Denims have become our go-to garment—a wardrobe staple for both men and women. It’s that one piece of clothing that has managed to remain relevant in this rapidly changing world of fast fashion. What began as a rough-and-tough attire suitable for labourers in the 18th century, has now become a style statement, fit for all seasons and occasions.
But denim’s tryst with the Indian market has been full of ups and downs. In the initial days, the contribution of India to the denim business was the indigo dye, which comes from an exotic plant species in India. Samresh Das, design manager at Numero Uno, a leading denim brand, traces the evolution of this market in the past couple of decades. “Denim has become a must-have product now. Over a period of time, it has become versatile in terms of its wearability. There was a time when chinos (cotton trousers) ruled over denim, but they lost the competition to jeans. With massive technological revolution in denim fabric and laundry, today a pair of denims can look classy with a bit of sheen, feel supple to give you a feather-touch feel, can look rugged but be super flexible, can be like knits and still look and wash like denim. Today we see a variety of denims and indigo-based products, which can be seen as office wear, casual wear, street wear, bikers wear, party wear, active wear etc.,” he says.
While jeans were gaining popularity in the West, thanks to Hollywood stars donning them and pop culture embracing the trend, very few people in India had access to the garment in its early days. In the late 19th century, people started getting their jeans stitched to keep up with this trend.
But what has led to the rapidly growing demand? Ashish Gurnani, co-founder of Postfold, an Indian clothing brand, explains, “It is due to the fact that denims are comfortable, functional and easy to maintain—three things which are crucial for a price-sensitive economy like ours.”
This paved the way for global denim manufacturers to invest in the Indian market. In its nascent stage, denim production here was focused on exports as denim products of those times were in sharp contrast to our traditional wear. The acceptance and eventually the spike in domestic demand came about gradually. Today, women have a slew of choices when it comes to owning denims—from jeans, jackets, jumpsuits, dungarees, shirts, shorts and skirts to kurtis and saris.
In fact, India houses one of the largest denim producers in the world—Arvind Mills, which has been catering to worldwide demand of jeans. About the market today, Gurnani says, “The tier-I cities take the lead for the demand and consumption but tier-II, tier-III and even rural areas are gradually joining the league. In fact, tier-II and tier-III cities account for a huge chunk of the demand via unbranded denims.”
Over the last half century, we have witnessed the transformation of this garment globally. Starting with bleached, printed and acid-washed jeans, the fashion industry went on to experiment various add-ons for an edgy flare. These include embroidery and embellishments like laces, motifs and patchwork. Creativity and technology resulted in different periods of jeans styles—like bell-bottoms, boot-cut, wide-cuffs, coloured, skinny, distressed and ripped jeans. The invention of stretchable jeans was another step towards making this garment hugely popular. If denim trends have changed over time, the market, too, has certainly grown exponentially.
Shreyasi Pathak, stylist at Vajor, a clothing brand, shares her views on the qualities of the fabric. She says, “The fabric as we know it was brought to life due to its durability, the roughness that it endured, the fact that it was low maintenance and did not need to be washed so frequently and lasted days having the fit without looking worn-out. A lot of these factors have been maintained over the years with definite advancement in the denim fabric that is now being produced, along with a play in textures, quality, durability, washes, stretchiness of the fabric and so on. Denim is a trend that is nowhere getting lost anytime soon.”
The credit for denim staying in vogue in India goes to the dedicated set of makers and consumers. In recent days, new fusion styles have emerged. It’s cool now to pair denim waistcoats or jeans with kurtis. Even full-fledged denim saris are gaining popularity. Indian designers and brands have created a space to play with the fabric not only in terms of design and style, but also in terms of experimentation. One designer is launching a line of khadi jeans.
The denim era has graced us with products that are not limited to apparel, in the form of bags and shoes. From the days of ruggedness, denims have certainly come a long way. With more and more brands joining the race and designers incorporating this fashion essential in their collection, the denim industry is expected to reign in the coming years as well.
Das from Numero Uno concludes with his views on the current state and future of the denim sector. He says, “There are many big players in the textile industry who are running successfully, but are now foraying into the denim business. The vast usage and acceptance have increased the requirement of raw material and so an increase in the industry size substantially. Not being restricted anymore, manufacturers have also gotten into importing fabrics from different parts of the world according to their need and vision. So the industry is going strong and will be stronger in future.”