First Seen at Bluezone: A New Standard for the Denim Industry to Focus on Long-Lasting Trends
What would the denim industry look like if we put the consumer first?”
This was the starting point for the Munich Fabric Start and Bluezone teams when they sat down to figure out how fabric and garments makers can take ‘denim beyond seasons,’ which was the theme for the September 2017 show.
In a previous blog post, I explored how denim could move beyond seasons to create long-lasting trends. Eight industry insiders discussed and generally agreed that demand—not supply—is the main driver of trends.
Suggested further reading: Why Denim of the Future Might Not Have Seasons
For the first time, a fabric trade show presented a method to think and work beyond trends for denim. The solution is to segment the market into denim communities, or ‘concepts,’ instead of the traditional consumer targets such as age, generation, professions, income or location.
Communities are more important than ever for consumers when they’re forming and expressing their identities. And they are no longer tied to a physical location.
While communities have been part of the science of branding and marketing for the better part of two decades, for the denim supply chain, it’s still a novel idea to segment the market this way.
In this sponsored blog post, I talk to Bluezone’s creative consultant Tilmann Wröbel about the community approach to trends. I also ask four denim designers about how implementing this approach would affect the jeans they’re making.
The Eight Communities of Bluezone’s ‘Concept Zone’
For the ‘Concept Zone’ at Bluezone, eight denim communities had been defined. Each was represented by actual people, and you got a glimpse into their lives, values, interests, passions and hobbies.
It was a chance to “look into the eyes of these real people. Look at how they really live, what they love, what they read and listen to,” Tilmann explains.
The organisers wanted visitors to think about whether the denim and jeans they’re making corresponds to the lifestyles and values of these communities. Focusing on a specific group of people and what they want from their jeans can help designers create better products, Tilmann argues.
When you see green and sustainably-made jeans that are ‘artificially’ distressed, for example, you ask yourself; ‘does the demographic these jeans were made for really want a pre-washed product?’”
Below are the eight denim communities and the type of jeans they usually wear. The communities are named after magazines that members actually read.
The ‘Manager Magazine’* Community
- Business jeans to wear on ‘casual Fridays.’
- Classic cuts and perfect fits, comfort stretch denim and little or no distressing.
The ‘Greenpeace Magazine’* Community
- Sustainably-made jeans that are manufactured under trustworthy and certified conditions.
- The entire production chain is important; from the cultivation of the raw material to the climate neutral shipping.
The ‘Wanderlust’ Community
- Retro-washed indigos and khakis in compact fabrics such as canvas.
The ‘Beautiful People’ Community
- A body-conscious community that wears tight jeans made from super stretchy and revealing denim that gives sex appeal.
- Prints, red casts and faded denim with expressive washings and effects.
The ‘Sports Illustrated’ Community
- Denim that is tailored with technical innovations to offer comfort and protection to those who celebrate personal performance.
- Black and blue denim that comes with ‘wellness’ coatings.
The ‘Heritage Post’ Community
- Inspired by authentic workwear, vintage styles and Japanese denim culture.
- This community has two faces: a distinctively used look or the completely unwashed one.
- Selvedge is self-evident, but elastane fibres are creeping in.
The ‘Vogue’ Community
- A community of early adopters and trendsetters that wear extravagant shapes, surprising combinations and upcycled denim styles.
- From super raw to completely bleached over metallic coatings or striking washes; everything that catches the eye.
The ‘Vice’ Community
- This is a community of party animals that wear ‘anti-fashion’ denim and second-hand pieces that deliberately offend and put the definition of good taste to the test.
- Deep black washings in ‘80s shapes, anti-stylish slim fits, old-fashioned basic denim with raw edges, wide and waisted cuts.
The denim designers I’ve talked to agree and recognise the communities.
Still, one pointed out that caring for the environment is not something that is reserved for the ‘Greenpeace’ community.
The Traditional Way of Working With Trends
Trends are predicted in trend forecasts, which are essentially qualified guesses of what the future will look like. Denim designers and developers use them to get a general impression of what’s happening in denim.
“Just like trend forecasters, I have my own sources for inspiration,” she explains. “I try to combine trend forecasts with ‘my reality’ and adopt what matches the needs of my target audience.”
After two decades in the business, Klas Dalquist has observed how trends and trend forecasting is changing.
“There used to be fewer places to get trend forecasts, and every company used the same sources.” That made it easier to spot trends, he argues. With the constant surge of newness today, things have changed.
How the Community Approach to Trends Differs
A problem with working with trends the traditional way, in Tilmann’s opinion, is that they can be biased.
“A mill that has invested heavily into stretch denim might have difficulties promoting non-stretch trends and demand,” he suggests. “In a time when cotton is expensive, the denim industry might still promote trends of lightweight denim or blended fabrics with less cotton.”
There are problems in retail too. “Online retailers have software that lets them know which products are ‘clicked on’ and who does the clicking.” Brick-and-mortar retailers and brands also collect as much data about their customers as possible.
Tilmann questions the usefulness of all this data today and hypothesises that it creates an overload of irrelevant product.
What if you didn’t focus on who’s buying your stuff, but rather what is coherent with the latest communities, and find out what they actually look out for?”
Working With Denim Communities In Practice
“It’s key to know your customer,” says Christine Rucci. Back in 2006, she created a user-generated jeans with StyleForum where customers designed the jeans themselves.
Not everyone wants to be that involved, but consumers generally prefer products that were designed for them and their needs.
In the ‘90s, the definition of a target audience changed from purely socio-demographic characteristics to something based on likes, dislikes, preferences and so on, Martin recalls. The consumer got a name and a face. The idea of communities is the next level, he acknowledges.
Using communities instead of age or price is a more modern approach that suits how consumers think today,” says Klas.
No one wants to be specific price and an age group. Dividing consumers based on interests and lifestyles is much more forthcoming.
You’re Never Part of Just One Community
In Martin’s experience, the best way to understand your target audience is to act like them. Use the same media, read the same magazines, wear the same clothes. However, the seasoned denim designer points out that no one belongs to only one community:
The young lady who works in an office, and wears Zara, during the week might become a fashionista in the weekend. The lawyer who wears Hugo Boss jeans on casual Friday might wear loomstate Japanese jeans on Saturdays.”
Christine Rucci agrees and adds that you can’t pigeonhole your customer into one box. “It’s about personal style and how your mood strikes.”
Klas points out that a challenge of working with using communities is that we all want to be unique, meaning we could end up with a lot of them:
Like it’s like music genres. We used to have rock, pop and a couple more. Now you can find specific genres depending on your daily mood.”
The bottom line is that consumers belong to more than one community. The segmentation of the market into communities should be seen as what it is: a tool to develop garments and fabrics.
Still, having a clear picture of the different consumer communities will make it easier for suppliers, brands and retailers develop, design and sell their products, Christina surmises.
How Suppliers, Brands and Retailers Can Benefit From Communities
Brands and retailers have been working with communities for years, Martin affirms.
Christina mentions Closed and Denham as examples of brands that design to specific consumers. “They always stay loyal to their image but never miss new directions.”
Retailers usually have more flexibility to adopt trends. “They sell to several types of consumers and need variety. They can experiment with new styles, fits and washings.” She mentions Zara as an example of this.
The supply chain just needs to follow suit,” Martin pleads.
Indeed, if suppliers divided their collections into communities, it would be a lot easier to focus, the designers I’ve talked to agree.
“I would immediately know how in which direction I should go,” Christina envisions. “Fabric selection and laundry direction would get much more specific.”
“As soon as mills and garment producers develop for these communities, brands and retailers will get products that consumers like,” Martin assumes.
“Suppliers, brands and retailers essentially have to cater to each community if they want to serve the whole market,” he elaborates.
In practice, this would lead companies to concentrate on a few communities. And that would lead to better products and longer lasting trends.
Supported by Munich Fabric Start’s Bluezone
This blog post is sponsored by Bluezone; Munich Fabric Start’s independent trade show for the denim and sportswear community.
The family-run Munich Fabric Start was established in 1996. Twice yearly, it attracts 20,000 fashion professionals to Munich. Bluezone was launched as the first denim-dedicated show in 2003. Today, it hosts more than 100 carefully curated exhibitors.
The show caters to all your sourcing needs: well-established ‘all-star’ mills; ‘catalyzers’ that create future trends in denim; and how new technologies and laundry solutions can make denim more sustainable.
The next Bluezone show is scheduled for January 30 to February 1, 2018.