The Lycra Company Takes a Deep Dive Into Denim Cycle Dynamics

·6 min read

Where are denim trends headed over the next decade?

It’s a question that could yield a spectrum of answers. But according to The Lycra Company, its approach to understanding the factors behind “denim cycles” — which, according to the brand, generally shift every 10 years — is a serious study on trending jean silhouettes, sustainability, cultural preferences and nuanced, generational changes in consumer behavior.

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Steve Stewart, chief brand and innovation officer, The Lycra Company, told WWD, “The pandemic has no doubt also played a crucial role in consumer behavior, as comfort and practicality have taken precedence and relaxed fits increase in popularity with consumers. With the rise in online sales, retailers are also weighing the hidden environmental impact of returns, so solutions that can support fit forgiveness across different body types are desired.”

Its attention to generational trends recently played out in the denim haven of Holland, at the Kingpins Amsterdam trade show in late April. The Lycra Company’s “Stretch Yourself” exhibit gave 14 Gen Z designers the opportunity to create new jean silhouettes for their own generation’s style, held in collaboration with the House of Denim Foundation and Jean School.

Here, Stewart talks to WWD about the changing dynamics of the denim cycle, generational trends in the market, and what’s coming up next.

WWD: Tell us about the current state of the denim cycle. What changes is Lycra seeing in the denim market?

Steve Stewart: Denim has been a socio-cultural symbol since its invention. It has helped to define generations and differentiate them from the preceding age group. It is common to see a new denim cycle almost every 10 years, which is predominantly led by young female consumers. The last decade was all about skinny silhouettes where high elasticity stretch fabrics were at the epicenter of denim innovation.

The new denim cycle reflects more of a change in the leg opening, but denim designers continue to use fabrics that provide enough stretch to deliver a comfortable fit in the thighs and waist and still allow for freedom of movement. So, while ’90s high-waist, mom jeans or the ’70s flare jeans are quite popular with younger female consumers, we still see a high demand for slim and skinny jeans, in particular for curvy shapes and inclusive sizes. Among today’s male shoppers, the desire for performance in the areas of comfort and fit in athletic skinny, slim and tapered fits continue to be in high demand.

The Lycra Company’s Comfort Technology for denim. - Credit: Getty Images/Westend61
The Lycra Company’s Comfort Technology for denim. - Credit: Getty Images/Westend61

Getty Images/Westend61

WWD: How is Lycra reimagining the skinny jean, and what influence do Gen Z designers have in the process?

S.S.: We began by asking ourselves the question, “Which denim would Gen Z design for its own generation?” The Lycra Company and the House of Denim Foundation collaborated with 30 students from the Jean School in Amsterdam, the only denim educational institution in the world, and seven of the most progressive mills in the world to find an answer to that question.

The mills gifted their most premium fabrics to the House of Denim while The Lycra Company shared innovative technologies to offer denim material stretch in a more sustainable way. The supplied fabrics contained three innovative technologies from The Lycra Company: Lycra dualFX, Lycra Freefit and Lycra T400.

The result of the partnership was a fresh perspective on the future of denim and an exhibition with 14 designs titled “Stretch Yourself” at the 2022 Kingpins Amsterdam trade show. The designs both reflected diversity and inclusion and supported creativity from young designers.

WWD: Walk us through current and emerging denim trends. What does Lycra predict for the upcoming cycle?

S.S.: Despite the recent trend for looser-fitting jeans, The Lycra Company continues to see a demand for fiber solutions that can help provide high stretch for denim. Brands recognize that denim styles made with 100 percent cotton, including the newly favored wide leg, do not provide the range of motion and comfort that those with a stretch fiber does.

Y2K fashion is quite strong with high-waisted jeans; however, we have started to see low-rise jeans becoming popular again as a part of a ’90s revival among social media influencers. We believe Lycra Adaptiv fiber technology offers a perfect solution for this low-rise jean trend given its unique stretch properties that cover a broader range of body shapes within a given size.

Smart casual is also another powerful trend that reflects the consumer’s desire for comfort and dressing up. The trend from working remotely to working from the home, office or anywhere fuels the need for office-appropriate looks, without sacrificing comfort. Lycra Dual Comfort technology combines natural aesthetics with cool comfort using a unique version of Lycra T400 EcoMade fiber.

Steve Stewart, chief brand and innovation officer for The Lycra Company.
Steve Stewart, chief brand and innovation officer for The Lycra Company.

WWD: What are some of the key changes Lycra has noted in the denim market in regard to sustainability?

S.S.: As companies aim to reduce their impact on the planet, a number of brands and retailers are focused on developing better quality jeans that last longer. This process starts with the selection of their raw materials. The Lycra Company offers a variety of options for enhanced durability in denim, including our Lycra Dual Comfort technology noted above, as well as Lycra Anti-Slip technology, which aims to prevent seam slippage, and our new Lycra Adaptiv fiber that helps address the emotional aspect of durability — creating garment affinity. Based on a new patent-pending polymer, this offering makes garments easier to put on and extremely comfortable to wear.

The other key change in the market is the focus on circularity. It’s important to note that jeans with 2 percent Lycra fiber can meet the Ellen MacArthur Jeans Redesign guidelines. As we continue to look for ways to reduce our impact and close the loop we’re focused both on products with recycled input as well as ensuring recyclability at end of life.

Toward this end, we offer a variety of recycled fiber solutions for denim containing pre- and post-consumer content under our EcoMade family of fibers across the Lycra, Coolmax and Thermolite brands. We also recently introduced our first Coolmax and Thermolite fibers made from 100 percent textile waste, laying the groundwork for a circular system. And we’re continuing to work on expanding recycling technologies for garments with Lycra fiber.

WWD: What’s next for Lycra?

S.S.: At The Lycra Company, our focus remains on consumers as we develop innovative garment solutions, which can enhance everyday life. Leading these innovations are those that offer fit inclusivity for all shapes and sizes, durability to minimize the environmental impact of each garment, and designing our products and manufacturing processes with circularity in mind. Sustainability in the denim category will continue to be a key source of innovation as The Lycra Company is focused on providing long-lasting, lower-impact solutions for the leading brands and retailers that we work with.

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