Opinion Piece: The Lack of Innovation in the Modern World of Denim

 In Talk

American Denim FlagIt’s hard to imagine that selvage jeans were a lot harder to come by some years ago, especially considering that you can get them in virtually any high street shop nowadays. But the growing online denim community, the general obsession with Japanese clothing and the resurgence of proper menswear or the heritage movement, as you might call it, changed that. A pair of jeans in raw selvage denim is now considered a must in any man’s wardrobe on par with the white t-shirt and a pair of clean trunks. You hardly have to mention the fact that it’s selvage denim, you just take it for granted. But that doesn’t justify the fact that brands and manufacturers are resting on their laurels when it comes to innovation.

American and Japanese Denim To the Masses
Being quite obsessed with denim I consider this a good thing by any means. I like that there’s an abundance of selvage jeans on offer. You can get them at a lot of different price points and from a myriad of different brands. It’s even a good thing that people are finally wanting something else than the annoyingly modern classic, “New Standard” by A.P.C., which probably was, and still is, the gateway to much better jeans for a lot of people.

A decade ago, finding American made or Japanese made jeans weren’t as readily available as they are now. That’s why I was really pleased when more and more American companies started having their jeans made in the US again. Another good development methought. Cone Mills became the supplier for many of them and my head was nodding like a bobblehead doll. It seemed like the perfect combination considering Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler weren’t doing any significant production in the US anymore. So here comes these new brands wanting to breathe new air into the denim production in the US using American materials. Perfect.

One Business Model Suits All
Unfortunately that business model has now become the recipe for a ton of second wave of American denim brands and honestly it’s starting to taste like stale bread. And actually I can’t believe that so many companies can share the exact some business model with a product that is very identical – of course there are a few differences, but it’s getting increasingly harder to tell the jeans apart. I know, it’s all ”just” blue jeans, but God is in the detail, you know.

I mean, if they’re all making their jeans in the US, and they’re all using Cone Mills denim, and they’re all making that regular/slim fit, which looks a lot like the New Standard with that unmanly low waist, slim thigh and seat, and the somewhere-around 8” hem, then what sets them apart individually?

Don’t get me wrong. I really like Cone Mills denim. Or I rather like the idea of Cone Mills. But I don’t get why they aren’t pushing the limits too and, for instance, I don’t get why they aren’t making chambray any more.

Where Is the Innovation?
It could appear that innovation in the denim world stopped some time in the last century. I had high hopes when this new wave of American denim brands surfaced. I was hoping that we would be seeing a lot of new and interesting fits, seeing some new interesting types of denim put to use, possibly variations of the 5 pocket jeans and last but not least improvements to jeans as we know them. Of course I like many of the Americana denim brands. I’m not bashing their products. There’s nothing wrong with them, I just hope that they’ll start pushing the boundaries of denim and more importantly develop new fits.

To make matters worse, the newest developments are going in a direction of brands producing jeans at a lower price because they are “cutting out the middleman” and artisan makers who are making jeans by hand at a high premium. Of course the business model is a bit different here, but they’re all basically using the same components and again the fits are very similar. Does the denim market really need price competition? The competition on price was the problem to begin with and the sole reason that production moved to the far east and the evolution of jeans – and workwear – stopped around that same point. Manufacturers turned their focus to how they could keep costs down and not how they could develop their products further. Price war is the best way to kill of any innovation.

What’s Next?
So where should things be going? I’m not entirely sure and I’m in reality not trying to give any definitive answers. But I do believe that there’s an endless potential to denim that reaches far beyond the 1947-rip offs or new New Standards. The brands and makers should be knocking on Cone Mills’ door demanding custom denim or Cone Mills should probably already be more interested in offering custom denim, so the American makers don’t start looking more towards Japan. Plus it wouldn’t hurt if the brands offered some new, interesting fits – again there should be endless possibilities of offering something different than their competitors. But please keep manufacturing away from the far east.

Disclaimer: For good measure it should be mentioned that this piece doesn’t necessarily represent the attitude of the entire Rope Dye team. It’s a personal, opinion piece by me, Simon Tuntelder, and if you bothered to read all of it, and you have any questions or a retort, I would gladly like to hear them, and I’ll do my best to respond.

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