Interview With Stefano Aldighieri

stefano1We had previously talked to Stefano – Ex creative director Seven For All Mankind , Hudson Jeans and Design Director (Levi’s) – last year and I thought that it might be a good idea to catch up with him again to see what changes have come in the denim market since. He runs ‘ Another  Design Studio’  providing design services to denim brands.

Hi Stefano ! Welcome once again to our site . How do you think the denim scenario has changed in the last 1 and half years since we last interviewed you ?

Hello Sandeep , great to talk to you again!  Well, it is obvious that the global financial turmoil has affected negatively all sectors, ours included; business got tougher for everyone!

Has your business of marketing and design consultancy for brands been affected by these changes?

I think a lot of prospective customers had to ‘freeze’ their projects because of the general uncertainty; luckily, we operate with a few solid companies that are weathering the storm, so, even though we were unable to expand, we are still busy. I should add that it is actually in times like this that the services of companies like mine should be valued even more, since nobody can afford to make expensive mistakes and tapping into experienced sources can only help.

There are clearly signs of falling imports and sales of denim into US. Is it a temporary phenomenon?

There are ALWAYS ups and downs in denim sales; the last year has had, in addition to the above turmoil, an unprecedented rise in the cost of cotton, which has thrown another heavy wrench in the wheel. Some companies felt that they could no longer speculate in long term lead times from off shore and tried to source more goods closer to home, shortening the lead times, and therefore minimizing their risks a little. Some hiccups along the way and a general panic did the rest.

We hear of contrary reports on premium denims.Some suggest that the prices of premium denims have not fallen and have actually risen whereas others suggest otherwise. What are your views?

First of all, please allow me to make one comment about the terminology: i feel that ‘premium’ is the most abused term in our industry, and it has lost most of its meaning. People nowadays call anything ‘premium denim’, it has become an excuse to justify prices that are often too high for what the product is really worth.

Whenever a recession hits, you will normally see that low priced goods do better, high end luxury items do better (!!), and everything else in the middle struggles; it sounds crazy that the top end of the market would actually do BETTER in a recession, but the reality is that the small 1-2% of the world population who make ridiculous money are not affected the slightest by any recession, and they often shop EVEN MORE for unnecessary luxuries.

The average person however, who ASPIRES to look like such individuals, now has to choose between splashing for a new pair of overpriced jeans or paying some bills.

The size of the $100+ jeans market is always a matter of conjecture? Can you throw some light on it ?

I doubt that anyone has a real figure, numbers are thrown around all the time; it is a segment that has had a tremendous growth over the last 8-10 years, and it has perhaps reached its apex (I am simply making a conjecture, obviously); the current recession will give it another shakedown, and then it might recover when things pick up again. I personally believe that the segment that has a real growth potential is the current "nowhere’s land", between your average priced jeans (think $40-60) and the over $100.

a) Los Angeles  is still holding out when it comes to premium denim production. b) Do you think this could last very long given the high costs of production in L.A ?

a)Yes and no; laundries and contractors are nowhere as busy as they used to be, and everybody is scrambling for business.

b)There are two elements to this: one is the squeeze on margins that everybody is feeling (partly because of raw materials, partly because of slow sales which impact retailers and therefore brands); the other one is that it is no longer enough to claim that simply because something is ‘made in l.a.’, it automatically justifies its high cost. This is something that must be earned, through product innovation, superior manufacturing quality and fast, reliable turnaround. If these elements are not present, i think it becomes hard to justify the higher costs. Even today, one can make excellent jeans not far from the USA, using the same fabrics, same machines, same washing equipments and same know-how (Guatemala and Mexico spring to mind).  I am all in favor of supporting local labor and domestic manufacturing, but it must be justifiable.

What do you think are some of the most important elements of denim ?

As far as the fabric is concerned, obviously the yarn and the shade; garment-wise, we need more original styles and a different approach to garment wash/finishing.

There is a growing interest among apparel companies in US and other countries to launch their own denim label. What do you think it takes to a launch a denim label specially in US ?

It is insanity; because of a couple of exceptions to the rule, where some lucky people managed to rise to success like rockets, everybody thinks that creating a new denim line is easy. IT IS NOT. Furthermore, nobody NEEDS yet another copy of something that is already out there. The stores and the general public need -and may respond well to- original concepts, not another regurgitation of the same.

Any advice to our readers regarding new developments in Denim?

Nothing is really new; my advice is to look at vintage and try to figure out how to interpret elements of vintage into new, fresh, modern products.

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