Here is a very interesting interview with Andreas Kurz – ex CEO 7 for All Mankind and ex President Diesel USA. Andreas has been associated with the global fashion industry for a long time particularly the denim industry. Here are some of his erudite answers to the questions that I put to him.
Hi Andreas. Welcome to Denimsandjeans.com ? Its a pleasure to have you with us. Please tell us something about yourselves and your company – Akari Enterprises..
I have worked in the fashion business all my life, since 1985, first with Hugo Boss in Germany, then with various companies in the US: Diesel, Versace, Ralph Lauren and then I became CEO of 7 For All Mankind in Los Angeles. Since 2006 I have my own consulting firm Akari Enterprises. I work in three areas: global business development for my clients (mostly premium denim companies), M&A and Executive Search. Currently, I work with Joe’s Jeans, Agave Denim, Kuyichi and Robert Graham. My site is www.akarienterprises.com.
You have held some of the most senior positions in the denim industry ..What do you think really is the moving spirit behind this product ?
It’s all about the product and particularly in denim, about the fit and the fabric and wash. Jeans will never go away and are the most versatile piece of clothing that goes through life with you and tells your story. Jeans are something very personal. They represent a lot of things for many people: adventure, rebellion, youth, sex appeal, independence, etc. Jeans bring up emotions in people, that’s why they are here to stay.
How do you think it is going to evolve in the future..?
Jeans will always be an important part of everyone’s wardrobe, however, the way people look at jeans is changing and it will be more important in the future for jeans to more conscious of the environment. Many brands have now incorporated the use of organic cotton and/or switched to laser wash techniques, which use much less water and no chemicals. Some companies, like Kuyichi, use only organic cotton and the new denim line from Girbaud is entirely made with their WattWash technique (with Laser and Ozone).
Despite regular recessions and downfalls, denim refuses to bow down.. Do you think this product has an eternal life ?
Denim will never go away. It is the most versatile garment and can be used for the office and for leisure and going out at night. Jeans are loaded with sex appeal and that will always be an important factor or wearing them.
Many companies and celebrities want to jump into the denim bandwagon by launching a denim brand . What do you think about such a trend ? Can the market sustain and absorb such an increasing number of brands?
The number of denim brands has significantly decreased since the crises in 2008. The bigger companies have benefited from this by growing their market share and the entry into this market for newcomers has become much more difficult. It used to be easy to come up with a pair of jeans, get some celebrity to wear it and become an overnight success. That is not so easy anymore with the consolidation that has taken place. Buyers are more cautious and concentrate on the brands that have made them money in the past.
Its sometimes said that whatever needs to be done with denim has been done . Do you think this is a gross underestimation of denim potential ?
I think there is revolution going on right now with denim and we are just beginning to see a new era of denim from many points of view: alternative fabrics (tencel, hemp, etc.), organic cotton, laser wash techniques, ozone treatment. Cotton in itself already uses a lot of water to grow and the washing techniques used so far account for an enormous amount of water being used and polluted with all the chemicals. All of this is about to change in a big way. Sandblasting has already been prohibited by many big brands and more developments in this field will follow. That is very encouraging .
Coming to ‘Premium Denims’. There is a lot of confusion regarding the definition itself . How do you define it ?
Premium denim is foremost referring to superior material: sturdy quality yet soft at the touch. The best material comes from Italy and Japan. It’s like with food. If you want to make a great meal, you have to have great ingredients. Then the washing is obviously very important and the keen attention to fit. There is a noticeable difference between premium denim and other denim jeans and consumers are willing to pay the difference.
What do you think would be the market size of Premium Denims in US ?
The US market for denim is about $16.5bn. Premium denim (jeans that retail for $100 and more) makes up about 5% of that, so roughly $1bn. In 1990, when the LA premium denim boom started, the total market was only $11bn and the premium market then was only 1.8% or roughly $200m at retail. There has been an explosion of both the total market and of the premium denim market from 2000 – 2007 and since 2008 things have slowed down considerably, but the big brands are, for the most part, still growing their business and market share.
Some experts say that in recession it is the lowest priced and the highest priced products that sell well . Do you subscribe to this view ?
In the good years, from 2000-2007, there was a clear high-low market development: the segment below $50 and the segment above $100 grew at the expense of the middle market from $50-$100, however, since the crisis, the middle segment has picked up again and jeans that retail for about $85-$140 have become stronger again.
How long do you think would it take for mid priced retailers to really give a serious challenge to the high priced denims from premium denim brands ? Current efforts by retailers like Gap have had mixed responses ..
Once a brand is in one particular segment it is hard to make an inroad into another segment and obviously the hardest thing to to is to trade up. When you are perceived as a low or middle priced brand it is nearly impossible to enter the premium denim market, even though your product may be equal or superior. At the end of the day, it’s also a lot about perception and branding.
Denim fabrics from Japan and Italy are reputed to be the best .. How far do you think mills in Asia are in comparison ? Do they have the right ingredients to take up the mantle ?
Other Asian manufacturers are definitely stepping up and will be more important players going forward. One example is Arvind. They are one of the largest denim manufacturers at low prices, but have also successfully gone into premium denim with what they call denim lab and have developed beautiful materials.
Something on your personal choices.Which is your favourite pair of Jeans and why ?
I have many different pairs of jeans obviously, but I keep coming back to my favorite: Citizens of Humanity. Their fit for me is perfect and the softness of the fabric, combined with great styling and understated styling is what I like the most. Jerome Dahan is doing a superb job and since a few years, he is working with Adriano Goldschmied, the godfather of denim and both of them just keep coming up with fantastic products. In terms of revolutionary washing techniques, I would have to mention Marithe+Francois Girbaud as the pioneer and my favorite socially conscious jean.
How many times do you wash a single pair of jeans in a year ? What advice would you give our readers on this ?
Wash as little as possible. I wash mine about 4 times per year, inside out and with cold water.
Thanks for being with us Andreas.. It was really a pleasure interacting with you..
Same here, thank you.