Both luxury lines and mass-market stores are seeing a boost in jeans sales.
From Ralph Lauren to Calvin Klein, America’s biggest fashion labels are pinning their hopes on a blue jean revival.
Across the industry, fashion brands are renewing their focus on denim, betting the wardrobe staple can be a major sales driver as jeans battle stretchy pants for supremacy from the waist down.
In recent years, jeans have struggled to beat back more comfortable styles such as leggings and yoga pants. Last year, imports of elastic knit pants surpassed those of jeans for the first time ever, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Yet there are signs of a rebound. Levi Strauss & Co., for example, posted an 8 percent increase in revenue in 2017, thanks to a significant revamp of its women’s jeans. That was its strongest annual growth since 2011.
Luxury lines are hot
Meanwhile, luxury labels are helping pull denim out of the doldrums. Downtown streetwear brand Off White’s washed jeans drew lots of interest for reworked denim, as did the patchwork jean styles from Vetements that led the trendy label to collaborate with Levi’s.
Jeans makers have sought to develop increasingly “technical” denim to win over shoppers who demand more stretch and moisture-wicking, integrating fibers such as elastane and lyocell.
PVH Corp., which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, has seen an “incredible improvement” in its jeans businesses worldwide, Chief Executive Officer Emanuel Chirico says.
He attributed the revival to the popularity of ’90s style, and PVH is putting its marketing dollars behind it. This January, the company enlisted the bulk of the Kardashian/Jenner clan — Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall and Kylie — in a global ad campaign for Calvin Klein’s jean and underwear lines.
Ralph Lauren, in the midst of a bid to regain the brand’s onetime cachet, singled out denim as a segment it will refocus on after seeing an 8 percent spike year-to-date in its jean sales. Denim represents just 2 or 3 percent of the company’s total revenue, and management says it should be much higher. “Based on recent consumer research, we believe that we have a clear basis to win in this category,” CEO Patrice Louvet said in February.
Growth at all price ranges
The mass-market labels are on board as well. American Eagle Outfitters set a record for volume last fall, luring teens into stores with walls of denim in hundreds of different silhouettes and washes, from ripped high-waisted “jeggings” to indigo mom jeans.
At J.Crew, denim led its sister brand Madewell to record sales both in stores and online last quarter, executives say. Even as J.Crew’s flagship label struggles to get shoppers into its stores, Madewell continues to report double-digit increases in comparative store sales, thanks to jeans.
Gap CEO Art Peck said recently that he too is seeing “very good performance” out of women’s denim. Gap has even held internal “denim summits” to improve its jeans across all its brands.