Saturday, May 25, 2024

Why have ‘blue jeans’ been losing steam? China’s comfy, cost-effective fashion may give a clue

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Jeans at a flea market Photo: VCG

 Levi Strauss & Co, better known as “Levi’s,” a world-leading tycoon for denim jeans, has recently announced startling news: Around 10 to 15 percent of its global corporate workforce will be reduced in 2024 as part of a “restructuring” plan. 

The adjustment sounds bleak, implying an overt shrinking denim consumption market and consumers’ growing aesthetic fatigue toward the once iconic blue jeans.

What made “Levi’s denim jeans,” once the most desirable among all other denim products, fall from the fashion altar? 

A fact is that the rugged and stiff denim represented by US workware aesthetics is outdated and lags behind today’s global fashion trend of sustainable and comfy everyday styling. 

The Levi’s brand story gives a clue about why denim aesthetics is becoming forgotten.

Along with his pal Jacob Davis, Levi Strauss popularized the unique textile by initially branding it as a “working-class outfit” and received a US patent in 1873. While the company launched its successful 501 series, yet the unique fabric that once brought Levi’s to life seems to have become its biggest “bug.” 

On one hand, denim is not the most comfortable to wear, and on the other hand, its manufacturing involves water and environmental pollution, a big “No” for the growing consensus in today’s global fashion industry where ethics are taking a more prominent position.

The decline of denim jeans is not a mere issue about “beauty and style” but also a reflection of changing socio-cultural ethos. Levi’s tight jeans have long been promoted as a magical outwear that can “lift one’s butt.” The somewhat “pleaser’s taste” is now being criticized by young people who have started movements that call for people to “reject body shaming” and “dress with freedom.” 

“I always hate their lower-waist denim jeans because I don’t want to look like those mean teenage girls in US TV series,” a netizen posted on China’s lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. 

In this way, it’s not that denim jeans are going out of style, it is that the culture they represent has become outdated. This point can be sufficiently proven by how the Chinese market has gone from hot to cold when it comes to US denim products. 

Denim was introduced to China in the 1970s. The public craze for the clothing gave birth to Ping Guo, the first Chinese denim brand established in China’s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) in the late 1970s.

If back then a pair of denim jeans symbolized connection to Western culture, today the capable Chinese clothing manufacturing industry has convinced people to choose “Made in China” brands. 

Among the vast array of products that China has manufactured, its textile productions have not only been chosen by countries like Japan and Spain but have also benefited the domestic market. 

Chinese consumers are now the luckiest ones who have the privilege of choosing the most cost-effective denim clothing while also being spoiled by a diversity of goods. 

Young Chinese people’s choice of domestic clothing products reveal their confidence in the Chinese manufacturing represented by fast developing modernity. 

“It’s not just manufactures. Chinese consumers now prefer domestically designed products because Chinese designers know exactly what kind of lifestyle aesthetics to provide to our consumers,” Guan Yishu, a fashion designer in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, told the Global Times.  

Whether or not Levi’s can get it through in its “restructuring” plan is still a puzzle, yet with the confidence of both Chinese and worldwide consumers, the next star to stand atop the fashion altar may very likely to be Chinese fashion.

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