Denim by PV Part III: Raw Denim’s Place in the Big World
In our last two articles about the Denim by PV tradeshow we recapped a few of the exhibitors who directly interact with the raw denim community. But those posts represented just a small piece of the show as a whole, which brought together a hundred different exhibitors from around the globe. In this last installment, we thought we’d examine a few of the show as a whole to understand raw denim’s place within the larger textile community.
If you’re into raw denim (i.e. reading this site with any regularity) it’s easy to forget that not everyone is here with us. You can quickly delude yourself into thinking that the only mills of note are in Japan or North Carolina; that the fashion conscious are all aware of selvedge lines, crocking, and maintaining their creases; and that anything other than crispy raw denim is an unholy abomination. Attending the show was an eye-opener to the small, but important, place raw denim has in the larger textile world.
Denim by PV was held in the Fira Barcelona hall and filled over 10,000 square meters with a hundred exhibiting companies from twenty different countries. Over the course of the two day show they moved millions of yards of fabric to the roughly 4,500 visiting brands and buyers.
The scale of the entire operation was mind-boggling. Previous shows we’ve attended like Capsule and Liberty Fairs have only dealt with finished products and were on a much smaller scale, every brand is confined to about a hundred square foot cubicle with a couple racks of samples.
But the companies at Denim by PV were all larger upstream operations and the exhibition spaces were made to match. The booths were bigger and more elaborate than many brick and mortar stores–exhibitors installed their own flooring, walls, and decor to match their company’s theme. The show was essentially a two-day pop-up of a hundred full fledged boutiques. The fact that everything ran smoothly and without a hitch is a real testament to the logistical coordination of the PV team.
One of the most sobering realizations of the show was that high-end fabric is not big business. The weavers that put the greatest emphasis on quality were some of the lower trafficked exhibitors, while the mills that offered a more downmarket product but at a fraction of the cost were mob scenes.
Denim by PV is unquestionably one of the highest-quality–if not the highest-quality–denim fabric tradeshow in the world, but economies of scale win out when mills are making eight figure deals with retailers like Abercrombie or Target.
Emphasis on the bottom line also provides an insight as to why washed denim is so prevalent. With leather, inferior pieces are sanded down and “corrected” with plastic and resin to hide their imperfections. In the same vein, it’s much harder to discern a downmarket denim after it’s been soaked in acid, sandblasted, and shot with lasers. And at the moment it’s still cheaper to do that than produce a higher-grade fabric. As long as the bottom line is the primary concern for most consumers (probably forever) we’re going to continue to see a predominance of washed and distressed jeans.
Something else to recognize is how much economic policy and trade tariffs affect the availability of certain fabrics. One of the main reasons Cone Mills is so prominent among new American companies is because there’s no import duty driving up the cost of the fabric. Bringing in something from Japan or Italy or even Turkey requires certain minimums to prevent an astronomical price per yard. Imported fabrics are usually exclusive to larger companies who can take the risk on a larger amounts and justify the import duty.
And on the flip side, it can be even more difficult to buy Cone fabric for a new company starting up outside of the US. Take Jose “Pepin” Vives and Jose Luis Vives (above), an uncle and nephew who just started a denim jacket company called JWJ in Mallorca, Spain. It’s cheaper and easier for them to get their hands on Nihon Menpu’s Sugar Cane denim than the standard 13oz selvedge from Cone. Who’d have thought?
Another fun activity was seeing all the companies named after places they are not from:
Raw denim is far from the predominant force in the global denim market, but the community still wields a powerful voice. Even though raws represent just a tiny fraction jean consumers, it’s by far the most vocal and informed market this far upstream in the production process.
Hardly any of the people who buy denim at the mall know where the fabric in their jeans is from because they likely don’t care. But in raws, knowing every single stage of production all the way to the cotton fields is practically a prerequisite before making a purchase.
The informed segment of the market is growing larger everyday, mainstream companies have noticed and are beginning to react to the needs of a more educated and detail-oriented consumer. I’m already looking forward what Denim by PV’s exhibitors have to offer next season.