Wearables Business

The Denim question and a ton of answers: Denim is All-American, a staple and — in spite of constant change — one of the solid-core constants in the promotional wearables industry – Educational Focus: Denim

The Denim question and a ton of answers: Denim is All-American, a staple and — in spite of constant change — one of the solid-core constants in the promotional wearables industry – Educational Focus: Denim – Brief Article

Wearables Business took a different turn this month for our regular Educational Focus feature, and the results prove to be very educational indeed. We compiled eight questions concerning denim — questions we thought served our main goal of fostering more sales of wearables — and we e-mailed them out to a variety of denim suppliers in the industry. Not everyone responded, but those who did offered a wealth of information we hope is useful to our promotional products distributor readers.

We hope you enjoy our look at The Denim Question and all of the following great answers. For the answers, we have listed the company and person there who responded to our e-mail questionnaire.

Give us a good definition of denim. What is it, and how is it different from twill?

SYMBOL APPAREL, JERSEY CITY, N.J., PRESIDENT MITESH GUPTA: Traditional denim as fabric is weaved with two different color yarns that are twisted. Twill is a kind of weave. You either have right-hand twill or left-hand twill depending on the direction of the weave.

Even though corporate customers/embroiders use the term “Denim” for both fabrics, twill is very different as a fabric from denim. Since the styles and cut are the same, the industry perceives it as denim.

VF BRAND SOLUTIONS, NASHVILLE, TENN., CINDY CHATMAN, GENERAL MERCHANDISE MANAGER: Denim is a twill. Denim is a coloration with indigo dyes. Denim really refers to the dyeing of the “blue” appearance. Most denim is washed after the weaving process (in garment form). Denim denotes a special color and special treatment. Without the special treatments, denim would be just “another twill.” (Answer provided by Rene Rodriguez, Manager of Research and Development, VF Brand Solutions.)

VANTAGE, AVENEL, N.J., GINA BARRECA, MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER: Technically speaking, true denim is defined as a firm, left-hand twill weave cotton or cotton-like fabric made with different colored yerns in the warp and the weft. We’re most used to seeing blue or indigo dyed yarns as the warp (yarns that run lengthwise) interwoven with a white fill, or weft yarn. Due to the twill construction, the warp, or length yarn color, predominates on the fabric surface.

With all that in mind, it’s obvious that denim can vary in construction of the fabric, weight, and color. After-process services such as stonewashing, sandblasting, and enzyme-washes can greatly affect the final appearance and overall hand of the garment. There is also the option of adding Lycra for stretch, comfort and performance characteristics.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL INC., GRANDVIEW, Mo., ROGER D. CARROLL, VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING: Denim is usually a cotton fabric that is woven in a 2/1 or 3/1 warp-faced right-hand twill. Generally the warp is dyed blue and the fill is white. Also called dungaree, it is a very durable cloth. Term is derived from the French, “serge de Ni^mes.” (“serge” is a twilled cloth of worsted or worsted and wool [Webster’s II New College Dictionary]; Nimes is a city in southern France.)


Actually, denim is a twill. The true definition of a denim or twill is the way that it is woven. With the warp and the fill. One strand or yarn going across, or horizontally, and one yarn going up and down, or vertically. Typically with denim you have the dyed yarn or colored yarn as the warp and the fill yarn as a natural or greige yarn in the fill. That gives it the denim look or texture. With what is traditionally known as twill, you are using the same color yarn for both warp. and fill. Therefore, you have the same colors going both vertically and horizonally to create one color. You can use different colors, and then that sometimes is called cross-dyed. The reason denim looks like it does is because, particularly when doing a “blue” color you are using an indigo colored yarn with a natural colored fill. Then you can enzyme and/or, bleach to achieve the desired color. If you are doing a khaki, color, then you would use a yarn-dyed khaki for the warp, and a natural or greige color for the fill.

BLUE GENERATION, LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y., ERIC RUBIN, PRINCIPAL: Twill and denim are similar in construction with a diagonal line or texture running through the fabric. The difference is mostly in the yarn and the way it is dyed. Both fabrics are constructed by using a vertical and horizontal thread, woven together like a grid, called the weft and the warp. In twill, the weft and warp (both threads) are dyed the same color resulting in a solid-color fabric. Generally, twill is colorfast, meaning that it does not lose its color after washing.

In denim, one thread is white, and the other is an indigo dyed thread — a specialty dyed, ark blue color that fades after washing. Consequently, the shade of the denim from light to dark is controlled by the length of time the garment is washed in a bleach-like solution. In turn, the white thread absorbs some of the indigo dye from the indigo thread, resulting in less contrast between the two.

HARBOUR GLEN, SOMERVILLE, N.J., CATIANA CELENTANO, MERCHANDISING/DESIGN DIRECTOR: Denim has different washes so you can get different degrees of color, like sandblasted or bleached. Twill is generally in colors that are garment- or fabric-dyed, which is why you often and them in vibrant colors.

What are the differences between a premium denim shirt and a price-point denim shirt? Does weight have anything to do with it?

SYMBOL APPAREL: A premium denim shirt is a simpler, classier-looking shirt that is closer to a dress shirt. It is button down, doesn’t have a button on the pocket, and has very consistent shades. The cuts need to be straighter so it does not give a very casual look. I think the lighter weights are better as premium shirts, 5.5 oz. to 7 oz.

VF BRAND SOLUTIONS: Weight of the fabric is the biggest difference. Premium denim shirts are typically found in heavier weights, usually around 8 oz. Price-point (lower-priced) denim shirts usually weigh in at around 6 oz. The styling of denim shirts may also differentiate them from one another. Premium shirts are constructed with more needlework: i.e. double-needle topstitch.

VANTAGE: When shopping for a denim shirt in the promotional industry, you’re sure to find a wide range in pricing and of course, an equally wide range in quality. When comparing denim shirts, the weight of the fabric is important, but so is the overall quality of the fabric and the actual garment construction.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL: Weight and finish. Price-point denim is typically of a lighter weight, the hand is not as soft, and the finish isn’t as consistent.

CRYSTAL SPRINGS: The main difference is durability and functionality. Many times you get what you pay for. If you are looking for a cheap shirt to be given away for a promotional function, then price should be your objective. If you are looking for a shirt that is worn in a people-to-people environment, then you should look for aesthetic appeal, durability, functionality, and how you want to look to your customers, clientele, etc. Then the least expensive shirt is not always the best one to present to your client. Weight is based on personal preference. Some people believe heavier is better. However, if you are using a finer yarn, and a shirt of better quality, then heavier is not always the best. How does it feel? Does it feel heavy or bulky? Is it easy to tuck in without bulk? How does it look? Does it look expensive? Does it look cheap? Your best bet would be to look expensive but not pay an expensive price. If looks or aesthetics doesn’t matter, then go with the cheapest shirt available.

BLUE GENERATION: There are two denim shirt weights offered in the market today: a 7 oz., which is an all-year-round weight, or an 8 oz., which is heavier and better suited for cooler weather. The 7 oz. shirt accounts for 80 percent of our sales. The 8 oz. shirt is heavier and therefore costs more money.

The grade of the denim varies from mill to mill. Some denim fabric has more runs in the fabric than others. Obviously, the better fabrics cost more and this results in fewer damaged shirts. The sewing facility is a major factor. The cheaper factories do not have state of the art sewing machines and skilled laborers, and this results in poor stitch quality. I have actually seen factories that use pedal sewing machines that do not use electricity.

The washing process is another critical aspect of denim production and perhaps the most difficult to control. Our Blue Generation denim shirts are washed in special formulas which include optical brighteners and softeners resulting in a more vibrant blue color. Many cheap denim shirts have a yellowish tint to them.

And then there is the finishing and inspection process. This is where the rejects must be removed, the shirts with fabric and stitching defects, inconsistent color shading, etc. The cheaper shirt suppliers have lower standards for rejection; they cannot afford to reject many shirts.

TRIMARK SPORTSWEAR GROUP, RICK CESERE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES: There are several differences. First is the quality of the denim. There are many different levels of quality, just like there is in twill, or gabardine slacks, or fleece. At Rivers End, we have premium denim, which is made from a better quality of denim; it is then matched with a superior pre-wash enzyme process that makes the garment softer. We use better stitching, such as double-needle on the collar, cuffs, shoulders, and on the placket. We use an 8-button placket as opposed to 7-button. This means a little more length and fabric, but the end result is it stays tucked in better and will fit taller folks better. It will not shrink, as the shrinkage is taken out in the pre-wash process. Another factor in premium vs. economy is the specs of the sizing and whether you have a finished cuff with button and a two-button cuff. Rivers End has economy denim where the denim is not quite as good, and the specs are not as generous, but it is stil l better. quality than most price-point denims. The Loving brand has great-selling economy denim that utilizes good quality denim with a few less bells and whistles, but is a great value.

HARBOUR GLEN: The main difference would be weight. The heavier one is typically pricier. Double-needle stitching is more expensive, some might offer pen pockets, some offer button-down collars. The sizing specs are often smaller on cheaper shirts.

In this age of technical fabrics for shirts and jackets, what keeps buyers interested in basic denim?

SYMBOL APPAREL: Prices on denim have fallen quite a bit this year which gives it a big advantage over jackets.

VF BRAND SOLUTIONS: It’s comfortable, affordable and accepted for many different end uses.

VANTAGE: It’s probably the same reason I have seven pairs of jeans in my closet. Denim is comfortable, it’s easy-care, denim matches everything, and it’s always in style. I’ve yet to see a trend report that doesn’t include denim in some respect. Among woven shirts, denim may also be considered the most unisex style.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL: Three reasons: Comfort! Comfort! Comfort!

CRYSTAL SPRINGS Just think about it — when you want to feel good and have that warm and cozy feeling, what do you want to wear? I’m willing to bet it would be your favorite pair of worn jeans, or your favorite worn denim shirt. That’s why when corporate companies have a relaxed dress code or when. the corporate client wants a comfortable, relaxed garment for casual Friday, denim is and will remain the favorite choice. You can dress it, up or dress it down, depending on whatever you need to be. Just simply wearing denim — tops, bottoms jackets, etc. — just’ makes you feel good. That’s why we all will continue to sell denim and denim will be here to stay. Can you imagine our industry without a white T-Shirt? If not, then how can you imagine our industry without a denim shirt? We’ are blessed that we were able to bring it to our marketplace.

BLUE GENERATION: It’s very simple denim is the “All-American Fabric.”

TRIMARK SPORTSWEAR GRoup: The population has a love affair with denim). When people stop wearing jeans, then they may stop wearing denim shirts, but don’t hold your breath for that happening! I don’t think technical has much to do with it.

HARBOUR GLEN: It’s just a constant staple in the American wardrobe. Denim is a patriotic fabric. I really feel like that has a lot to do with it.

What kind of an impact has “dark denim” made in the promotional marketplace?

SYMBOL APPAREL: Dark denim looks much better worn and gives a premium look compared to a lighter shirt. But most embroiderers prefer the light/medium wash since the embroidery shows much better.

VF BRAND SOLUTIONS: We have seen a growing interest in dark denim, but stone bleach and the lighter colors are still the biggest sellers.

VANTAGE: Many manufacturers have added darker denim shades to their product mix, but traditional shades of denim still remain the most popular overall.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL: Honestly we just have not seen an impact.

CRYSTAL SPRINGS: Dark denim has definitely become a fashion icon. However, in bottom wear the dark denim is trendy and currently a fad. It has crossed over into our industry, and we have seen a surge in “dark blue” denim versus “faded blue” denim. We feel that the “dark blue” denim has become a staple and will remain so in the years to come, whereas the dark blue bottoms will phase out after a couple of years. Whether you want faded blue or dark blue, is a matter of personal or corporate look preference.

BLUE GENERATION: Faded blue, our lightest denim shade, has consistently made up most of our sales, but we see a definite increase in our darker shade, “vintage blue.” I predict that by next year vintage blue could account for as much as 40 percent of our denim sales.

TRIMARK SPORTSWEAR GROUP: Rivers End sells more dark/medium-wash denim than light-wash denim. Our Loving brand sells more light-wash denim than dark. It appears to me, that in the economy price range, lighter shades are strong; in more premium qualities darker washes are strong.

HARBOUR GLEN: We offer a dark denim. The ASI market still tends to lean toward the lighter denim; I love the darker denim. It’s the trendier, more fashionable color, and I think it’s being overlooked. Eventually, it’s going to be the hottest (denim color).

How do sales of women’s denim shirts compare with those of men’s denim?

SYMBOL APPAREL: Sales of our women’s style are 12 percent in comparison to our men’s denim.

VF BRAND SOLUTIONS: Although ladies’ denim shirts do not represent a large percentage of overall denim shirt sales, they do represent the growing segment of denim sales.

VANTAGE: Historically, our men’s styles outsell the women’s, but last month both our men’s denim shirt and the comparable women’s style were in the top 10.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL: Men’s denim styles sell 3 to 1 to ladies denim styles.

CRYSTAL SPRINGS: Men’s denims remain to be the best sellers in denim products. However, we feel that it is because the type of women’s denim shirts offered were a deterrent in women’s sales. Do we expect men to wear a women’s shirt? Then why do we expect women to wear a men’s shirt? If I go to a department store to buy a blouse, sweater or jacket, and they do not offer a women’s style, am I going to buy a men’s shirt instead? I don’t think so. I will go in search somewhere else in order to find what I want. If the corporate account you are attempting to sell wearables to is 75 percent women, why should they or why would they accept only a men’s garment? I am not a hard-core feminist — I really enjoy being a female. However, why should I be expected to wear a men’s shirt if a women’s shirt is available?

BLUE GENERATION: We have seen a steady increase in sales of women’s denim shirts over the past three years, but it is taking much longer than expected. The amount of women’s denim shirts sold is relatively small when you consider that the percentage of women in the workforce is rather high.

TRIMARK SPORTSWEAR GROUP: Sales of ladies’ denim are growing every year, but there needs to be some subtle differences that make it different from the men’s. Open collars, no pocket, true ladies’ specs, and some slight tapering are the keys.

HARBOUR GLEN: When we get an order for denim, they are ordering for the women in women’s sizes. It’s always a lot more men’s sizes, but they are ordering more items for women.

What kind of end-user is buying denim and for what purposes?

SYMBOL APPAREL: Schools are buying a lot of denim for their teachers from us. Denims are also being used as uniforms.

VF BRAND SOLUTIONS: Everyone is buying denim… from the boardroom to factory floor.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL: As an example, the auto tellers at my local bank wear embroidered (with the bank’s logo) denim shirts on Fridays. You see them often on trade show attendees from all industries. I would say that any end, user where the corporate casual policy allows for denim would be fair game. If our denim shirt style “Frisco” is considered too casual they usually go with a fine-line twill like our “Stony Point.”

CRYSTAL SPRINGS: Depending on the type of denim shirt being used, if it is a full make dress shirt style, then it could be used in a variety of ways. It can be worn with or without a tie, with a long-sleeve sweater or sweater vest or simply on its on. It can be used for casual Friday, or can be used in a less formal atmosphere such as a retail sales environment for communications, financial institutions, trade shows.

BLUE GENERATION: Denim is the “All American Fabric.” We see denim being used at every segment of the market from corporations, clubs, teams, schools, uniforms, souvenir shops and for special events. Denim makes a perfect background for anyone’s embroidery.

TRIMARK SPORTSWEAR GROUP: Denim is a universal product. It is easy to care for, lasts a long time, and is quite comfortable. If you think about it, most people will wear denim when they want to be comfortable. So if you can’t wear jeans to work or somewhere else, why not wear a denim shirt, as it is now acceptable attire for most occasions? Denim is also quite neutral. You can wear it with almost anything and almost every logo style and color looks good in denim. Customers find this an easier purchase to make as it is easy and their employees or customers like them and will wear it!

HARBOUR GLEN: Restaurant industries landscaping business, retail outlets and health clubs. It’s popular across the board. We ran a huge $7.99 denim special with no minimums for the holidays which was very well received.

How has your company updated its denim offerings in the past 5 years? Give us an overview of your denim offerings.

SYMBOL APPAREL: We have added ladies styles in short and long sleeves and added a dark wash to our denim.

VP BRAND SOLUTIONS: We have updated our denim offering with ladies products; i.e. ladies sleeveless, long sleeve and short sleeve. We have also positioned Wrangler Hero as a new brand in our channel. End users now have a choice between a premium denim line in our Lee products and a branded denim product in a lighter weight with Wrangler Hero.

VANTAGE: Five years ago. Vantage had one denim shirt. Now we offer seven different denim items including a variety of denim shirts and a classic denim jacket. Vantage also expects to have a new women’s denim shirt by mid-March. Our current assortment ranges from authentic denim shirts that wash down over time, to denim shirts that retain their color for a more uniform look. On the fashion side, Vantage just added a “dress” denim shirt, made with a touch of Lycra for improved range of movement and additional comfort. The deep, rich, indigo color and traditional button-down collar add to the upscale look of this new stretch denim shirt.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL: In the last 5 years we have updated our denim offerings several times to answer the needs of the industry. Three years ago we added an upscale dress denim, The Tisdale. to our line. Two years ago we added The Carmen, which is built on a ladies’ pattem. Both the Tisdale and the Carmen are a soft hand chambray and the denim is somewhat darker in shade. For 2002 we have added The Frisco, which is a 6.5-oz., enzyme-washed 100-percent cotton price-point denim ($10.95 EQP-NET).

CRYSTAL SPRINGS: One of the best-kept secrets or unknowns in the industry is — Crystal Springs was the first company to offer a denim shirt in our industry. We take full responsibility and credit for bringing the denim shirt to the corporate world. We actually had some companies send samples back to us with the statement that “denims would never work in this marketplace.” Unfortunately, we created a demand for a product and not for our name. Since we are known to be innovative, we have restructured our entire denim line. We had been producing basically the same denim style since 1993. We had to make a change. Therefore, we discontinued our entire denim line and created an entirely new denim line with better styling and a better fabric. Our denim line is now a full dress shirt make with all the bells and whistles with the best fabrics we can source. It is more tip-to-date and appealing to the corporate customer. However, our big coup is the redesign of our ladies denim. It is no longer “vogue” for ladies to w ear a men s version, meaning, basically the same as the men’s, except that it buttoned a different way. Our ladies’ version — designed by women for women — is more tailored, more structured and more feminine. It features a spread collar, darts under the arms, a square split tall bottom that can either be tucked in (without a lot of bulk) or can be worn out and will work in most all corporate environments. It is our industry’s first practical denim or woven shirt for women that is not only durable, but attractive and wonderful to wear.

BLUE GENERATION: When the Blue Generation started just over 4 years ago, we started with a single men’s long-sleeve denim shirt in sizes S-2XL. Today we offer the most comprehensive denim offering in the industry. For 2002, Blue Generation offers the most shades — faded blue, vintage blue, dark indigo, and natural denim — the most sizes — men’s XS-6XL and talls; ladies S-3XL, both in long sleeve and short sleeve. We can fit everyone.

TRIMARK SPORTSWEAR GROUP: Rivers End offers multiple shades in each style. Most suppliers offer light-wash denim, where we offer light and medium in every style. We offer multiple grades and price points, and we offer ladies’ styling to match the men’s, We offer Oxford denim that is very dark and is heavier. We offer 6.0 oz., 6.3 oz., 7.0 oz., and 8.0 oz.

HARBOUR GLEN: We’re finding that a lot of customers are asking for dyed-to-match threads. We dye our thread to match the medium blue of the denim shirt.

SYMBOL APPAREL: You see a lot of denim out in the corporate industry today. Corporate casual is a broad term for anything that is not a business suit and tie. Yes, the perception of denim has gone down, giving the premium polos and new textured fabrics an edge over denim.

Some would say that corporate casual has would past the denim shirt. What is your impression?

VP BRAND SOLUTIONS: Denim shirts are still very well accepted in the corporate casual market. Are wearers looking for something new to substitute for denim shirts? To some degree, yes. Although denim will always be a mainstay, some are searching for a dressier garment.

VANTAGE: There are still so many different degrees of casual dress in the business world, to say we’re beyond the denim shirt completely would be unfair to the category. Even workplaces that have “upscaled” their casual dress codes tend to digress slightly on Fridays, and denim is right back in the picture.

KING LOUIE INTERNATIONAL: As we have all learned by now there are several levels of corporate casual. A recently published magazine buying guide listed 138 suppliers of denim to the corporate identity market. I doubt that w have evolved past it (denim)!

CRYSTAL SPRINGS: It was belie d by some that corporate casual would cause the suits” to become extinct. That is not going to h ppen. Sometimes, it is just appropriate to wear a suit. The denim shirt has become a staple just like a white, ash, or black placket shirt or T-Shirt. You have to use common sense in what environment to use it. You should always ask your corporate client — “What are you going to use the garment for? What environment will it be used in? What type of business is your client in?” You should be able to tell them what environment would be appropriate and what environment would be inappropriate.

BLUE GENERATION: We started the Blue Generation division four years ago with a single denim shirt. At that time the market didn’t require much more in woven shirts. Since then, the tastes of the market have become increasingly sophisticated and have developed an appetite ford wider selection of color. This has given rise to Blue Generation’s success in the market. Today we offer 30 colors in denim and twill.

Amazingly, though, while everyone predicts a shrinking denim market, we have experienced increased sales again this year… it (the market) is just more price sensitive. Also we changed our denim finish to have a slightly dressier look with less abrasion on the seams to appeal to today’s more “dressier” market.

TRIMARK SPORTSWEAR GROUP: I do not agree. There is just a glut of supply, prices are too low, and the economy is weak. A big retail manufacturer just told me that denim is very hot for retail this year, particularly in dark shades.

HARBOUR GLEN: A good, quality denim shirt is acceptable in corporate casual. Denim is still very, very strong. As Americans, denim is a staple in our wardrobe. Denim is like a black — you can practically wear it with anything.

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