The Development of Denim in 2021: Beginning of a New Chapter
Akin to the stock market, the denim industry also has a great ability to bounce back. Regarded as a fashion staple and long-time classic, approximately 450 million pairs of jeans are sold in the United States every year, where it’s estimated that each person on average owns seven pairs of jeans  . In 2014, denim took a knock as athleisure came to the fore, however, thanks to a little innovation and a contemporary styling update, denim quickly came back to reclaim its lion’s share in the global market.
Fast forward to 2021 and while we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, athleisure has provided the go-to option for those working from home requiring comfortable and stretchy clothing. This current mood has hit denim hard with global brands like G-Star Raw and True Religion  filing for bankruptcy. However, as we know, the denim industry is tough and can quickly adapt to industry changes. Those ahead of the game are already giving customers what they want in terms of comfort, style and more importantly – sustainability.
The New Era for Denim in 2021:
Pantone named “Ultimate Grey” as one of its two key colours of the year for 2021.  It’s soft, neutral and works well across all seasons. Grey denim taps into a nostalgic, vintage look that pandemic consumers have already been buying into, expect to see more grey denim styles paired with spring pastels or classic monotone looks that have broad appeal.
Competing with the comfort that athleisure styles provide, denim products in 2021 are moving away from tight, constricting styles to a looser, soft silhouette. Expect to see wide-leg trousers, kimono jackets, trench coats, puff sleeve tops, workwear and practical multi-pocket separates constructed from denim in pale blues, white and greys. Influences can be found all over the S/S21 designer catwalks from international brands such as Dior to Gucci and Valentino to Mugler.
Patch & Repair
One of the biggest trends in denim is the patchwork denim style and the use of recycled or deadstock materials being reworked to create something new. Marianne Gallagher McDonald, Creative Director of Citizens of Humanity, a US-based denim brand, once shared: “I believe in 2021, we’ll also see more progress on the sustainability front. Patch and repair, reworked denim and making use of deadstock will become a common feature as we all work to reduce our resource consumption in the pursuit of crafting incredible denim and doing our part in creating a more just and equitable world.” 
As we have discussed in our previous Fashion Capital article ‘Denim Producers Tackle the UN Sustainability Goals Head On’ , denim mills, suppliers and brands are playing catch up in the sustainability stakes. For example, Pakistani-based denim mill, Artistic Milliners, with production in Los Angeles has seen the evolution of denim over the past decade, with Ebru Ozaydin, the company’s senior vice president sales and marketing, sharing; “For us, we are always keen to find more innovative ways to create a more mindful future that stands for the good of land, air and ocean.“ With this in mind, last year, Artistic Milliners launched a capsule collection named “Reflection” consisting of eight new fabrics with Lenzing’s TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ technology fibers merged with the company’s exclusive S3 Yarn Technology; a combination of dual-core stability and cotton-rich hand-feel. “Reflection is addressing the future possibilities that help us identify the steps we need to take on a sustainability journey, as a way to keep resources in circulation much longer and at the highest possible value. It also connects us with our peers with a shared vision to build a collective circular future for fashion,” added Ebru. 
Driving Greater Sustainability for 2021
Ebru’s vision is echoed across the denim sector with many investing in sustainability across the entire supply chain. In February 2021, Austria-based Lenzing, is enhancing its sustainable offerings for the denim industry with the launch of their TENCEL™ branded modal fiber with Indigo Color technology. The pioneering Modal Indigo Color technology behind this new offering incorporates indigo pigment directly into TENCEL™ branded modal fibers using a one-step spun-dyeing process. This delivers superior color fastness relative to conventional indigo dyeing whilst using substantially fewer resources. 
Lenzing has partnered leading supply chain partners including Cone Denim on the initiative. Steve Maggard, President of Cone Denim, comments: “Lenzing has long been an industry leader in sustainable fibers. With consumers being more eco-conscious, the denim industry has to evolve and innovate in smarter materials to stay efficient and competitive. We are proud to partner with the TENCEL™ brand to launch Modal Indigo Color technology for modal fibers and promote greater sustainability for denim.”
Denim has long been branded with appalling environmentally credentials; brands have had to work hard to ensure sustainability at every single stage. Next on the agenda is to take denim towards a circular model where not one single fiber becomes waste. Over sixty leading brands, manufacturers, and fabric mills, including Boyish Jeans, Denim Expert Ltd and Cone Denim Mills, are using the Make Fashion Circular – ‘The Jeans Redesign’  guidelines to produce jeans that will be available on the market by May 2021. The guidelines establish the minimum requirements for the durability, material health, recyclability, and traceability of denim jeans, as set out with over 80 denim experts.
Denim products created with the guidelines need to be in use for longer, can be remade again in a way that is better for garment workers and the environment, and must avoid harmful chemicals and production processes. This is just the beginning of a circular economy for fashion and denim in particular. The number of denim companies signed up to the initiative is very encouraging and indicates that many are on the same page for what might be a new chapter in denim’s long-established history.