As businesses remain shut and balance sheets get stressed, the pace at which the denim industry is trying to develop a sustainable supply chain is slowing down. This is mainly because the crisis has generated extreme contraction in product consumption which has led to a decline in investments in sustainability, says Lucia Rosin, Head of Design, Meidea.

Focus on affordability to survive

Though it is desirable to produce high-quality, sustainable denim, some brands and retailers are likely to prioritize on producing more affordable products as they rebuild their businesses, feels Tilmann Wrobel, Creative Director, Monsieur. For others like Denim History, there is no better option than to sell fast and cheap clothing. The goal for these mills or factory owners is to make things cheaper and pay less.

New ways to incorporate sustainability

Yet, sustainable manufacturing is in a better place than it was during the Great Recession, as both demand and awareness for better products from both the industry and consumers—is higher, and the supply chain has more sustainable solutions to adopt. Many brands and retailers are opting for either sustainable fabric at a lower price or at least at an equal cost to denim without this property. Therefore, now is not the time for mills to retreat to old habits and undo the progress they’ve made.

And as Wröbel point out, on the contrary, mills now need to find new ways to incorporate protective performanceGlobal denim industry to be more creative and sustainable post COVID 19 qualities to their fabrics. The need to adapt to the next big thing should be the focus.

Boosting sustainable investments

As the pandemic is teeing up a correction in how consumers buy and how brands manufacture, it is more important to invest in sustainable practices and take care of the workers and the environments where denim jeans are being produced.

Bluezone curato Panos Sofianos believes after the current crisis ends, the industry must support more investments and innovations in the denim industry

An opportunity to get creative

Taking a more pragmatic view of the situation, Wröbel likens this pause in business to halftime during a football game. Wröbel believes the pandemic will offer designers a chance to flex their creative and strategic-thinking muscles. Monsieur-T is focusing on ideas about what could be done with the inventory that is in the warehouses around the world, and which can probably not be used before the next season.

The pandemic is also forcing companies to be creative with their messaging. Mohsin Sajid, Founder, Denim History is working with clients across the supply chain to develop video content as well as co-hosting digital events with Kingpins ED and Fashion Revolution.

Revamping event schedules

Many industry events are also going digital compelling some to reconsider their old schedules. Though it will be an ongoing process, Wröbel feels, it’s time to give the calendar a second thought. Sajid too agrees the seasonal calendar and buying cycles have to change though it may result in seasonless collections. Fashion shows and splashy exhibitions which were on the downturn prior to the pandemic is likely to suffer further as companies will restrict non-essential travel for employees.

New brands to new values to emerge

One thing that is clear, when economies open up, it will not be the same denim market that exists prior to the pandemic. While headlines about rebounding luxury sales in China offer a dash of optimism, not all players will return. BLDWN (formerly Baldwin) was among the first brand to shut down because of the economic downturn forced by the pandemic. Three weeks later True Religion filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection, an unfortunate reversal of fortunes brought on by stores forced to close.

Experts anticipate consolidation across the market as there will be opportunities for buying brands—and their market position—for little money. Rosin also expects to see new brands rise to the top. Brands that have worked well to consolidate and many new ones will emerge with values suited to the new times and the metamorphosis we are experiencing.