The History of Denim

May 6, 2019

“Food. Water. Denim. Let’s get back to essentials” – Anonymous

Whether you’re 17, 37, or 77, you likely have a pair of jeans in your closet. People of all ages, genders and sizes love jeans. In fact, consumers in North America buy more than 500 million pairs of denim per year. It’s likely you may be reading a pair of your favorite jeans as you read this. As the celebrated actress, Cameron Diaz one famously said, “I’m like every other woman: a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear: So, I wear jeans.”  Jeans are comfortable, versatile and timeless. This utilitarian closet staple has a rich history stemming back to the 1800s, but its history is far from over.

The History of Denim

Denim’s story started in France when a group of innovative manufacturers from Nîmes, France tried to recreate an Italian fabric called serge. They failed to recreate serge, but the end result was a durable new material that they named Serge de Nîmes. “Serge de Nîmes,” was ultimately shortened to the phrase denim. And hence, the word denim was born.

Authentic denim is composed of 100% cotton. The cotton is created using a special weave of cotton that is wrapped and weave meticulously to create a particular weave pattern. This weave pattern forms the diagonal ribbing pattern that you see when you look closely at denim. This weaving pattern makes denim a very durable textile. Denim is a breathable, but sturdy piece of material. And the more you wear it and wash it, the fluffier and comfier your jeans feel.

Note: Since denim is made of 100% cotton, it often shrinks when in hot water. That’s why it’s important to check the label of your denim.

Denim: An American Staple

While jeans have European origins, they really took off when an American tailor named Jacob Davis and a businessman named Levi Strauss teamed up.

Strauss was original the owner of his own family-run dry goods business called Levi Strauss and Co. In 1872, one of Strauss’s clients named Jacob Davis reached out about an exciting business proposition. Davis had developed a unique technique to create pants for customers by using rivets at points of strain to make them last longer. Davis wanted to patent this unique technique, referred to as denim textiles and reached out to Strauss for help.  On May 20, 1873 Strauss and Davis won the patent and the first modern pair of denim was born. Strauss then eventually transformed that iconic object into a multimillion-dollar empire and a company known as Levi Strauss & Co.

Fun fact: The term “jeans” also has a European origin — it is derived from the word “Gênes” the French name for Genoa, Italy.

Why Denim Never Goes Out of Style

“Love is the new denim or black”

Lady Gaga

As the fashion icon Lady Gaga says, denim is eternal. It is a clothing item that will never go out of style. In fact, most consumers have seven pairs of jeans in their closet according to Cotton Incorporated.

Here are some key stats on why retailers should bet on blue jeans:

  • The Global Denim Market is valued at USD 4.47 billion as of 2017 and is expected to grow by 8.5% or more from now until 2025.
  • The Global Denim Jeans Market is expected to reach USD 9.32 billion by 2020.
  • More than 70% of denim wearers say they plan to purchase the same number of jeans this year.
  • Men’s denim is a hot commodity – it brought in USD $27 billion in 2016 and globally men’s denim was the most lucrative denim category.
  • Specialty stores score big: Boutique denim stores such as Levi ’s and True Religion stores raked in USD $13 billion in denim sales.
  • North American consumers account for 30% of global denim sales. However, the Asia-Pacific region will experience a higher growth rate from 2019-2025.

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