The Reinvention of American Denim: From Levi’s to Today

Eternally young. How else to describe one of the world’s most popular fabrics. Once synonymous with the rugged west and the great frontier, denim has transcended itself to become one of the most innovative fabrics in today’s textile trade. The question is how will denim continue to reshape itself for the coming decades?


A Brief History of American Denim

In the late 18th century, men’s clothing was fashioned from jeans cloth, made entirely of cotton. While this fabric gained popularity for its repeat wash durability, the introduction, and quick rise, of denim followed. While the two fabrics were similar, denim, made of heavy twill, was more expensive and stronger than jean cloth. In 19th century America, jean and denim also had two different sartorial uses. Denim identifiably became the “working men’s” uniform; men in engineering and blue collar trades wore utilitarian overall style denim to work. Trousers were fashioned in jean, reserved for social outings.

Flash forward to the discovery and widespread use of denim as a permanent staple in every American’s life following San Francisco’s 1850 Gold Rush. After arriving in 1853, Levi Strauss, German immigrant and soon to be American entrepreneur, teamed up with Jacob Davis, an American tailor who brought with him the idea of adding metal rivets, to secure a patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings” in 1873. Levis Strauss Co began utilizing the best denim of the time and soon established themselves as the pioneer of American denim. The rest that follows is history.

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Among the class of Levis, here are the three American Heritage Brands that contributed to the growth of denim beyond the workplace and into everyday lives:

Denim Through the Decades

The New Class of American Denim

The Future of Denim

To discover where the future of denim was headed, we spoke with industry experts Michael Morrell, president of Olah Inc, and Andrew Olah, the founder and CEO of Kingpins, a carefully curated trade show for everything denim and fabric mills.

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Key Trends in Denim This Year:

  1. Washes: Deep indigo shades topped with black indigo
  2. Low Impact: Designers are also increasingly using organic, recycled and sustainably produced denim collections
  3. Design: Home-spun slubs, low twist yarns, and open weaves with lots of grain through that are low stretch and nylon blends
  4. Silhouette: After seasons of skinny legs, the boot cut, wide leg and boyfriend jean are returning to high-street collections.


For new designers trying to break into the denim category, Andrew offers this advice, “Love what you do and try to do something that’s never been done before. Create, don’t copy.” The question remains, how will innovation in denim shape the future of this much-loved textile?

Are you bringing innovation to denim? Tweet us (@makersrow) your projects. Or, learn more about the denim production process and how to build your denim supply chain. Enroll in the Maker’s Row Academy Sourcing 101 E-Course (it’s free).

Check out these denim manufacturers in the Maker’s Row community:

  1. LC King Manufacturing Company
  2. Arcanum Jeans Co
  3. Pacific Blue Denim


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