One of the most common textiles in the world is denim. It’s become so ubiquitous that today there are whole businesses dedicated to repurposing tons of it that would otherwise end up in landfills or languish unused in donation bins, never to be worn again. What was once a stalwart symbol of American workwear has slowly morphed into a wardrobe staple that now threads itself comfortably between casual and cool.
That’s why at this year’s PROJECT Las Vegas, the leading trade show for contemporary menswear, organizers put together a robust slate of programming and activations spotlighting the famous blue textile. Held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center from February 5-7, we were on the ground bringing you all the highlights from the stylish affair.
In one irreverently titled discussion – “Where Does Denim Go Now That Subcultures No Longer Exist?” — industry experts weigh in on the need for more sustainable practices and disciplined shopping habits. The panel was led by Highsnobiety Co-Founder Jeff Carvalho, a hardcore denim enthusiast himself, and joined by Maurizio Donadi, co-founder and creative director of Atelier & Repairs, American Rag owner Mark Werts, and Highsnobiety Editorial Director Brock Cardiner.
Together, they expound on ways the industry is evolving and why denim isn’t just another trend that'll soon disappear into the fashion abyss, especially considering the vintage clothing market is reportedly worth a staggering $24 billion. For Donadi and Atelier Repairs, it’s their business model to turn excess into art — they upcycle and reuse existing clothes to create new, one-of-a-kind garments for their clientele. “Overproduction is an extraordinary problem right now. The number of pieces made every year, the chemicals involved, the way denim is manufactured, the way fabrics are made and so forth, it has a devastating, negative effect on the planet and the people,” Donadi lamented.
And while some might question the environmental impact of it all, don’t think that denim has been relegated to of-the-moment fads akin to dad jeans. “Denim is a symbol. [It’s] a piece of white canvas and a denim manufacturer is an artist that paints on [it],” Werts said. “I've spoken on a number of these forums [around] the world, and people ask, ‘How long is the denim trend going to go on?’ I believe denim will probably go for the next 250 years.”
As for the future of secondhand denim and vintage clothing in general? Donadi recommends being a bit more conscious about your next purchase and sharpening your sense of self. “I concluded that the most sustainable jeans is [sic] the jeans not produced because there’s an accumulation of denim around the world that’s unmeasurable. There are trillions of yards of denim fabric made that has not been used,” he explained. “Make intelligent choices when you're shopping. Do I need it? Do I like it? Can I use it for a long time? Do I feel good? Do I feel comfortable with who I am?”
Maurizio Donadi, co-founder of Atelier & Repairs
Vintage [clothing] is an incredible engine for future creativity and innovation. There's no designer in the world that's not looking at old before creating the new. That's something we need to treasure.
Other notable speakers at the show included actor Michael K. Williams, streetwear OG Karl Kani, and Jeff Staple. After the discussion, we hit the floor to scout dope new brands and checked in on what some of our favorite designers are doing next year. Surf Is Dead continues to reinterpret classic surf motifs through a streetwear lens while ONYRMRK (pronounced ‘On Your Mark), a minimalist ready-to-wear brand also from LA, showed us pieces from their inaugural SS20 collection. Champion once again scored big by winning the best booth at the show for the second year in a row and it’s no secret why. On top of their massive space, they lured guests in with a free sweater customization station and encouraged them to take selfies in their new swag from a podium-themed photo booth.
Elsewhere on the floor, we spotted a unique collaboration between Alpha Industries and Comme des Garçons in the form of a co-branded MA-1 flight jacket. Newcomer Hallpass reimagines sports apparel with playful graphics while Atomic Mission Gear, a brand that makes lifestyle-focused tactical gear, unveiled tents and sleeping bags for next season. Timex's booth was filled with previous collaborations they'd worked on, including coveted partnerships with Supreme and Chinatown Market.
In the Denim Room, which was curated by Donadi, two Japanese labels caught our attention. The first was Graphzero, a denim brand founded in 2004 in Kojima, the birthplace of Japanese denim. The booth next door housed Norbit, a label founded by industry veteran Hiroshi Nozawa whose résumé includes designing for Snow Peak and Columbia's Black Label.
Of course, it isn't Vegas without a proper turn up. After business was over, PROJECT ended the hectic week with a booze-filled bash Thursday night at Hakkasan Nightclub. DaniLeigh even pulled up to perform a few songs, including her smash hit "Easy."
Take a look at the photos above to check out all the brands we saw, and peep the video to see everything else that went down. Stay tuned for the next PROJECT Show.