Denim: Another Fashion Note from the Trenches

Book Review: AB Lynn’s the EQ Difference
February 13, 2014
Double Standards
April 8, 2014

By Fareeha Qayoom



eans are absolutely my favorite wardrobe staple for a number of reasons. One of the enduring classics, they have been around for more than a century (invented back in 1853 in the California gold rush).

They are versatile – they can be dressed up or down, depending on the situation, you can wear them to work, social events and on the weekends.

The traditional color Indigo –typical for most jeans (neutral color territory like black, white and tan) can be teamed with any other color of the spectrum and is a basic building block of any wardrobe.


They are comfortable, durable and organic. They are also low maintenance – you save water and energy (no excessive washing or ironing required) and therefore ‘green.’


They rarely fall apart if they are 100 percent cotton. Yes, the performance of your jeans deteriorates with any addition of synthetic fibers like Nylon or Polyester or Viscose with cotton but I feel one to two percent spandex is not that bad an option with chief value cotton (CVC).  If there is a bit of spandex (stretch) in them, you might lose the long term durability but you gain the suppleness of a second skin so you still don’t lose out significantly when all is said and done. You can always mend them if you want them to endure past their sell by date.  My oldest pair of jeans for example (78 percent cotton, 20 percent Nylon and 2 percent Elastane- made in Egypt) are six years old and are still going strong with only minor mending. They started out as dark denim but look better with age. No industrial wash effect could achieve the whiskers and wrinkles that they have acquired naturally as they age.


Madonna in Jeans


They can be recycled, reused and reinvented. You can turn them into skirts, shorts, and tie and dye them, embellish them, cut them up and reuse them to make bags, vests, and pot holders, patch work rugs, bed covers, whatever the heck you want after you are done with them.


They carry the “cool” factor – you know from style icons of the past like James Dean, Brando, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe to the current ones like Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer, and Madonna, all the trendy people have worn them. Universal, egalitarian and a symbol of true equality  – everyone has at least one pair from Royalty down to regular folk, rich and poor, teen agers to old timers, kids, youth, men and women. In short, Jeans never go out of style.


I think statistics agree with me. According to Cotton Inc’s Supply chain insights, “Denim jeans can be found in the wardrobes of 96 percent of U.S. consumers who, on average, own seven pairs.” I have more jeans than chinos in my wardrobe. At the last count, I had about 30 active pairs of jeans ranging from Indigo to black. In fact, my whole wardrobe is built around jeans now (work, weekend and evening). I only keep chinos for those occasions when you can’t get away with them.


I wear all the cuts too – Straight, Slim, Skinny, Flare and Boot regardless of what’s hot and what’s not.

No, I don’t care about the current “skinny fixation.” Doesn’t it get boring to wear the same cut over and over again?


Besides, if you go by the fashion pundits, wide leg will be back in vogue from 2015 spring/summer – autumn/winter onwards anyway, “Although skinny jeans continue to be a fashion staple among the street scene, on the catwalk, there was hardly a slim pant leg in sight. Céline’s Phoebe Philo en Stella McCartney have shown trousers with a wider leg for a number of seasons and now a number of American designers seem to be following suit. Opening Ceremony, Edun, Karen Walker, Theory all opted for a more comfortable, wide pant leg. Marc by Marc Jacobs even made an attempt to bring back the sock-over-pants trend, which resulted in an 80’s, MC-Hammer effect,” asserts Fashion United.

Gone Girl

The Vampire Diaries, Season 5, Episode 15, “Gone Girl”


I am a savvy customer. I don’t follow trends anyway. I make investment purchases and that includes jeans. Fads come and go. Basics are ageless. I demand all the cuts all the time from the jean brands if they are listening. I especially, like the dark denim with zero wash effect and a little bit of stretch if they could bring themselves to stock it year round regardless of trends (in all the basic cuts), thank you very much. I felt truly validated when I saw the TV character “Katherine Petrova/Elena Gilbert” wear such a pair (skinny) in the current season of the “Vampire Diaries” – (season 5, Episode 15- “Gone Girl”).


Furthermore, fashion always takes a complete swing in the opposite direction – If skinny jeans have been hot for the past few years, it’s but obvious that wide legs will be the cool new thing for the next few. In the 1960s, mini skirts’ and slim fit pants became hot, in the 1970s it was the maxis and bell bottoms. In the 1980s wide shoulders, tapered pants and power suits were cool, in the 1990s it was all retrospective with a modern twist.


Cuts are about people’s shapes anyway. ‘One cut fits all’ can never be an enduring formula. Brands and retailers that cater to different shapes, cuts, washes and maximum range of sizes endure. The rest get left behind. I used to wear ‘Levi’s or nothing’ in my youth – now, I don’t because they don’t stock my size. I didn’t leave them, they left me. I guess, they only stock for young women or is it thin women? (The maximum size waist for women available in Pakistan from Levi’s retail shops is 30-32 inches – size 10-12-I am told and for men its waist 38-40 inches).


The quality of jeans has no doubt gone down in the recent past if you take the two brands I buy from now as an example. The price points have also gone up. The use of synthetic fibers is on the way up too. You would hardly see the use of polyester, nylon or viscose in the 1990s, now, many pairs of jeans have this addition on top of the usual cotton and Elastane or spandex combination.  Major jean retailers traditionally used to buy from Turkey, Egypt and China a lot (2008 – 2011). Now, most of the current crop of jeans I recently bought are ‘made in Bangladesh’, ‘made in Cambodia’ and even bought a couple ‘made in Pakistan’ (2012-2014).


Not that I am not proud to wear ‘made in Pakistan’ label – I am, in fact, so proud that I bought the first pair I ever saw full price in my ‘new’ favorite store (international brand) and I am a cheap skate– I usually buy my jeans at 30-50-70 percent discounts/sales if I can help it. However, I know for a fact that all these countries do not make any extra money on the items they sell abroad. They are forced to give lower prices than the more traditional jean seller markets (Made in Europe/USA or made in Turkey, Egypt and even China) to compete and stay in the bidding game if they want the business. The extra margin goes in the pockets of these international retailers and brands. They still sell at the same price points (even if they are buying them cheaper now) or at more but the quality of the product has obviously gone down in the meantime.


The stretch doesn’t recover, (I hate it when skinny jeans don’t stay skinny after one wearing!). The denim doesn’t stay dark (in spite of claims). The jeans start falling apart before their standard 30 washes or less. In the past, you could keep the jeans for your entire lifetime (fluctuations in your weight withstanding) if you wanted. Now, you would be lucky to keep them in the same pristine condition you bought them beyond three or four home launderings. The prices do not reflect the fall in quality. In fact, they have gone up! I refuse to pay full price for ‘made in Cambodia’ tag from my favorite jean retailer brand when I know the jeans will start tearing in two seasons. Yes, because I bought a couple full price in 2012. Strangely ‘made in Portugal’ were selling at PKR 10K (full price) this winter at the same place (my other favorite international retail store).


Yes, I agree with other Jeans stats issued by Cotton Inc’s consumer survey which asserts Jeans’ sales have declined somewhat because of deteriorating quality, cost cutting, and performance issues, “Customer reviews of jeans purchases reveal that fading (23 percent), shrinking (22 percent), stretch recovery (19 percent), wear and tear (16 percent), and odor (10 percent) were the top performance issues. The majority of consumers say that clothing purchases do not last as long (59 percent) and that the quality of clothing has declined from last year (52 percent). Almost three out of four apparel shoppers (72 percent) also say that clothing prices have increased since last year. Paying more for less does not meet consumers’ value expectations and Cotton Incorporated’s Customer Comment Research™ reveals that dissatisfaction with clothing quality is the highest for denim jean purchases. Denim jeans accounted for nearly 30 percent of negative customer ratings-higher than any other apparel product studied. In fact, compared to all other clothing categories, customers were most likely to mention poor quality (25 percent), disappointment (28 percent), and returns made due to dissatisfaction (28 percent) in their denim jean reviews. Because consumers have more brand loyalty when purchasing jeans, many notice changes in jean quality and indicate feeling betrayed by their favorite brand.”


The report continues, “Many of these performance problems can be avoided with proper textile processing, such as the use of better or correctly prepared dyes to avoid fading and heat-setting to avoid stretch recovery issues.” Well, that costs money. Most vendors shave off a few fabric processes when they are forced to bid lower than the prevailing market rates to stay in business. Good denim fabric costs good money and creating new and innovative washes every season is another high cost area. Most vendors buy cheap denim fabric and compensate in the wash effects in the bidding wars. Some add synthetic fibers to make the fabric cost even more affordable.


My personal denim hates are a) “stretch recovery” in my skinny jeans, b) “wear and tear” and c) weird jean “odor” in my denim closet even though I air dry them all night (before hanging them inside my closet) after every wear, wash them inside out after two or three consecutive wearing(s) and hang them out to dry under shade away from direct sunlight (so they don’t fade) and never tumble dry them so the spandex doesn’t get damaged. Moreover, I never wear the same pair consecutively – I rotate them to keep them fresh and minimize the stretch recovery issues.


One vendor told me he keeps wearing the same jean for a month before sending them in for a wash, he can because most guy jeans are still made in 100 percent cotton. However, that’s not the case for women’s jeans.


Furthermore, Polyester, or any other synthetic fiber pills, itches and makes the jeans significantly warmer and in climates like ours, it’s a no, no – I prefer organic fiber contents like 98 percent cotton and 2 percent stretch/spandex maximum. It’s just unfortunate that some 40, 50 and 60 US dollar (or 22, 25 and 30 British pounds) jeans now have some content of synthetic on top of spandex or Elastane. The stats agree with me there as well, “Consumers indicate that new fibers do not perform as well as cotton in their jeans and that they are getting less value for their money. These factors explain why more than 6 out of 10 consumers say they are bothered retailers would substitute synthetic fibers for cotton in their jeans.”


I have become smarter now – I don’t buy a new pair of jeans even if I love the fit and wash without looking at the fiber contents and country of origin label. If there is even a smidgen of polyester, I give it a miss. No point in spending all that money on a jean that won’t last beyond two seasons.




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Fareeha Qayoom
Fareeha Qayoom
Publisher and editor-in-chief of and former print editions of The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review (tkfr), a trade newsletter for the textile and apparel industry of Pakistan. In short, Publisher, editor, and a blogger. In addition, she has served as Managing Editor of MIT Technology Review Pakistan, print and web editions (2015-16). Total of 7 editions were published under her leadership by ITU, Punjab's first public technology university under the license of MIT Technology Review (USA). She has also managed Value Mag in the same capacity, a real estate and lifestyle magazine for Value TV - 2008-9. Published freelancer for The News on Sunday 1994-96. Fareeha has over 21 years of solid management experience – of managing brands (like Harley Davidson, Munsingwear, Chaps, Chaps Ralph Lauren etc.,), Retailers (like Target, Mervyns, Kohl's, Marks and Spencer etc.,), customers (VPs, Product Managers, Unit Managers, and Buyers), and products (apparel - woven, knits, men's, women's, children's, Print and online publishing units), projects, teams, and processes, information, content, and data, staff, vendors, and time. Versatile and adaptable with international exposure, communication and language skills (oral and written), and a consistent track record of achieving company targets and objectives, plus a MA in Political Science from Punjab University, a MSc in Economics from La Salle University, Louisiana, USA, and a BA in Economics from Kinnaird College for Women.


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