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Taking Denim Market By ‘Storm’


Denim has always been cotton’s largest consumption category. In 2007, it accounted for 20 percent of dollar sales of apparel. Just under 320 million pairs of women’s jeans were sold during 2007 and that represents a modest one percent gain over the number of pairs purchased in 2006.

Cotton Incorporated wants to protect denim’s dominant market position. One way of accomplishing that goal is by creating appealing new looks and finishes for jeans.

Through the Lifestyle Monitor, Cotton Incorporated’s ongoing telephone consumer survey, it found the average woman owns eight pairs of jeans, but three out of four of those same women said they would likely buy another pair in the coming months. Newness appears to be the main draw attracting women to jeans.

“It’s all about ‘the next new thing’ in the jeans market,” explains David Earley, Cotton Incorporated’s associate director of strategic initiatives, Global Product Supply Chain (GPSC).

Storm Denim Technology

When Cotton Incorporated creates a new finishing technique for cotton apparel, one of the main requirements is no matter what the goal, maintain cotton’s natural characteristics – softness, breathability and comfort.

“Going into the lab, we wanted to preserve these characteristics but had the goal, in this instance, of providing a high-degree of water repellency for use as rainwear and outerwear,” says William A. Rearick, director, textile chemistry, Cotton Incorporated.

The apparel industry has seen water-repellent finishes before but the finishing process has traditionally been applied on fabric before it is constructed into a finished garment. After months of trials, Rearick and his staff developed a new finishing process that met their objectives. The name chosen for the technology was Storm Denim.

“Applying the Storm Denim finish in garment-form means it is applied toward the last step in the manufacturing production cycle – following the addition of any consumer ‘value-added’ styling effects like abrasion or whiskering,” says Earley.

Applying a finish as the last step in the product process allows it to be used for more end-uses and with that – more potential sales of cotton products.

Getting It Adopted

No new cotton fabric or apparel finish is worth a dime if it is not adopted for use.

“Getting our innovations in front of key decision makers at mills, manufacturers, brands and retailers is the job of GPSC,” explains Earley.

Cotton Incorporated works with the world’s textile leaders to convince them to try new finishes, technology concepts and fabrications that can add value and differentiate their cotton products at retail.

“We not only attempt to increase cotton’s share in traditional markets such as apparel and home textiles, but also push new frontiers for cotton usage in non-traditional markets like nonwovens,” adds Earley.

Success with this effort recently has been two-fold. Trend-setting New York designer Alexander Wang, whose award-winning apparel/design work is a consistent best-seller at Barney’s New York, featured denim products treated with the Storm Denim finish on the runway during New York Fashion Week this year.

“Wang was so impressed with the technology, he gave a demonstration of its water-repellency during a video segment that can currently be seen on You Tube,” says Earley.

Support From Canada

The other adopter of this technology is MWG Apparel, a leading Canadian apparel manufacturer.

“MWG Apparel is a forward-thinking, innovative company that realized the true benefits of the Storm Denim technology and knew it could bring it to market in a big way,” noted Earley.

MWG produced a sample order for a major retailer that flew off store shelves following its initial introduction. The retailer was so pleased with sales of the product that it is currently planning to introduce the technology on approximately 150,000 units among 10 styles in its product line, which is expected to hit stores this summer.

The Cotton Board, which administers the Cotton Research and Promotion Program conducted by Cotton Incorporated, provided information for this article.


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