From Gucci to our beloved home-gown brands, denim jeans are now one of our favorite garments. But what can India learn from global denim players?

“I wish I had invented blue jeans,” said Yves Saint Laurent, the celebrated European fashion designer and sometimes credited as the first to bring denim to the runway. “They have expression, modesty, sex appeal and simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes,” he added. Denims, the most exciting apparel fabric perhaps in the history of textiles, are best described by the above few lines. Obviously, the history of its evolution that embodies two centuries’ worth of myths and ideals surrounding American culture has been well covered by quite a few textile historians including Levi Strauss & Co., who pioneered indigo denim jeans.

Americans continued their monopoly in terms of production and consumption of the then workwear apparel until the end of World War-II, when the Europeans started smelling jeans and the soldiers on two sides of the Atlantic initiated swapping of American jeans against European products. The first European denim mills came into operation by the end of the ’60s. In India, however, the picture was altogether different.

Dress habits, culture, society and the fresh independence rarely allowed the prevailing heavyweight blue jeans to become a part of people’s lifestyles. In the ’70 s, a composite mill in Ahmedabad introduced a relatively lighter hydron-blue based denim-like fabric that was used by the new entrants in the making of jeans. The beginning of ’80s saw a young, innovative and dynamic entrepreneur in Ahmedabad setting up a branded jeans making unit and launching a brand Flying Machine, which has survived till date the many ups and downs of the branded Indian apparel market. Outsourcing grey fabrics, this young entrepreneur with the innovative support of Arvind Mills R&D Group introduced for the first time printed denims, which was practically impossible to distinguish from the original yarn-dyed ones. This turned out to be a major success for the Flying Machine branded jeans.

However, the Indian denim industry is highly indebted to the bold steps taken by Sanjay Lalbhai of Arvind, who could foresee the limited life span of printed denims. The prevailing threats from the decentralised sector compelled Arvind to look for a fresh product market strategy that was far beyond the reach of the then decentralised sector as well as the industry itself. The subcontinents’ first modern denim mill was born in 1986, at Arvind Mills Premise with a meager capacity of 3 million metre of annual production. India today boasts of a 1.2 billion metre of capacity (including the upcoming ones) of denims, making it the world’s second largest denim fabric producer.

Meanwhile, Dominion Textiles, Canada lost the global leadership to Cone Mills USA, followed by Burlington Industries and others. Similarly, Leglers lost their leadership in Europe. Europeans, with the inclusion of Turkey, hugely augmented their denim production lead by Candiani of Italy and Tavex of Spain. The Japanese, as expected, continued their innovative approach led by Kaihara, Nishinbo and others. South America, particularly Brazil, too did not lag behind. Two massive groups, Vicunha and Santista, spearheaded the progress. However, nothing could match the progress in China in the ’90s and beginning of the new millennium. According to some reports, China touched a capacity of 3 billion metre of denim production annually at a given point of time making it by far the world’s largest denim producing country. The last two decades have been witnessing a radical shift in the denim scenario through mergers, new locations for manufacturing, sustainable developments and finally due to newer centres of jeans converting influencing this shift.

Entry of top branded foreign jeans makers in India followed by a good number of Indian brands and others has made the Indian jeans market a rapidly growing and lucrative one. Export of denims is turning out to be a major opportunity and the players with modern technology, new product development capabilities and advanced management techniques could certainly lead the way for top brands and exports.

Indigo-dyed denims, originally worn by men who dug mines, cut timber, herded cattle, and drove rail road ties, working men in other words, who built a civilisation from a wilderness and had no use whatsoever for the cycles of fashion, has been a foundation of the fickle clothing industry for over six decades now. Customers for whom casualwear had achieved an improbable pinnacle of glamour were suddenly not just willing but eager to spend money to the tune of US$ 200 and more on a perfect-fitting pair of jeans. Boutique designers, on their part, were only too eager to accommodate them.

Considering the world’s most favourite garment, it seems incredible to find a pair of luxury jeans from Dussault Apparel in USA retailing at US$ 250,000. Going through a sky- rocketing price touching the Guinness Book of Records by a Gucci pair of jeans, looks pale and insignificant when compared.

Are Indian denim and jeans makers watching?

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