE GROWTHwords _____DAVID MOIN
As True Religion invests ﬁrst in building its e-commerce business and secondly, the wholesale distribution, there's still room in the budget for brick-and-mortar.
“We are not going to roll out stores like we used to. It's a different world today,” said Michael Buckley, True Religion's chief executive ofﬁcer, when asked about the future for the brand's store ﬂeet.
“We think that for the demographic of our customer today, we know exactly what's the right footprint. If we could ﬁnd the right location, the right demographic, the right economic deal, the right store size with the right adjacencies, we would roll out more stores. It wouldn't be dozens per year, but it could be ﬁve or 10 stores a year.
“Some of our stores are in places you wouldn't expect, but we happen to have our demographic there and we are very selectively looking for other locations where we absolutely feel we have the right demographic,” Buckley added.
Also factoring into decisions on opening new stores is what's in the vicinity. What brands and what types of stores are adjacent to or nearby a site under consideration is a crucial factor in deciding to take the site.
“Is there a Guess there? Is there a Levi's there? Is there a Nike there? How are they performing there? If we get the right economic deals with landlords, which I think is a little more in our favor now than it was a few years ago, I think we will continue to roll out stores,”
said Buckley. “But the real growth is going to come from number one, e-commerce, and number two, wholesale. And number three would be from stores. It's about getting growth out of all of them”
At one time, True Religion operated over 130 doors. Yet three years ago a dramatic streamlining began that was hastened during the pandemic.
“Brick-and-mortar is important to all retailers, but at the end of the day, consumers pick and choose how they want to interact with brands,” said Paige Havens, vice president of retail for True Religion. “Our brand is no different. Consumers could start online, and end up shopping in the store. Or some want to start by touching and feeling the product. There is a new generation that likes that experiential component and wants to become part of the community and the brand”
True Religion, said Havens, is “definitely diversifying its distribution model. Today we have just under 50 stores. There's been a tightening of the store fleet. Like most retailers, we've looked at how and where our stores are positioned, and have been making sure the stores are profitable, in the right locations, where customers are shopping and where they live”
Brick-and-mortar, she said, accounts for about 30 percent of True Religion's overall volume.
“We will selectively look at store openings over the next three or four years. Any new locations must be where our customers live, where the economics make sense, and the stores need to be the right size,” Havens said, reiterating her CEO's message. True Religion stores average around 2,300 square feet. “That is the right size for our consumer today,” said Havens.
“The customer journey is evolving. You need to stay nimble and also align with other channels,” said Havens.
After a dramatic streamlining of its store ﬂeet, True Religion is looking to add brick-and-mortar locations and being very selective about it.
Asked what distinguishes the True Religion stores, she said, “There is the Buddha, the True Religion logo, but it's really about the product today. True Religion is a great place to ﬁnd denim, T-shirts and hoodies”
The stores, she said, are “actually doing really well. The customers are emerging and changing their preferences for how they like to shop. We have a really loyal customer.” She said the stores perform well in regional malls and outlet centers.
There will always be a place for stores, Havens suggested. “We are social creatures. We love to interact with people. Nothing beats a friendly face in the store and being able to touch and feel the product,” though adding the right technologies to further the experience is critical, she stressed.
Like Buckley, Havens has had two stints at the company, for four years starting in 2006 and a return to the business two and a half years ago.
“When I joined True Religion it was in its infancy. But you know brands are living entities. There are different chapters in their lives. Now it's like True Religion is coming back. The most exciting thing is that the customer face has changed. We have an incredibly diverse clientele. We are reaching more households. We are talking to multiple generations—a much broader audience. We are at the price point today where a lot more people can afford the brand, though they still see us as a premium brand.
“When I am in stores, I could be working with customers, and it might be a father who has shopped True Religion before and now his son is experiencing the brand for the first time,” said Havens. “Today with retail, it's just really important to listen internally to your team and externally to customers, to make sure the brand is resonating”
“We are at the price point today where a lot more people can a ord the brand, though they still see us as a premium brand.”
Happy 20th anniversary, True Religion
We’re proud to celebrate the brand rooted in premium denim with signature stitching.Paul Rosengard
THE (NOT SO) HIDDEN BENEFITS OF WHOLESALEwords _____VICKI M. YOUNG
Wholesale isn’t just any old distribution channel for True Religion—it’s also a costeffective way to attract new customers. “What many industry people are now realizing is that wholesale can be the most cost-effective way to acquire new customers. If one has the right retail partners, as we do with stores like Macy’s Dillard’s, DTLR and Urban Outﬁtters, they can expand your brand’s presence, drive relevant foot trafﬁc, and introduce new customers to our brand,” said Paul Rosengard, True Religion executive vice president, head of wholesale and global licensing
The key is to pick retail partners with an expansive reach to the right demographics. “Our core partners provide this critical balance of broad breadth and targeted depth,” he said. “Even more important than the right reach is to have retail partners who work with us to manage our brand environment in a way that is consistent with our brand’s identity”
Within wholesale, there are three subchannels. Two are in full price retail, such as the traditional better department stores and the specialty stores. The third is the off-price channel. “The reach of Macy's will be much broader, like Dillard’s, while stores like Urban Outﬁtters and DTLR can drill into a speciﬁc segment in a much deeper level,” he said.
The full price wholesale accounts represent the True Religion brand across all major classiﬁcations, and the four major ones that represent the lion’s share of the True Religion business are T-shirts, denim, hoodies and joggers. Other growing segments include headwear and outerwear.
All three sub-channels are important to the brand’s success, however. “I often view our wholesale business, particularly our full-price segment, as the goose that lays the golden eggs. Our brand presence in better department and specialty stores validates our brand and, therefore, helps to support our e-commerce [operation] and off-price business,” Rosengard said.
He has good reason for keeping tabs on the full-price sector: “If you don't have a strong fullprice business over the long run, your brand will spiral downward”
Currently, global wholesale, including licensed product sales, is about half of True Religion's total business. Rosengard is still looking to grow wholesale but emphasized that it will be slow and steady that wins the race.
“I’d rather roll from 40 to 60 to 80 to 100 stores over a couple seasons, then go from 40 to 150 in one season, and then have to slide back to get to 100,” he said. “I want to avoid the wide pendulum swings.
LOCALIZATION HELPS TRUE RELIGION GROW ITS INTERNATIONAL PRESENCEwords _____VICKI M. YOUNG
True Religion is growing its international business one step at a time. Although the brand aims to venture beyond its home market in the U.S., it would rather take the small and steady route.
Going slowly allows True Religion to focus on the uniqueness of each market. “Localization is something I believe in. Sometimes, American brands think their way fits every single market,” said Matt Clayton, True Religion, VP international.
That American way of thinking wouldn’t work overseas where 80 percent of the market is focused on full-price sales versus the U.S., where sales are driven by an off-price mindset, he said. Moreover, each country has its own unique customer demographic and fashion preferences, not to mention the need for specific fits across Asia.
According to Clayton, India has a slightly more mature customer, where 60 percent of sales are led by denim purchases. In contrast, the U.K. is considered a young market and that means a pair of jeans will more likely be combined with a T-Shirt and sneakers. Sales in the U.K. are one-third denim, one-third active and one-third tees. “In contrast, the German market is very much women’s wear focused with a more mature customer,” he said.
The brand has a strong retail footprint in the U.K., South Korea, India, Germany, Indonesia, Mexico and the Middle East. Some are monobrand stores operated by partners, and others are multibranded shops. In the U.K., the brand is sold in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges as wholesale accounts. True Religion also partnered with Urban Outﬁtters to sell the brand both in the specialty chain’s l ocations and at the retailer's online sites in the U.S. and abroad.
“South Korea has a blend of shops and online, where TV shopping is a crazy, huge business. We respect the nuances of each market,” Clayton said. “The Middle East is a blend of store and the wholesale customer. We will open two monobrand stores in Dubai this year. Once Dubai comes onboard, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi are possibilities. There is the potential for a rollout in the Middle East, for sure.” Marc Alec operates as the sole distributor for the Middle East.
Sometime between the end of this year and early in 2023, Clayton expects to add Japan, Australia, Thailand and Italy to the brand’s international roster. Scandinavia is also a possibility, and an announcement that True Religion will enter the China market could come in early fall. But a key element with the stores is that True Religion is not interested in
opening its own company-operated locations. That means Clayton’s job is largely centered on ﬁnding the right operating partner.
As for who would make for a harmonious ﬁt, Clayton said that would be a “partner that believes in the brand, someone that understand us and also the nuances of its [core] market.” Finding the right partner serves as the basis for determining which markets to open in ﬁrst.
Clayton prefers a partner that can build a “fantastic business,” even if it’s for a smaller region, so long as the operator gets the True Religion ethos. What he wants is a mutual respect where he knows the DNA of the brand will be adhered to, a key priority before inking any partnership deal. And so long as the brand partner respects the True Religion DNA, he's willing to return the favor when needed.
Clayton noted True Religion's partnership with Aishti, a Lebanese ﬁrm that operates two True Religion branded stores in Beirut. “Aishti is really a strong business partner and a longstanding one. It runs some of the high luxury stores for brands such as Gucci, Fendi and Dior. The company supported us during the challenging moments we’ve had over the last six years, and we've done the same when it has had some macro issues,” he said, referring to Beirut's port explosion in August 2020 that spiraled the country into a severe economic crisis.
“We took the risk out of their commitments by offering ﬂexibility with inventory and also making sure they had product when they reopened,” Clayton said.
True Religion’s international sales have been doing well, even amid a global inﬂationary backdrop. “Our customer is still shopping us at full price,” Clayton said, noting the brand’s advantage in its positioning as the entry point to luxury fashion.
The brand is using Instagram to connect with both customers potential new partners. It’s also helping True Religion get the word out when there are collaborations. For Fall 2021, a Supreme x True Religion collaboration was sold exclusively at the streetwear brand’s stores and website. The offering featured the brand’s iconic horseshoe embroidery and its signature, chunky white stitching design known as the two-stitch.
Its latest collaboration was with London artist Soldier, taking the denim and lifestyle brand into skate culture. Proceeds from the eight-piece capsule featuring Soldier's camouﬂage prints beneﬁts War Child USA, a humanitarian group that helps children and families impacted by military conﬂict.
Clayton said collaborations will become a “bigger component” of the business going forward, with three planned for next year that he described as “super high end.” Information about these is still under wraps, but Clayton did say the capsules will be with brands at select retailers.
TRUE RELIGION DRIVES TOWARD $250M E - COMM GOAL: A TALE OF TWO GENERATIONSwords _____GLENN TAYLOR
With the aim to have a $250 million e-commerce business over the next four years, True Religion has made it clear that digital retail will be powering the brand throughout its third wind. Although it still operates 50 stores, digital is the way forward as the company seeks to bridge two generations of consumers, according to Scott McCabe, senior vice president, e-commerce at True Religion.
The denim stalwart is looking to go younger to complement the older millennial bracket that put the label on the map two decades ago. And in attracting that demo, True Religion has undergone a heavy push into mobile and social media, with the former now generating nearly 90 percent of website traffic.
“The True customer is very much a mobile customer,” McCabe said. “They are on their mobile device, whether through browsing or purchasing, and because of that, we're
focusing more of our digital marketing dollars into platforms where those customers are”
To capture both the older and younger generations, the brand accompanied its Facebook and YouTube presences with interactive social networks like Snapchat and TikTok, both of which are designed to engage creators.
McCabe has headed up the denim icon’s digital transformation efforts after taking on the role in March 2022 after four years at Columbia Sportswear, where e-commerce sales tripled during his tenure. Upon coming over to the denim brand, McCabe now has similar goals on his plate—namely tripling online revenues and achieving 50 percent e-commerce sales penetration at the label by 2025. E-commerce sales were approximately 37 percent of the True Religion business in 2021.
As consumer shopping habits evolved during the pandemic, it has become clear
to McCabe that customer data is the true catalyst to making any of these transformations possible.
“It’s all about the data that we have on our customer and being able to listen to our consumer about what their wants and needs are,” McCabe said. “There's always the observation of the consumer—what they say versus what they do, and what they want versus what they do. This meant that we had to put processes in place to evolve and grow with them and deliver the right products at the right time in the right place, and the way that they want it, whether it's in a store or if it's in the digital format”
In 2022, the brand has updated numerous areas within its tech stack, including migration to a new email service provider and SMS platform, both of which can help bolster the consumer engagement experience.
“We’re looking at segmentation for journeys as well as for a campaign,” McCabe said. “It’s getting the right customer who's going to buy the right product or buy the product that they want. It’s being able to talk to you about what you want to hear about versus the blast of ‘Here’s everything you need to know.’“
The company also leverages Salesforce Commerce Cloud to power its personalization and recommendation engines on the e-commerce site and is currently optimizing its site search engine.
As True Religion seeks younger consumers, the brand knows that these engines will be important in driving customer acquisition, McCabe said. This technology can help the denim sellers better answer questions like: “Where are we showing up in our paid channels for acquisition?” and “How do we get the right audience, and the right ad in front of them?“
“The customer changes and the technology changes as well,” McCabe said. “There are things that I can do at True Religion today, that weren’t available to me to do at other brands that I’ve helped grow, so it's always exciting to me”
“It’s all about the data that we have on our customer and being able to listen to our consumer about what their wants and needs are.”
True Religion is focused on growing a licensing portfolio.words _____VICKI M. YOUNG
True Religion is taking a holistic approach when it comes to its licensing program. The brand currently has eight licensees, representing 13 categories that range from men’s and women’s belts to small leather goods to sleepwear and loungewear to underwear, among other items. There’s also men’s, women’s, boys’ and girls’ footwear, fashion headwear, cold weather accessories and hosiery.
Much of the category expansion is fueled by customer shopping preferences. Consumers are now focusing on occasion wear, including items that they can wear to the ofﬁce. And with denim a more acceptable component of work wear these days, True Religion has shifted its assortment mix from primarily tees to include polo shirts and Henleys.
“If the customer doesn’t want it, it doesn’t matter if it complements the brand,” said Paul Rosengard, True Religion executive vice president, head of wholesale and global licensing. “It’s more about relevance than scale. We look for rational adjacencies. And our consumer insights research tells us that our consumers permit us to extend our brand into these adjacent categories.”
The company manufactures products that it believes it has expertise in, such as denim and T-shirts, but will seek out the experts for other areas. For Rosengard, good licensing partners are those that understand the brand, are experts in their category and can scale distribution at True Religion’s core department and specialty store channel.
“We prefer to do it ourselves because we want to control our destiny as much as we can,” he said. Men’s board shorts—a category customers have been asking for—is one example where the brand will tackle on its own, but it would never attempt ladies’ swimwear. “There are certain classiﬁcations that require an expert, and so we look to licensing when we need the expert to address that market,” he added.
While global licensing operates out of True Religion’s New York ofﬁce, Rosengard and his team also coordinate with the international team in London. The collaboration is so agreements that are ultimately signed can adjust for some ﬂexibility to include speciﬁc distribution rights unique to a local consumer group. These rights tend to involve limited product runs on select items, or can involve special sizing, that serve to maximize sales for the brand—a win-win for the distributor and for True Religion.
Looking ahead, Rosengard is considering soft home goods, such as decorative pillows featuring the brand's horseshoe logo, along with tech accessories, women’s swimwear and dresses—the latter based on feedback from retailers. He’s even considering pet accessories, noting that one prototype sent from a vendor was a jean jacket for dogs.
“True Religion is a youth culture lifestyle brand, rooted in denim. So, our products should work back to a pair of jeans,” Rosengard said.
Congratulations to True Religion on two decades of being a leader in the denim game!
We are proud to partner with such an iconic lifestyle brand.
Nostalgic energy and modern collaborations as well as color, novelty washes, whipstitching, sticking to the brand DNA while adapting have kept the brand going for two decades and retail buyers interested. Here, merchants from leading retail organizations who know a thing or two about denim discuss what makes True Religion distinct and why it's been around for two decades.
Susan Rinderknecht, men’s better denim buyer, Dillard’s
“The men’s piece [of True Religion] is much bigger than the women’s piece at Dillard’s. We’re in the South and our customers love color, even men. They’ve always done a really good job with color. I’ve been buying from them for ﬁve years, and we work really hard together to adapt the line to the customers in my region. I think that’s part of the reason it’s so successful. They’re very open to doing the right things for the guy that we’re selling in this market. From Day 1, I’ve been able to work with their merchandisers and designers to adapt things to do what’s right for us.
“I’ve been buying for 38 years. And so many brands forget who they are. They’ve stayed especially in the last two or three years extremely focused on who their customer is.
Merchants share their True Religion experiences.words _____LISA LOCKWOOD, JEAN E. PALMIERI, DAVID MOIN, ROSEMARY FEITELBERG
That’s the person we have to listen to every day.
“Dillard’s is different from most retailers because we’re very close to our stores and our customers. I buy differently for Mesquite, Texas, as I do for Oklahoma City or New Orleans. We really try to customize it in the region as to what that customer is looking for. Some markets like my border stores want the cleaner denim, but when they get to New Orleans, they want tricked up. So that’s why they’ve given me a broad assortment of product that I can tailor to each of those regions based on who the customer is.
As for how they stand out on the ﬂoor, she said it’s really the color. “Red, fuchsia, we do yellows, they [T-shirts] sell well. Sometimes they’ll be red stitching on the pocket. One of the jeans that we’re doing around their 20th anniversary is the horseshoe on the pocket and they used rainbow stitching. We’re relaunching that jean with the rainbow stitching pocket. It’s kind of their heritage when they started. Sometimes they’ll do the horseshoe in metallic, in gold or silver, or they’ll do red.”
As for what’s coming up, she said, “I think the rainbow jean will be really good. Their ﬂeece does extremely well in the fall... It may just be black zip hoodie with a matching pant with a gold embroidered horseshoe on the back or the leg. It always really sells.”
Molly Taylor, chief merchant, Saks O 5th
“True Religion is an authentic denim brand which has never veered from its true DNA. The True Religion customer values the novelty washes, whipstitching and unparalleled ﬁts. At Saks Off 5th, we continue to see strong demand for True Religion across categories.
“The resurgence of the bootcut silhouette is driving a recent uptick in the women’s business, with shoppers gravitating toward that ﬁt. Within men’s, True Religion’s denim and sportswear continue to resonate strongly with our customer, especially their horseshoe and Buddha logo Ts.
“We look forward to continuing our longstanding partnership with True Religion as it is a go-to, trusted brand for Saks Off 5th customers.”
Dalila Shannon, divisional merchandise manager, women’s brand collaborations, denim, Urban Outﬁtters
“I remember True Religion entering the market in the early 2000s, around the same time that big brands were starting to capitalize on the emerging American celebrity obsession. In my eyes True Religion always stood apart from the trendy brands of the ‘00s because of their attention to quality and construction, their unique and elevated stitching details, and their sexy silhouettes that embody the energy of youth. In a world increasingly fueled by trends, the longevity of True Religion denim in the zeitgeist is evidence that this this brand has fundamentally deﬁned what American denim is.”
Antonio Gray, vice president, divisional merchandise manager of apparel, DTLR
“When True Religion launched, they had the appeal of a quintessential premium American denim brand. Consumers loved their overt details, like signature whipstitching and pocket ﬂaps that exuded their version of the California lifestyle. True Religion seeks to channel that nostalgic energy through modern-day collaborations with tastemakers like Supreme, 2 Chainz, etc. Our best-selling styles continue to be denim with overt details and tops with similar True Religion design language.”
Collaborations and young creatives spark True Religion’s creative engines.words _____OBI ANYANWU
True Religion creative director Zihaad Wells is moving the denim brand forward through collaborations with celebrities and inﬂuencers who have deep ties with its heritage and young creatives who are reinterpreting the label in new ways.
Recently the brand has teamed with the likes of Atlanta artists Blu Boy and Elijah Popo, multimedia artist Jaffa Saba, and New York City-based designer Madeline Kraemer, who's behind the brand Gems by Madeline, and also heavy hitters like rappers 2 Chainz and Chief Keef and streetwear brand Supreme.
But the aim isn’t to do a collaboration collection every month, according to Wells, who assumed the creative director role in 2019.
“It has to make sense for us as a brand,” Wells explained. “There is a Y2K moment happening now and True Religion is prime for that trend and moment as a team and company. We’re very much focused on the next generation and the next 20 years.”
Wells joined True Religion in 2006 and was the ﬁrst designer the company hired. He saw and experienced ﬁrsthand how True Religion permeated youth culture and streetwear. In the middle of his 11year tenure, he worked with Russell Westbrook, who was named creative director and directed
the brand’s campaign and designed a collection; he saw rapper 2 Chainz loosely name his seventh mixtape “T.R.U. REALigion” after the brand in 2011, and a year later saw rapper Chief Keef in the
brand in the early part of the 2010s when his hit songs “Love Sosa” and “I Don’t Like” shook rap airwaves.
The two rappers collaborated with True Religion on collections in recent years. “We jumped at the opportunity,” Wells said about collaborating with 2 Chainz for the 10-year anniversary of his “T.R.U. REALigion” mixtape. “For us it made a lot of sense. He said, 'you guys need to work with Chief Keef' and we had a plan in place to work with him already.”
The True Religion x Chief Keef collaboration sold out within the day, according to Wells. The partners reworked the True Religion logo with skulls and bones, eyes and lightning bolts on T-shirts and hoodies that also had ﬂame motifs, and sweatpants, jeans and denim jackets with hearts, the word “trueee” and ﬂames as well.
“We went online at 9 a.m. and two minutes in, there were over 200 people with items in their cart,” Wells said. “They’re not huge volume because we want them to be special. In general they all sell out really fast.”
Supreme had the same effect for True Religion. “They reached out to us,” Wells said.
“My ﬁrst question was why do you want to work with us and their policy is to work with people unique in their ﬁeld with a deﬁnitive point of view and bring those worlds together.”
The collaboration that launched in fall 2021 saw denim trucker jackets and cargo pants, sweatshirts and beanies with cobranding and reworked True Religion motifs like the horseshoe and Buddha.
“It was a true collaboration in that we worked back and forth and made the garments ourselves,” Wells said. “It was a great partnership.”
But the work with young creatives is equally as important for the brand’s future. Wells said True Religion has become a blank canvas for creatives and entrepreneurs like Blu Boy, Jaffa Saba and Madeline Kraemer.
True Religion teamed with London-native Saba on a collection sold exclusively at Selfridges in 2020. Matt Claydon, True Religion’s vice president of international, discovered Saba’s work on Instagram and reached out. Saba studied in art school brieﬂy and worked at Never Fade, where he had the chance to learn about craftsmanship and design. He also had mentors who worked on Savile Row that would give advice and pointers. This birthed his love for deconstructing and upcycling clothes and reworking existing materials into accessories, masks and shoes.
The ﬁrst collection for Selfridges included deconstructed denim and novelty pieces and the remaining fabric from production was used to wrap a Jeep in denim. True Religion teamed with Saba again in 2021 for a sashiko collection sold exclusively at Browns and they sold out every piece, according to Wells.
“It's a constant collaboration,” said the 21-year-old Saba. “One of the main points that I pitched and happy to see them take on board is to empower the youth and embrace the young creatives, because they're the ones with the ideas. I'm very grateful for this and I really appreciate them listening to me because as a young person you do not feel empowered. I've always been told you're not good enough and can't do anything, but to have someone say you can do whatever you want is empowering.”
Atlanta artist Elijah Popo partnered with True Religion through his brand Everyone and together produced 30 tie-dye denim pieces.
Blu Boy and True Religion also launched a collection in October 2021 as a result of a relationship that Blu Boy described as a “ﬂuke.” His best friend's cousin whom he is also close with is Elijah Popo. They posted a group photo together on social media and True Religion asked Popo who Blu Boy was after seeing the photo. Blu Boy went to visit the brand in Los Angeles while ﬁlming a show for HBO.
“Atlanta is True Religion—that's what everybody wore and I couldn't afford it,” Blu Boy said. “I really took it to heart and went to the headquarters and got that ball rolling. A few pieces became a full collection and a party and an online video campaign.” They have a collaboration launching at ComplexCon this year as well.
“It's a start of a crazy career,” Blu Boy said excitedly about the partnership. “I love True Religion and what they've done. If I saw someone like me doing this how could I not be inspired? True Religion and the relationship I have is another win for creatives and artists.”
Wells was introduced to Madeline Kraemer’s work through his daughter. The designer, who is known for making stacked patchwork denim, applied her craft to True Religion’s signature jeans.
“They are a really good partner and great family to me,” Kraemer said. The young creative graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology in 2019 and began reworking denim garments into new pieces at the beginning of lockdown due to COVID-19. True Religion reached out and ﬁrst did a question-and-answer feature on Kraemer as well as a collaboration
on custom jeans that were rafﬂed to the public. They teamed two more times on more styles.
“For me, the goal is to keep moving forward with these young creatives that are able to look at the brand in a new way,” Wells said. “I believe it has so much potential. I see True Religion as a forever brand. It’s going to keep moving forward with young creatives showing us what it could be. Today, it moves at such a fast pace. It needs to be ﬂexible enough to move with it. I don’t know what the future holds, but True Religion will be part of it.”
This is part of the reason why Wells returned to the brand.
After leaving the company in 2017, he had brief stints with Hudson Jeans and AG Jeans before returning in 2019. Though the brand has built its heritage organically through its typeface font, signature horseshoe and Buddha motifs, as well as youth culture, streetwear and rap music, the younger generation still views True Religion much like rappers did 10 years ago and California shoppers when the label launched 20 years ago.
“I spoke to my 16-year-old daughter in 2019 about the brand and she said everyone is wearing True Religion in school,” Well said. “That means we have a really attentive audience. The brand has always been personal to me. I saw so much opportunity and the mandate for my return was really simple: we want to get back to the DNA of who the brand is. We’re not trying to convince a whole new generation, we just have to highlight what’s great about the brand.”
For Theresa Watts, diversity is about seeing people, not just counting them.
The senior vice president of human resources, diversity, equity and inclusion at True Religion joined the company in June 2020 when the country was at peak discontent: pandemic-weary as deaths continued to rise, and newly embroiled in a battle for racial equity that resurfaced in a big way after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police.
Her task? Right a ship that was already rocking, as that June marked merely months after the brand’s second bankruptcy ﬁling in less than three years.
And admittedly, she said—as was the case with many, many companies in the country— things hadn’t been ideal when it came to diversity at the Los Angeles-based jeans company.
The ﬁrst order of business was actually joining the team, which had grown tense and disconnected amid trials both at work and in the world.
“I had to go in and get their buy-in and let them know that regardless of my title, regardless of my background, I am concerned,” Watts said. “Then, once I got the employees together, working side by side and saying ‘Hey, let’s heal together.’ Then it was, 'How do we heal? What are some of the bigger issues that we face together?' And, unfortunately, [some] of the biggest issues were issues with DEI, with diversity and all the upheavals that happened in the news and things like that, so that kind of joined us.”
With Watts’ leadership and guidance, the company got to work on what it wasn’t doing well. Today, though the focus has been on building in change and inclusion rather than collecting people of color, True Religion’s overall population is 80 percent diverse and, according to Watts, “that diversity has increased by 25 percent each year since 2019.”
It’s a reality Watts owes in no small part to chief executive ofﬁcer Michael Buckley’s approach with his own leadership team.
“He handpicked our senior leadership team, and this is one of the most diverse leadership
teams that I’ve ever worked on—seriously— in my life, and I’ve worked for Fortune 500 companies, I’ve worked for big, small companies, private, public,” she said. “It’s OK to say, ‘Hey listen, our team isn’t representative of Latinas, isn’t representative of Asian Americans, we don’t have enough women.’ It’s OK to say that and
team.' It gave them an opportunity to see that we meant business.”
Now, 60 percent of the company’s senior leadership team is diverse, according to Watts, and 35 percent are women.
But what really drives Watts are the less tangible factors of doing diversity work.
A lot of times, she said, companies just want to “spout out the numbers, ‘Oh the data, we did this and we did that,’ but they don’t have any real examples and for me, it was a lot of the things that just aren’t tangible. And it does make me emotional sometimes to talk about it because sometimes you don’t know if you’re having impact.”
Recently, however, following Watts bringing in a guest speaker from the LGBTQ community, an event that trailed the company’s ﬁrst Juneteenth celebration, she had a chance to understand that impact.
it’s OK to say I need more women on my team so I’m going to go to where the women are with these qualiﬁcations, and that’s what he did.” And he did the same for all groups where he felt True Religion was underrepresented, Watts said.
“He needed African Americans on the team so he went to where African Americans were. He needed an Asian American on his team so he went and he handpicked Asian Americans on his team. And I applaud him for that, air kisses to him all the time for that because honestly that’s a brave move, a lot of people wouldn’t do that,” Watts said. “So it started there. Now, with our leadership team, you can’t talk to people about representing something that you’re not representative of, so when they see us they’re like 'OK, maybe Michael Buckley and the senior leadership team, maybe they do mean business because they are a hodgepodge of religions and ethnicities and genders on that
One employee told her, she said, “‘This is the best environment I’ve ever worked in.’ And I’m not going to lie, I did have to step back and hold back tears because [when it comes to] diversity, you have to ﬁght so hard. And as an African American female, you have to ﬁght constantly. I don’t care how good your CEO is, how supportive the team is, DEI is something that makes people uncomfortable and nervous. So when you see that it does [impact people positively], it touches you. I don’t know, it makes me happy to work here. It makes me know that I’m doing something good.”
And the biggest contributor to doing good, she added, has been listening. Something many companies—as much as “we’re listening and learning” ranked among the hackneyed phrases of 2020 amid the racial reckoning— still aren’t doing well.
“A lot of times leaders sit at the top and they make these decisions, you don’t include the voice of your employees. How can we make a decision that we expect to impact James and Jim and Kim and Kelly if you don’t know what James, Jim, Kim and Kelly want? So you have to ask them. And we do an excellent job of just going out into the ﬁeld and saying, ‘Hey,
For True Religion leader Theresa Watts, diversity is about seeing people, not just counting them.
what is it that you want?’ And if we can afford it and it’s feasible, we do it,” she said. And I can honestly tell you—and it’s more than just diversity surveys—everything that those employees asked us for [more time with senior leaders, more time to interact with one another, a bonus instead of a holiday party], we gave it to them. Every single thing.”
As True Religion celebrates its 20th birthday, Watts is proud not only of what the company has done to improve its state of affairs internally, but how it continues to reach out to the community.
A charity softball game, where True Religion competed against other fashion brands in L.A., which raised $7,000 for less privileged youth, was one recent example.
But among the newest things the denim brand is set to debut is its pathway paving program.
The idea came after a round of interviews for a designer turned up zero Black candidates. To do their part to address the issue, True Religion will work with the Fashion Scholarship Fund to ﬁnd students studying fashion at local community colleges—not the elite design schools too many companies still turn to for their talent pool. Students will apply to the program, a narrowed pool will do a project for the brand, and the winner will have an opportunity to intern at True Religion and take part in the Fashion Scholarship Fund award ceremony in New York City (on True Religion’s dime), amid other mentoring opportunities in between.
“We’re going to community colleges, to people who think, ‘I’m just going to go for two years because I couldn’t go to a four-year college or there’s no money for me, there’s no pathway for me to go there,’” Watts said. “We’re going to start there, in their second year in community college, they’re going to mentor with us one summer and then we’re going to follow them along all through their bachelor’s degree in fashion.”
Watts may be leading the DEI charge at True Religion, but she feels the brand itself is leading among its competitors and peers because of what she believes is the company’s keen ability to listen to its employees and to focus more on impact than data.
Offering an example, she said, “When I’m on [diversity-oriented] panels…with other people, they don’t have speciﬁc stories to share. They don’t lead with their heart, they’re always talking about the numbers and the data and how that’s going to help the sales. Yeah, it will. But the thing is though, if your employees aren’t happy, they’re not going out talking about the wonderful things that are going on. They’re not going out and telling their friends and family to apply. They’re not telling their mom, ‘I haven’t quit this job yet because I’m happy.'”
“When you start there and stop looking at the people so much as numbers, it all just kind of works together,” she said.
True Religion revisits its archives.words _____GLENN TAYLOR
True Religion is being proactive in building out a circular product strategy, determined to ensure that deadstock denim doesn't exist in the marketplace and is only put back in once it is repurposed into something special.
In September, the brand launched the True Religion Vault as part of its circularity push, starting with 1,000 individual pairs of jeans made and worn in the early 2000s. Knowing that many of its products are being sold on the secondhand market, the brand wanted to bring more vintage jeans back under its own umbrella with a modern twist.
“You will be able to ﬁnd the original Joey jeans with a patch that you hadn't seen before,” said Zihaad Wells, True Religion creative director. “You can ﬁnd something that you've been looking for that you can now only really buy from us. For True Religion, as one of these brands that have become heavily thrifted for Gen Z, it was important that we showed up in that space.”
Wells said Vault will operate as a marketplace for customized products, and will leverage creator collaborations to sell unique, “new” jeans that are repurposed from old denim.
Under Wells’ tenure as creative director, which began in December 2019, True Religion has developed more collections in line with this mindset, with the brand teaming with fashion designers like London-based Jaffa Saba, Atlanta-based Elijah Popo and Blu Boy and New York’s Madeline Kraemer. Many of the collections are made from existing product that was reimagined in some cases from factory defects and overstock from prior seasons.
The promotion of a circular concept like the Vault comes as the wider industry shifts to producing more sustainable apparel, whether via materials or an eco-friendlier production process. But according to Wells, “Sustainability has become such an overused term, to the point where it almost doesn't mean much anymore.”
That’s not to say the denim brand hasn’t been improving its material composition. True Religion has removed leather from its jeans production and is using both pre- and postconsumer waste in its merchandise.
True Religion’s product shift comes in what is Wells’ second go-around with the iconic label. He held the role of vice president of design for the company from 2006 to 2017, before leaving for AG Jeans. Upon making his return, Wells described it as having “walked into a business that had deﬁnitely lost track of who it was.”
But Wells saw major opportunities in the company’s youthful audience, which consisted of new buyers as young as 15 years old. With the core customer ranging between 18 and 25, this pairs well with the fact that the brand has had a more accessible price point than it has had in the past.
Wells credits the engagement with these audiences for pushing some of the brand’s most successful recent launches and collaborations, including the return of the Ricky Red Stitch jeans and the collaborations with Supreme and rapper Chief Keef.
“We pay attention to what people are asking for, and where we can meet them,” Wells said. “There was a girl a year ago that posted a pic on Instagram wearing a pair of throwback early 2000’s True Religion cargos with a big heavy white stitching. We looked at what people were commenting, and we made sure that we put that back in the line immediately.”
Consumers are curating enviable closets for their fur babies.words _____CHUCK DOBROSIELSKI
When Sean Coxall left his position as president of Li & Fung’s branded fashion and sportswear group in 2020, he initially considered starting his own men’s wear brand. After watching dog ownership pick up in China and across Asia in 2021, however, Coxall and his business partner shifted lanes.
What would become Kanine Pets World Limited began coming together at the beginning of this year and in May, it announced a ﬁveyear license with Hugo Boss that will cover the design, production, and worldwide distribution of products for dogs, including apparel, accessories, home products and toys, under the Boss brand.
The company has also inked a global license agreement with PVH’s Tommy Hilﬁger. The offering is set to include preppy sweaters, branded hoodies, raincoats, bandanas and the typical dog accessories—collar, leash and harness. Coxall, now chief marketing ofﬁcer at Kanine, estimated that the company has “up to 10 licenses” “in the ﬁre,” not including “a number” of shorter-term collaborations Kanine is working on as well.
Coxall’s partnerships with Boss and Tommy Hilﬁger are part of a growing spotlight on designer pet accessories—a theme akin to the Y2K era when socialite Paris Hilton (and her chihuahuas) made designer pet fashion a status symbol. Diesel launched “ready-to-walk” apparel for small breeds in 2021, serving padded jean jackets, logo hoodies and accessories accented with rivets. Gucci recently dropped $330 pet T-shirts that complement elevated bowls and serving dishes for furry friends. Prada, Versace and Fendi have pet lines, meanwhile canine Trucker jackets have been a staple in DL1961’s collection for years.
Coxall believes pet fashion has the potential to become a “huge business.” The pet apparel industry is on track to reach $7 billion by 2028, Fortune Business Insights found. Unlike children, dogs typically stay the same size over the years, allowing garments to become “collectibles,” he noted.
“I was sitting in Paris in a cafe, and I saw a very cool guy wearing Hugo with the red-stripe Hugo down the sleeve, and his dog was wearing a red leash and a red harness,” Coxall said. “I know that had he been able to buy Hugo, he would have put that on his dog.…So, I think there deﬁnitely are people who would like to dress their dog in fashion, and we want to be the go-to place.”
Designing clothes for animals comes with its own challenges. French terry and ﬂeece, for example, can attract fur, Coxall said. Brands also need to be careful with materials, such as denim, that typically require a lot of chemicals during production.
“That’s something that I’m working on, to create something that's totally not harmful to the pet, which would use biodegradable chemicals and much, much softer chemicals than perhaps are used in the industry now for humans,” Coxall said.