On May 20, 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received a patent for the use of copper rivet fasteners on denim trousers – and thus the blue jean was officially born. One hundred and forty years later, the blue jean has evolved from rugged, utilitarian work pant to a mainstay on every rung of the fashion ladder. Innovation has aided the longevity of the denim jean, and designers in the category are always looking for the next big thing. While consumers want newness in their denim, they also embrace the traditional use of cotton in their blue jeans.
When the price of cotton fiber hit record highs two years ago, some manufacturers tried to reduce costs by substituting cheaper fibers for cotton in blue jeans. “Consumers noticed,” says Kim Kitchings, Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Program Metrics at Cotton Incorporated, “and they didn’t like it.” Kitchings, who oversees the company’s Lifestyle Monitor™ survey of consumer habits and attitudes, cites recent data:
“The majority of consumers (66%) told us that they were bothered that retailers and brands might be substituting synthetic fibers for cotton in their denim jeans. More than half (55%) of respondents actually said they would be willing to pay a slightly higher price to keep cotton in their denim jeans.” According to Monitor data, 96% of consumers prefer their jeans to be made of cotton or cotton blends. Consumer expectations of cotton are all the more compelling considering that the U.S. consumer owns an average of seven pairs of blue jeans.
While consumers want more, manufacturers and brands want less when it comes to denim ─ less cost and less impact on the environment. “Reducing environmental impact and manufacturing costs often go hand-in-hand,” says Mark Messura, Senior Vice President, Global Supply Chain Marketing at Cotton Incorporated. “Through collaborative projects with research organizations, universities and private companies, Cotton Incorporated has been able to identify and promote technical innovations that are helping the industry reduce the amount of chemicals, energy and water used in textile manufacturing. These reductions positively affect the corporate and environmental bottom lines for all categories, including denim.”
Among the more futuristic possibilities for denim is digital printing; a dye-free process that works on the same principal as a paper printer. “You can duplicate the look of pristine indigo-colored jeans, or distressed color variations, whiskering and other effects very realistically,” explains Mary Ankeny, Director of Dyeing and Finishing at Cotton Incorporated, or the process. “We’ve even used it to create 3-D jeans, where the creases and whiskers are visible using 3-D glasses.”
No one can say for sure what the next 140 years will hold for denim but, as Lifestyle Monitor™ data reveals, 86% of consumers agree that denim is a part of their future.
About Cotton Incorporated
Cotton Incorporated, funded by U.S. cotton producers and importers of cotton and cotton textile products, conducts worldwide research and promotion activities to increase the demand for and profitability of cotton.